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Finding Strategic Focus

Trying to be all things to all people?

A lack of focus not only wastes precious time and money, but results in market confusion rather than enabling strategic alignment. Find your strategic focus, and why it is critical in the connection economy.

Your customers have more choices than ever – what worked yesterday won't work tomorrow. Breaking through the competitive noise today requires a new level of focus. A lack of focus not only wastes precious time and money, but results in market confusion rather than enabling strategic alignment. In this webinar, we discussed more about finding your strategic focus, and why it is critical in the connection economy.

Full transcript:

The idea of strategic focus is certainly not new, but for a lot of people, there are a lot of dynamics in the marketplace that are starting to make things feel like they're a little upside down. We have some ideas as to why these things are occurring and what companies should do about it. In order to start to think about their strategic direction in a slightly different way.

If you're on this webinar, I'm assuming that some of these kinds of issues listed in this screen may sound familiar to you, so trying to be all things to all people is a common challenge that challenge a lot of organizations. A lot of times, we have found that in our relationships that there's some confusion about the customer. Particularly in a B2B kind of context, sometimes market confusion about who the customer is or who they're trying to appeal to most directly.

In other cases, there're questions about prioritization. There are an increasing number of choices of ways to go to market and increasing kinds of competitors. It becomes difficult to prioritize sometimes and makes organizations feel like they're frequently reinventing the wheel. There's a lot of questions about technology, and just in general, there is a more highly-competitive environment. More competitors, more alternatives. Slimmer margins, higher cost of sales. It can make you feel like you're running a race with no end.

So what's going on here? First of all, it's probably worth noting that there are some companies that are clearly winning in this environment. Companies that are well documented in the news and business press; Apple, and Amazon, and Google are the obvious culprits, but also Zappos, Warby Parker, Dyson, Nest.

There are a lot of interesting organizations that are starting to play a different game. In many cases, they are reframing the category in which they are operating, in the way that Dyson recast the way people think about vacuum cleaners, or the way Warby Parker is looking at different models for purchasing eyewear. Many of these organizations are starting to think about their category in a different way but approach it in a different way.

What's also interesting is that some of these technology players that are reframing a lot of categories, some of them are actually buying some of these companies, so Zappos, of course, is now owned by Amazon, and Nest is now owned by Google. But there's a question here about what's the common denominator. What's going on here?

Before I try to answer that question, Let me step back and talk a little bit about strategic focus and how we think about it. This definition of strategy is by Jan Rivkin, who is the Strategy Unit Head at Harvard Business School, which is a pretty good reference from my standpoint. Jan says that a strategy is an integrated set of choices which position a firm in an industry so as to generate superior financial returns over the long run.

If we start to sort of dissect that sentence, you can think about the integrated set of choices as kind of a question around internal alignment. If you start thinking about how we define an industry or how we define success over the long run, you can think about them as the external category, how you define that category that you're working in, and then what alternatives are in that category.

Another way to think about this is to think about it as how you create a sustainable advantage over a long period. Roger Martin, who was from the Rotman Business School in Toronto, likes to describe it as where are you going to play and how are you going to win? Those two simple questions. They're simple questions, but they're hard to answer, right?

The way we think about at Peopledesign is we think about it in terms of focus and alignment. Focusing has a lot to do with making decisions. Alignment has a lot to do with creating principles. This webinar, we are talking about focus, strategic focus. Next quarter, we're going to do a webinar on alignment.

There are a lot of changes happening in the marketplace. There are just a few of them we've tried to illustrate with some humor, I hope, but the idea of the long tail within many markets, if you're familiar with that concept. Globalization has had an impact on many things. Social technology, social media. Disintermediation, particularly if you're in a B2B context, there's a lot going on there in terms of 'cutting out the middle man,' if you will.

A lot of discussion about talent, collaboration, technology, and things like climate change have led a lot to even ideas around the role of innovation in organizations. All of these things, you may not buy all of them, but even if you buy into three or four of them, they all add up to the possibility of having a pretty significant impact on your business.

I propose that we're in the middle of a macro change. What's emerging into a new era, the knowledge era, which isn't something that happens overnight. If you think back to the previous eras, just as we emerge from a craft era into the industrial era a couple hundred years ago, we are now merging into a different kind of an era that has different dynamics and different factors at work.

Just as in the industrial era, scale was the issue. It was about factories, optimization. Today, it's about choice and networks and connections. At a macro level, a lot of organizations have to shift from the idea of scale to focus on choice. Similarly, as you move from a focus on optimization to connection, which isn't to say that those previous issues aren't still at play. Scale, optimization. But it is to say that there's a new layer of choice and connection, which are increasingly important.

Choice is an interesting issue to contend with in the marketplace. I would be willing to say that your customers are overwhelmed by choice. Whether your marketplace looks like this, whether you're in a retail consumer packaged goods space or not, your customer looks at the marketplace the same way. There are many, many choices, many of them look the same. They're all nestled together on a shelf or on a conceptual shelf, whatever space you're in, and that it's really a challenge sometimes to stand out and be different.

There's a challenge also in that there's a paradox in choice. People often say they want choices, but choices often serve to confuse. There is a lot of evidence in the marketplace these days about how many people crave simplicity. In fact, they seek meaning as well, so whether it's the Staples 'Easy' button or usability paradigms around don't make me think or Real Simple Magazine, we're in an era where there is a public understanding, I think, increasingly of how these choices are infusing. Sometimes, putting all those choices onto our customers isn't always helpful.

There's a lot of choices both in terms of competitive noise and alternatives, but we also sometimes add too many choices in terms of our own product offer or our service offer, how we package ourselves.

There's another dynamic at work here where groups tend to flock together. Markets flock together. Whether you know it or not, most categories have a historical path, and most competitors benchmark one another. They all go to the same trade shows; they all use the same language. They all often use the same metrics. Like a flock of birds, they tend to move together in a group.

There's a risk in moving away from the group, but of course, a lot about a lot of brand building, a lot about innovation is sometimes flying in a different direction. There's a pretty good chance that you probably need to be more different than you are today.

There are a lot of methods for mapping those differences. Market maps like this one are an idea that was popularized in the book "Blue Ocean Strategy," several years ago. The basic idea is that you can start to map your competitors on a chart where on the horizontal axis, you can put certain market attributes, as price and quality, speed or convenience, or other things that are particular to your market. On the vertical axis, you can rank them from high to low.

In most markets, a lot of competitors' curve looks pretty similar. They're mostly priced within a certain percentage of one another; quality is at a certain level, speed, convenience, whatever other factors that are relevant to your marketplace. This is a more technical illustration of those markets flocking together like birds.

Of course, one way to get different, one way to innovate is to start, two things really, is to make the curve look different. First of all, if your competitors zig, you should zag. Price play would be going in the opposite direction. Similarly, speed, convenience, but the second way, of course, is adding new dimensions, new market attributes that otherwise, that previously weren't even part of the conversation. The critical part here is about trying to get different and give your customers a reason to remember you, or even notice you in the first place.

There is a large disconnect happening, mostly because of the impact of this kind of evolution from organizations working toward industrial optimization. Organizations tend to have some momentum where they know increasing amounts about themselves. The optimization is this idea of getting better and better doing the things you've always done, so you become better and better, and you know more and more about yourself in some respects.

One of the challenges is that over time, organizations have institutionalized certain practices and ways of thinking about the customer that they actually look less and less like the way the customer actually looks today. In many cases, organizations know less and less about what they actually need, or what their customers actually need and how they actually think about their offer.

Here is a diagram that was shared with me by Patrick Whitney from the Institute of Design in Chicago, and this idea basically illustrates the idea that organizations' knowledge is moving in one direction, but what they know about their customer is often moving in another direction. In the gap is an opportunity. It's a risk, but it's also an opportunity.

Most are familiar with the idea of life cycles and the idea of moving from growth, and from startup through growth and maturity into decline. This is a kind of chart that can be applicable to categories, whole categories, to companies within those categories or even products that a company is bringing to market.

There's a certain life cycle that most of these categories and companies and products follow. We have certainly found in our work with clients that it's in these pivot points where there's a time of crisis, a time of rebranding or refocusing, and in that respect, we started to map our own sense of what focus and alignment looks like on this curve. Very often, it's at these points of startup and maturity is when organizations feel the pain of needing to feel more focused, or it's when they're in an era of grown or decline is when they need to get more aligned around that focus.

We tend to think that sometimes when people raise their hand, and they feel like they need to be more focused, it's at these points, or when they feel like they need to be more aligned. Of course, focus and alignment from our standpoint are two sides of the coin. Alignment requires focus, and focus enables alignment.

Of course, jumping the "S" curve, as they say as a way of moving from one life cycle to another life cycle is a way to reinvent yourself and your company or your product or service. One of the challenges, though, is that the actual rate of change is increasing as well. If we think about the life cycle or innovation cycle for a company or product, it used to be, it might have been 15-20 years even. More recently, it's often shorter life cycles. Ten years, to maybe even three years.

Technology players are very aggressive in this regard, but technology is starting to have an impact on many other categories. What we have found is that whereas in the past, if this arc was relatively slow, then reinventing yourself at each of these pivot points wasn't necessarily, it wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. You can stomach that kind of change.

As the rate of change becomes faster, and the duration of these cycles becomes shorter, frequent reinvention can become unsustainable or not even possible. It suggests a more sustainable focus, something that you can focus on that's going to outlive these cycles. What's exacerbated all of these things, of course, is social media, and the business transparency, which makes it even harder to keep changing as well, even if you wanted to.

From our standpoint, what this starts to add up to is a need to have a better sense of meaning in the mind of the customer. If we think about the impact of the last 100 years, moving from scale to optimization, internal management decisions have all been optimized for production and delivery. The question is, is what you're producing today what your customers need?

You need to focus on the perception that your customers have of your brand. Brand is one of these words that means different things to different people, but from our standpoint, a brand is not so much what you do, it's what your customers think. Understanding what they think and what they need becomes a critical part of moving forward.

There are a lot of new approaches to this. Some of you may be familiar with a Venn diagram with these three circles on it. The idea of understanding people's needs on what's possible through technology and what's viable for business. I prefer to think about it almost as these concentric circles because whereas a Venn diagram is helpful sometimes, it's useful in this context to think about it as a kind of process.

I think that even though there's all of this change, and there's this innovation fever if you will, there is a kind of constant. Peter Drucker, the business guru, would say that the purpose of business is to create a customer. From our standpoint, a lot of it has to do with starting with the unmet user needs. What do people really need? What do they want? Then from within that domain, starting to subscribe a smaller circle of what's possible through technology, which is increasingly open-ended, of course, and then a smaller subset of what is viable for your business. It's another way of saying how to move from focus to alignment.

An older approach, the historical approach is that there's what's on the left here, is what things that you do that are a given, right? They're seen as a given, especially as you've been spending most of your time optimizing your processes, your business or offer. The other products and services offering, and then you basically have these things that you say about it. So you do certain things, then you say certain things about that. What you say often varies, how you communicate it.

If you dig a little deeper into how you communicate your offer, you start talking about how to brand the offer, how to position the offer, what's the value proposition of the offer, which begs the question: What is the offer? It's just a reflection of this transition period, moving into the knowledge economy.

There is a new approach, which starts with finding sources of value and ends with walking the talk. That is, the sources of value are the given, so find those sources of value or find your value proposition around those sources of value, and create a more feature-focused platform. Define customer touchpoints, and then express and deliver on that claim.

What varies, possibly, is a more holistic experience based on a platform. Your products and services are part of that experience, but the sequence is flopped. Don't claim things that you can't perform on, but start to be more deliberate about how what you do might need to vary, and what you say may need to remain more constant.

All of this begins to set the stage for innovation. Another way to think about the say-do paradigm is to think about how you stake your claim, having a point of view that's focused on a future sense of customer meaning rather than today's offering. Today's offering is likely to change, especially with technology and competition and choice. You need to think about your offering as being something that can evolve over time.

Once you're clear about what claim you're trying to stake, you can start to design compelling experiences. You can develop customer touchpoints that support that experience and create memorable interactions without cuffs. Another way to say, again, focus first and then align.

What are the components of finding folks in this context? As I mentioned earlier, it's about making decisions. There may be relatively easy questions to ask, but they're hard answers to come by. One way to think about it is starting to dissect what focus is. Who are we talking about reaching? Which audiences are we reaching? What are their unmet needs? What is our category? How do we define that category? What are we claiming within that category?

Here are three questions that are worth trying to answer. First, starting with user needs. Any business was built on an unmet need. I think part of what's needed now is for organizations to have a deeper understanding of where their customers are coming from and how they make decisions. In the industrial era, it was a little bit easier. If you're Henry Ford, you can offer any car as long as it's black. Nowadays, customers have much more choice.

Many, many marketplaces are offering many more options. Starting to understand where a customer's coming from, what motivates them, what are they aspiring to do? What are their perceptions? What are their limits? What alternatives are available to them? What are their biases? These are things, I think, in the industrial era that weren't lost on organizations, but I don't know if it was a focus. It was more about achieving the basic delivery mechanism. Now that delivery has become so much of a science and so optimized, it becomes more of a question of why would a consumer, a customer, a partner choose you over anyone else?

The other thing I'll point out here is that you could, here we've used the word 'user,' instead of 'customer'. You could use 'customer' here, but I think that increasingly in a networked economy, there are users up and down the value chain, and it includes your business partners. It includes your delivery partners. It includes your sales channels. It includes even your staff and employees sometimes. There are users of a broader system, so thinking about it as customers is one-dimensional, is sometimes not as helpful as thinking about it as a broader people problem.

As we start to imagine and research how users make decisions, there's an increasing science, of course, behavioral economics, behavioral theory. I won't dive into that deeply here, but certainly there are some themes that are becoming more apparent as user research is becoming more part of the process of developing a business strategy. If you think about how individuals make decisions, there are key ideas around the idea of identity. First of all, who is the customer? How do they view themselves, and what would they do in a certain situation?

There's a lot that has to do with time, how the present is concrete, and the future is abstract, how that informs decision-making, and the idea of risk, how users consider gain or loss or uncertainty. There are areas of study of behavioral science, but it can be very, very helpful to better understand what's going on in the mind of the customer, what's going on in the mind of a business partner that you're trying to influence and create a memorable experience for.

If we can imagine those individual user needs as individual dots on another kind of visualization. If there are different clusters of dots, you can imagine, conventionally, the way market segmentation works is that there is a cluster of user needs that you can draw a circle around and say, "Okay, this is how we define market A or this is how we define market B," and the needs that are unmet, that fall out of that diagram are either served by another market or maybe they're just unmet needs all together. As I mentioned earlier, any business is built on unmet needs, and better understanding them is a viable path for any business.

Of course, what happens in a period of change, as we are in an accelerated period of change right now, is that there are new needs. There are new emerging needs, new opportunities, technology has changed the dynamics. Globalization. Certain needs are increasing. Certain needs are decreasing, and it becomes kind of a question as to what the viability of those historic markets are.

The more you flock together as the rest of the competitors in a particular market, you're starting to compete over fewer and fewer actual customer needs. In the meantime, there are all these new needs that are out there, maybe outside of your market, that you kind of, you might have blinders to because that's not what you think about in terms of how you define yourself.

When we talk about finding a new focus, and if you think about some of the companies that I mentioned at the top, Dyson and Nest and so on, a lot of what they've done is they've sort of defined the category differently. They have drawn a circle differently than other competitors in the marketplace. They have included some new trends that others may not know about, but what's often the case too is they've also drawn a smaller circle. I think that starting to be more focused these days, because of such intense competition and such intense choice, it becomes increasingly important to be really clear about which of these needs you're trying to meet and which ones fall out of the circle, so you're not trying to be all things to all people.

What do you claim within that space? If you take that aggregate of dots, you start thinking about what do those things actually mean? It becomes critical to start better understanding, again, the decision-making process in the mind of the customer, how those cluster of needs adds up to something useful to them. Thematically, what does that represent in their life? How does it start to help them achieve certain goals? How does it reflect their behavior?

What's significant here is starting to take the emphasis off to some degree the actual products or services that you offer. This is an interesting challenge for organizations when they have historically thought about coming to market and branding themselves primarily around their products and services. I think products and services are something that are becoming increasingly blurry. There are obvious distinctions between them, but the truth is, most product companies add on services that are free that come with them. Many services come with free product.

Not only that, but a big innovation path for most product companies is to start moving, start behaving more like a service company, and an innovation path for a service company is to start acting more like a product company. The reason all these things are occurring is that at the end of the day, what that package of products and services add up to in the mind of the customer have less to do with you and has more to do with them.

When we start talking about what are we going to claim, how are we going to draw this circle around this cluster of user needs and how do we think about how we're going to go to market and sort of position ourselves, it becomes increasingly important to be really clear about what we intend to mean in the mind of the customer. Say less about ourselves, and say more about how it's actually helping them achieve their goal.

Some of the leading organizations in the world are doing this already. It's pretty clear that if you think about Nike or Apple or Starbucks that these are organizations that have shifted the conversation in the marketplace on various levels. The critical part here is that what the brands are selling, what the companies are selling is not what the customers are actually buying.

If you're Nike and you primarily sell shoes and apparel, if you look at their website and you read some of the literature about Nike, it's certainly, and they're not really about that. They describe themselves as providing inspiration and innovation to athletes around the world. What does that mean exactly?

First of all, it allows them to, you know, how you define an athlete. An athlete is less of a demographic and more of a state of mind, perhaps. Among other things, it allows them to move into other categories, like the technology-enabled fuel band and some of the other plays that they've been making in recent years.

Similarly, Apple, certainly, as it's moved, as its migration as a company has moved away from computers or electronics in general to really about digital content and a connected kind of digital lifestyle.

Starbucks is the same way, right? Starbucks makes money by selling coffee, but really, in large measure, what a lot of people, a lot of customers who go to Starbucks are really going there for this third-place phenomenon, which is the place between your work life and your home life that has been absent in recent decades, or just convenience, as they are increasingly located on all four corners of your neighborhood.

The common denominator is that the positioning is really based on user needs. They're redrawing the map in terms of how they define their category. They're taking advantage of emerging new needs, and they're not just following others in their category by sticking with shoes or computers or coffee, but really starting to think about their offering and the way they come to market in a way that is more focused on the needs of people.

In summary, I just wanted to make a point here today that there are a lot of things at play, a lot of things at work, a lot about developing a sustainable advantage. It really starts with achieving a certain level of focus, which is being brought on by a lot of seismic changes that are happening in the marketplace and the impact it has on your business. That really that these changes are part of a macro shift.

As an economy, we're moving from a theme around scale and optimization to choice. What does that mean? Being more focused in that context of choice, being more focused on a user meaning, and how you start to connect with them in ways that are more unique and adaptive to today's environment. Next quarter, we'll start to dive into ideas around alignment and creating principles for alignment.

What I'll leave you with here is thinking about what's the impetus to change. In our experience, many organizations really start with some level of urgency. There's something new. For example, a new leader, a new strategy, a new acquisition, a new spin-off. Something rather large, a large initiative, a large technology initiative or a new product or service being launched, or some deadline, often a trade show or some other kind of industry deadline or critical internal deadline.

That's usually driven by some level of urgency, sort of external-driven urgency. Those are good reasons to change. Often, that's the urgency, is often created from external factors, but it's also very useful to think about it as internally-driven leaders with a clear vision to change. A lot of what we try to do in our work with our clients is to try to help organizations better understand possibly where they are in the broader scheme of things and try to bring some new pieces of information that can help them start to think about their offering a little bit differently.

As we put here on this slide, you know, there's really no single path, but it's clear that the leaders in this new economy are starting to understand better and adapt to their customer's rapidly-evolving needs. Tomorrow's leaders are building platforms that deliver meaningful value, so that sounds, possibly, kind of pithy, but I think it's kind of a question of better understanding what people are thinking, how they make decisions, and what you represent, or what you intend to represent in the mind of your customer.


With that, what I may do here is see who is with us and see if anyone has questions. If they do, I'll try to bring that into focus. A few people have comments, but no questions so far. Anyone have any questions they'd like to ask of me at this time?

Here's one question about if they think the size or type of service of the company matters to this line of thinking. It's a good question. I'm sure that it has an impact probably more on alignment than on focus. I think, ultimately, any packaged product or service would benefit from this line of thinking in general. I think that too often, as we have a lot of businesses and a lot of categories have been developed out of an era of industrialization, we've just assumed that the offering is kind of a given and has a certain value in the mind of our customer.

I think that in general, the shift toward better understanding how customers, how users are thinking about that product or service, it will be useful regardless of size. I think where size, scale, will become a bigger issue as we get into the next piece. As I mentioned, next quarter, we'll be diving into alignment, and I think that what alignment looks like for a company on a large scale is very different than an organization at a smaller scale.

Another question about will we be able to review this presentation down a little later? I missed the first 15 minutes. The answer is yes. I am recording this, and if I am able to work my technical wonders, I will be able to put it up on our website, and I will make it available to each of you.

Let's see, I'm running through the rest of these. Here's a question about, let's see. Unmet user needs can be incredibly difficult to uncover. Do you believe that user meaning or emotions around a product or service are difficult or easy? I think it is difficult. There's no question about that. We tend to be followers of an evolved practice around borrowing liberally from ethnographic research techniques, anthropologists.

There's a lot that can be said about trying better to understand the context of the user. It's less, sometimes, about the explicit market research or product research and more about trying to understand what the user is trying to achieve, and whether or not the product or service is allowing them to achieve it or to get in the way of it. Very often what we do in the research that we do on behalf of our customers, the users often don't know what we're researching, and we don't ask very specific questions or sometimes it's just observation-based or activity-based.

In any case, a lot of what we're trying to do is better understand how they're generally thinking about the category. Because I think what happens is that a lot of organizations have been built based on a whole series of assumptions about a particular category, about how customers think and what are the conventional modes of making decisions. I think what happens is that that model, the conventional models they have in their minds about those modes is out of date, and so trying to understand, reframe the conversation around this is how customers are thinking about this product or service today, and here are three or four other trajectories for how you might think about it can be very useful for sort of reframing the broader conversation.

The meaning has more to do with the kind of a driver of getting more abstract, but then as it drills back down to products or services, it's kind of another part of this process where if you better understand what the meaning is, it's one thing to say, "Okay, Starbucks in third place." It's another thing to start to unpack that and better understand, "Okay, how do you start to create a third-place kind of experience that is useful, and how does that translate to products or services?" So it's not easy. That's definitely true, but it's possible.

Here's another question. How do we get from who we are or what we do versus what users say we are or do? That's a great question. Really, in a nutshell, that's a lot of sort of rebranding, in a sense, or what it should be about in terms of trying to find focus around something that is more meaningful to customers. I think a lot of it has to do with trying to conduct user research. As I mentioned, what happens is that there are too many industry conventions.

Most organizations we work with, typically, when they're trying to package or even repackage their products or services, will start with a huge list of, you know, competitive analysis and third-party market research, which, in large measure, helps them sort of reinforce their belief system about how the industry needs to work. Because that's what everybody else thinks. In my mind, that's the market kind of flocking together again.

Whereas, if you reach directly out to and start to observe and interview and better understand the motivations for how the customer group they're trying to reach, how they make those decisions, you might think differently about what language you use and how you're reaching them, and how you start to appeal to them in ways that are different so that you can develop a different kind of language, so you don't look and sound and act like so many others in the same category.

Here's another question about: can you talk about refocusing products that have become massive nodes in ... Hold on a second. How to address multiple user groups and how to regain focus on a single group, how do you define which group to focus on. Is this work focus for regaining focus for a product that is stuck trying to make everyone happy? Yes, those are good questions.

First of all, one of the things we certainly noticed over the last several years that we've done this work is that almost every organization we work with thinks that their market it somehow more complicated and more layered than anyone else's market, which isn't to say that their market isn't complicated, but it is to say that there's always a lot of complexity. As I say, there's rarely just one particular customer that's really the only one you need to appeal to. The idea of saying, "Here's the customer, and this is exactly what we need," is usually not the case. There's often a more complex system going on.

This kind of process usually yields some insights around what that networked system looks like. There is often a kind of a chain of influence. There's certainly a need to prioritize audiences, but there's almost always multiples. The research that we often conduct will start to address various customer groups, various audiences, and then really what we're trying to do is try to figure out a model for thinking about it that can start to appeal to them in a more networked fashion.

There's almost always a number one, which is very helpful. If nothing else can help direct resources and attention, so as you ask in the question here, so that you're not stuck trying to make everyone happy. It does become really helpful to know that okay, at least our top priority is to make this group of people happy.

However, if it can be done in such a way that's cognizant of all the others in the value chain, that can be very helpful, so that there's sort of a sense of going to market in a way that's more reflective of the complexity of that particular market as opposed to sort of singularly thinking about one group of customer, or even sort of in a very one-dimensional sort of way.

Let's see. Another question about lower cost ideas. We don't have the budget to do extensive research for voice of the customer or ethnographic research. How do we think about defining hypothetic meaning and going into the market with it and observing user reactions, just to even make sense?

A few good questions there. First of all, I think voice of the customer is similar to but a little different than ethnographic research. I think that there's, sometimes voice of the customer can be a little bit too insular, from my experience, anyway. I'm not a voice of the customer expert. I know there are people who do this. I do think, I mean, the general idea of having a voice of the customer is good.

I guess the issue I have with, sometimes with voice of the customer is that customers can tell you want they want, but they don't know what they need. I guess I would argue that no voice of the customer study would result in an iPhone, right? Part of it is you can't ask people questions. It's usually more trying to understand generally what are they trying to achieve. What are they trying to accomplish.

The idea around lower cost is tricky. It's always a tricky thing. Research in general is often seen as almost like a bad word in a marketing context, but I'd argue that's because for the most part, a lot of times market research results in things that we think we already know, and so too often we'll walk into a client meeting where the client will have just spent a few hundred thousand dollars on a large research study, and there it sits, phonebook-sized result, and nobody knows what to do with it.

Sometimes, people have an aversion to investing in research. We see research as a means to an end, so if you don't learn something new, I'm not sure how viable it is. From our standpoint, any amount of user research is better than none. There's a lot of evidence, especially the kind of qualitative research we're talking about here that suggests that if you do get some data points from, let's say, half a dozen users of a particular group, you're still going to be head and shoulders above than if you haven't done any.

Some of this can be kind of quick and dirty. A lot depends on how far you're willing to go with the conclusions that you may reach, but it can be kind of small. A little bit is as they say, will go a long way. We do user research whether or not the project calls for it explicitly or not just because a lot of the question whether the project calls for it has a lot to do with how we can scale it to make it more, increase the confidence in our conclusions, but it's always worth it from our standpoint.

The second part of your question had to do with defining a hypothetic meaning and how to bring it to market. The only thing I would say is that a lot of this does seem very theoretical and esoteric. However, the goal, certainly, when you bring it into a market is to make it much more concrete and understandable, trying to make it as clear as possible. The objective certainly is to bring it into a kind of language and package deal for the product or service, in a way that makes sense.

So it's like you're not coming to market with, you know, Starbucks doesn't come to market and say, like, "Here is your third place." They just do things that are useful and serve that purpose.

Another question here. How do you recommend grooming or persuading leaders resistant to the fluffiness of the user needs analysis or lengthy process around strategic planning? That is such a tricky one, and to be honest with you, I mean, part of our objective certainly by putting on webinars like this is to try to educate or persuade in our own way. It's a challenge, in terms of what's considered fluffy or not.

I mean, the biggest risk, of course, I would argue about not investing in research of this type, not investing in a somewhat lengthy process around strategic planning is what's the risk of not doing it? Part of it is, I think, the need for getting leaders to realize that what's going to drive change, as I mentioned at the last slide here that it's usually either something urgent. That's usually when changes happen. The biggest changes happen when a company's often on the ropes.

There have been a lot of great innovations stories. Apple's certainly one, but even where I live here in Michigan, Herman Miller is a company that became famous for its design leadership, but they're a company that they almost completely went out of business. They sort of took a bigger risk because they were not going to make it, and this was many years ago, of course, but this is often the case.

Usually, there's some sort of urgent thing. Either that or there's some big investment that the company has already decided to go behind. They're going to show up at a show, or they're going to launch some product, and so people start to feel like they need to get a little more strategic at that moment. That's usually what drives this kind of discussion.

Of course, I think that the challenges, the objective would be to not wait until there's an emergency to think about these things because some of these things are a little bit longer term, but frankly, that's ... If you're a leader in an organization, that's your job. That's the way I would look at it. Your job is to be clear about what's happening ahead, and trying to achieve the long-term vision.

One of the issues as we are exploring in next quarter's webinar around alignment has to do with leadership as well. It's not an easy one, especially if you're taking a bottom-up approach, but a significant one nevertheless.

Let me see here. Run through the rest of these questions. A lot of nice comments. Thank you very much. Let's see if I have any more new questions. It doesn't look it at the moment. Here is another one.

Clayton Christensen often talks about getting categories wrong. What advice on how you know you've chosen the right category? Yeah, I mean, I think the question here has to do with getting categories right or wrong. One of the things I've noticed, it's interesting. We work with ... The extent to which we worked with organizations within the same category and this is has happened on several occasions just because we've been in business long enough. Not at the same time, but at different times.

It's amazing how companies that might view each other as competitors function very, very differently because I would argue that they actually, they draw whether or not they illustrate it this way, they draw a circle around those user needs differently. So I don't know that there is a risk of getting the categories wrong in the sense of, I think, a misfire with the user need, but I don't think there's a risk of getting the category wrong in terms of ... You know, it's not a black and white issue.

From our standpoint, I think if you're addressing the user need and able to deliver the product or service in a way that is agreeable to their value system, then you're not going to get it wrong. I think that there is, maybe, a question about labeling and how you could in your quota market strategy and that kind of thing, but I think that if you're basing it on real user information and starting small and failing fast.

Some of the things, as I mentioned, I'll get into next month, I think that there are ways you can start to get traction and start to build evidence and build a case for moving in the right direction. That, I guess I would say, it really starts and ends with people, which is truly why we call ourselves Peopledesign.

Okay, it looks like we're getting close to the top of the hour, and most folks ... A few people are starting to sign off, so thank you very much for your time and attention. I appreciate you joining me today. As I mentioned, I will work to get the recording of this webinar on our website, and look forward to your joining me in next month's webinar, where we will be focused on strategic alignment.

Thank you very much, and have a good day.



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