For many companies, the catalog of products is the strongest statement of brand positioning a company can make. It is your arsenal of commercialization. So imagine you could peek into the future and see a copy of your company’s product catalog five years from now. What would it look like? What if you could design it now? What would you put into it? These are the questions that confront you when you use a clever innovation tool called the Dream Catalog.
The Dream Catalog is a hypothetical company catalog from the future…well into the future, beyond the next business cycle. It is far into the future so that it captures the innovative thinking and imagination of today’s managers. It stretches a company’s thinking about its future, and it provokes a healthy discussion about possible company direction. A good Dream Catalog causes tension.
A Dream Catalog helps a company in several ways. It sets direction. It suggests how the company is going to add and remove products from the line over time. It forces the marketing team to reconcile product line strategy. It provides placeholders for new discoveries, inventions, and even acquisitions. It provides a sense of prioritization of what should be developed and in what order. It can even help forecast revenues.
Best of all – it rewards and encourages innovation. The Dream Catalog serves as the focal point for company-wide innovation efforts. Employees strive to come up with product and service ideas that “make it” into the Dream Catalog. As the catalog takes shape, employees see how their future is taking shape. It guides their innovation efforts even more. Leaders can use the catalog as a motivational tool. “Let’s turn this dream into reality…for our customers and our future.” A good Dream Catalog creates excitement and a sense of purpose.
I teach MBA students how to create a Dream Catalog in a full credit course called “Applied Marketing Innovation.” Here is a quick snapshot of how to do it. Create a slew of new product embodiments over your current product line as well as products in your industry you wish you had. Do this using an efficient method such as Systematic Inventive Thinking. Mix the ideas together with your current product line. Put yourself five or ten years out and envision what product offering would make your company the most amazing market leader in your industry. Using your “palette” of ideas, pull in those that, taken together, create that kind of company. Strive for product line coherence. Strive for differentiation. Strive for a customer centric solution. Then, make an actual catalog with product photos, prices, features, and benefits. Make it seem real.
Here is a neat trick. Take all of your company’s catalogs as far back as you can and lay them side-by-side chronologically. Study the product offerings each year and note the changes over time. Note the new products, deleted products, and changed products. Do you see an evolutionary theme? Revolutionary? Stagnant? Now place your Dream Catalog five or ten spots ahead of the most recent catalog. Where will your Dream Catalog take you? How far, how fast, how cool?
Think about Fortune 100 companies that might have a Dream Catalog of sorts. Think about former Fortune 100 companies that have since perished. Did they have a Dream Catalog? Would you buy stock in a company if it did not have a Dream Catalog?