At its core, incremental innovation is the procedure of creating small but continuous improvements to an already existing product or service. It can further be extended into the organization’s internal operations, processes, and methods.
It is further important to emphasize that Incremental Innovation and Sustaining Innovation are the same approaches. However, we will explain both on our site as the term Sustaining Innovation often is used in comparison to Disruptive Innovation.
Incremental innovation is the most common type of innovation and is practised at almost every established organization. Moreover, it is necessary for companies’ short and medium-term survival, as the competition in existing markets is often incredibly high.
Take Coca-Cola; their original red-labelled soda is a global market leader. However, in order to stay relevant and satisfy their customers' always-evolving wants and needs, the brand has introduced new extensions such as Cherry Coke, Coca-Cola Life, and Coca-Cola Zero.
The visibility of the impact that incremental innovation creates for your organization usually is challenging to see. It is difficult to measure the level of competition in the market and compare competitors' output further. This is due to everyone in the market practising incremental innovation, which results in the stagnation of tangible outputs in market share. This issue has caused some academics and experts to dismiss incremental innovation entirely.
Moreover, the critics of the strategy are that it is an automatic process as the market is forcing it. However, as long as there is a positive and measurable value creation due to direct action from the organization, it can be considered innovation.
An example of this can be when the consumer tech giants Sony and Samsung introduce a new TV. The only real difference from the last TV they introduced to the market is that the new TV is a few inches thinner and has a more UpToDate design. None of these two competitors would have to introduce these new improvements if they were the only player in the market.
But they are forced to do it in a highly competitive market if they do not, they will fail to keep up with their competitors and the consumers’ expectations. Nonetheless, just because they are pressured to create the improvements, it doesn’t diminish the actual improvements in the design and size.
As an endnote, Incremental Innovation can be seen as a boring part of an organization’s innovation strategy and sometimes feels like it is going nowhere. However, it is crucial to an organization’s ability to stay competitive within its existing markets.