We often hear or read about innovation being a key pillar for any successful business, with failure to innovate often leading to quickly being overtaken by some younger, more agile organisation.

Innovation, however, is not something that can be bought, and needs to be a part of a business’ culture if it truly aims to separate itself in whatever industry they may be a part of.

This was the topic of discussion when we sat down with Lenovo SA’s consumer lead, Yugen Naidoo, who unpacked the value that customers play in particular for the firm, as it looks to maintain a leading position in the local consumer tech space.

Here is what Naidoo was able to illuminate for us.

An end-to-end journey

An aspect of innovation that is becoming increasingly important is tracking the customer journey, especially as it does not simply end at the point of sale.

“It’s not just a buy-sell relationship anymore, and at Lenovo we take the customer’s input into consideration in the product development and design phase,” says the consumer lead.

If you look at our service levels to the consumer, we try to engage end-to-end,” he adds.

For Naidoo this means that consumer tech manufacturers need to take an active interest in every aspect of the device, looking at the way in which it is brought into country and displayed in the retail environment, to how retailers are educated on the elements of the product and how to make the purchase experience as enjoyable for consumers as possible.

“An end-to-end approach is something that we have worked hard on, and one that we’re seeing other companies trying to emulate too,” notes Naidoo.

Local differences

The Lenovo SA consumer lead is also acutely aware of how different South African consumer behaviour and the landscape in general is compared to the United States and Europe, which too factors into how the firm looks at customer feedback and the desire to innovate.

“A lot of trends are measured in the US and European markets, but in South Africa we’re very unique, from the way we live, to our diversity, to our culture. Of the 55 million people living here, only 10 million or so have disposable income, and four million of that support the tax of the country. This makes things challenging from a product diversification perspective, especially as Lenovo globally may be pushing an agenda of high-end devices and gaming, but most South African consumers cannot afford to go that route,” Naidoo lays out.

“This forces us to try to get the best offering to the consumer. If you look at our product range for example we have IdeaPad, which is aimed at the bulk of our local consumers right now, and then we start going into our Yoga range which is the cream of the crop, and lastly gaming which has exploded in this country recently,” he continues.

The gaming market in particular excites Naidoo, as he highlights a projection that says R300 million will be spent on gaming locally this year.

“For me that’s a step in the right direction for the country, as people are now able to do with that want they want to do. Not every child can play football, but they can play it on their PC or console,” he adds.

Making it affordable

Given the relatively small pool of consumers that Lenovo SA is able to target means it needs to purposeful with the decisions it makes from a product innovation perspective.

To this end Naidoo talks about the privacy shutter for webcams that is a mainstay on the company’s Yoga range of devices. As security and privacy are growing concerns for all consumers, Lenovo is now starting to filter that kind of technology to more affordable devices.

This serves as an example where the firm has put a new innovation onto the market on a high-end device, and as a result of the need it serves for consumers, has chosen to bring to lower-end offerings too, especially as it tackles an issue that customers have highlighted.

“You’ll see from a technology adoption perspective, we as Lenovo are trying to make it as affordable as possible, to address all customer segments available to us,” he adds.

Eyes of the customer

In closing Naidoo is a firm believer in the fact that innovation necessitates a solid understanding of the market you’re operating in for any business.

“Innovation is not just in product and processes, it’s also to understand your market. My default is always to think that our innovation is through the eyes of the customer,” stresses the consumer lead.

“At Lenovo we listen to what the customer wants and needs. The products we design is based on the feedback we receive,” he adds.

One of the methods that the firm uses to get said feedback is the Lenovo Roadshow.

“Lenovo is a channel-centric organisation, and the Roadshow offers us an opportunity to interact with the partners that have direct contact with customers. Along with getting feedback as to what consumers are saying in the market, it also allows us to educate them on what’s in the pipeline for the country,” Naidoo notes.

He ends by affirming his excitement about what the future holds for Lenovo and the continent, especially as Africa as a region is primed for rapid acceleration in terms of technology.

“We are very happy and excited about our journey, excited about the country, and excited about the technology that is coming into the country. We’re set to grow at a far faster pace than any of our counterparts the European and US markets, so Africa has unlimited opportunity,” he concludes.

[Image – Photo by Samuel Zeller]