Reader Remington Tonar writes:
Firearms enthusiasts have long noted the similarities between Apple’s and GLOCK’s approaches to product release cycles. With the recent Gen 5 release, GLOCK shows that it has not only mastered the incremental innovation strategy that’s fueled the iPhone’s success in the post-Jobs era, but that it has something to teach Apple as well.
GLOCK’s latest updates to the G17 and G19 have been branded as “boring” by some critics who were perhaps expecting something more innovative and groundbreaking from the pistol market’s 800-pound gorilla. Interestingly, many pundits said the same thing about the iPhone 7, which bore a disappointingly close resemblance to its predecessor.
Despite this criticism, iPhone 7 sales continue to rise even with the iPhone 8 on the horizon. This practice of evolving rather than revolutionizing products has proven to be a invaluable product marketing strategy for Apple—one that’s proving to be just as effective for GLOCK.
Perfected by Apple and adopted by GLOCK, incremental product innovation can help dominant incumbents secure and grow their market share while minimizing risk. In fact, several studies have found that incremental innovation is actually a better driver of sustained product adoption than radical change.
Truly disruptive innovations are expensive, arduous to develop and often rejected by consumers who clamor for new products but despise learning curves. Imagine if GLOCK would have introduced a biometric safety or a squeeze cocker—a feature that’s foreign to most modern shooters. The negative backlash from both the legion of GLOCK fans and the company’s detractors alike would have dwarfed the outrage around the Sig P320’s safety shortcomings. People say they want innovation, but not at the expense of familiarity and simplicity.
Like Apple, GLOCK’s incremental innovation allows it to make gradual improvements that set new baseline expectations for the industry while providing new features that are just different enough to be interesting. But not so different they’re alienating.
Like Apple, this approach helps GLOCK respond to consumer demands (no more finger grooves) and match competitors more quickly (ambi slide stop). Updates like these eliminate barriers to adoption while providing a product that checks all the critical boxes for beginners and experts alike. Evolving products over time also helps Apple and GLOCK avoid competing with themselves, creating options across multiple price ranges for different types of consumers instead.
Unlike Apple, however, GLOCK embraces an open product model that allows innovation and customization to happen after the point-of-purchase. This pistol-as-platform (PaP) approach makes the incremental innovation strategy even more effective by giving users the liberty to make functional and aesthetic modifications to the product through aftermarket parts and gunsmithing services.
This means that GLOCK doesn’t actually have to design a radically innovative pistol. It just has to design a platform that’s as good as the competition and let the aftermarket do the rest. It doesn’t have to produce a “perfect” pistol, just a pistol that’s perfectly customizable.
Apple has historically prohibited their technology from being used as a platform, opting for a largely closed software and hardware architecture. As a result, many technologists still prefer PCs and other non-Apple products that allow for a greater degree of customization.
The success of Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensing device is a prime example of how an open platform approach can help boost sales. Although the Kinect was originally designed to be used with an Xbox, developers quickly discovered its potential as an easily-customized off-the-shelf motion sensor that could be used to do everything from control a Roomba vacuum robot with gestures to run a gesture-controlled computer screen to try on clothes virtually.
At first Microsoft balked at the thought of independent developers hacking the Kinect, but soon realized the larger opportunity. The computing giant called an audible and started supporting open development of the Kinect’s software and hardware, leading Wired Magazine to declare in 2011 that the Kinect was changing the future of robotics.
Like Microsoft’s acceptance of the Kinect being used as a platform, GLOCK’s embrace of the PaP model helps grow the brand and boost sales. It also augments the company’s incremental innovation strategy while extending the lifespan of each product cycle.
With an Apple-like approach to product innovation and a Microsoft-like approach to aftermarket product customization, GLOCK will continue to lead the global pistol market. The company’s product and marketing strategies should serve as a lesson to other gunmakers: it’s not just about what you make; it’s about how you release it and how people use it.
Remington Tonar is Partner and COO at Brandsinger, a New York City-based brand strategy and corporate culture consulting firm that helps companies from Fortune 100s to startups position their companies for the future. He holds a MS in corporate and organizational communication from New York University, a MA in theology from Loyola University Chicago, and his BA in theology and political economics from Marquette University. He splits time between New York City and Houston and is proud to be a H&K snob.