Engineers often joke that if one could not make the grades majoring in engineering, they changed their major to business or marketing. Whether you are an engineer or not, the role of business is essential to innovation and creating sustainable competitive advantage.

The ultimate goal of a business venture is to create a profit and that starts with generating sales revenue. Consumer’s purchasing decisions are not always purely rational as an engineer would tend to think. Emotions and the five senses play an important role in how a product or service is purchased. People often say “I just had to have it” implying that it was a less than purely rational decision.

Take an automobile for example, first you see it and it catches your eye because it’s aesthetically pleasing, you touch it by opening the door, you hear the “quality” sound the door makes when it closes, and you smell the “new car smell” as you sit in it. Factors such as “how will I look in this car, is it safe for my family, can my budget handle it, what will my friends think”, are all emotional aspects that influence the decision. After the sale the car should live up to the buyer’s expectations for ergonomics, quality materials, workmanship, and reliability. Value is the ratio of features and function relative to cost. When the cost is high and the number of features low, the perceived value will be low.

Not all customer needs are articulated by users in surveys or focus groups. Innovative products employ creative approaches to understanding what customers need even if customers themselves don’t know what they want.

Konica camera engineers examined customer photographs and wondered why the first few photographs were over exposed. They soon realized that consumers were worried that the film was not inserted property so they opened the camera to be sure that the film was properly engaged with the take-up spool. This creative investigation led to the innovation named Konica’s FS-1 motorized auto-loading camera.

You need to look beyond the technical and take a holistic approach that extends past just the product; investigate the buying experience and the product life cycle.

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