Here's the final step in translating your consumer insights into a viable product or service offering. At this point, your people are aware of the role their discipline plays in delivering on the consumer insight. They also have the capability to actually do what needs to be done.
The final step is figuring out whether or not they got it right. At this point, we'll assume that you've done all your traditional market-sizing, etc. You know that the opportunity you've identified, based on your consumer insight, is a good one. It's now time to check in with consumers again to see if your work hits the mark.
Doing the right evaluation is of utmost importance here. You don't want to know whether or not the consumer "likes" the offering. You don't want it to be offensive to them, but you don't need them to "like" it. This is a difficult concept for most companies to grasp, so stick with me while I explain it. When you ask a consumer whether or not they like something, they will think about things like - Do I like that color? Do I think that design is cool? Do I like those words? What you need to know instead is - Which design will make their work easier? Which example looks like it will help them to acheive [stated] goal? If they also like it, that's great. But ultimately, people are more likely to buy products based on how well they will work for them, and are less likely to buy based on whether or not they initially like them.
This is especially true when you are trying to introduce a new, game-changing product. New things are weird to people, and they tend not to like them. Over time, however, if they realize that the new product works well for them, they will buy it. Another example is the fact that more people tend to like BMW's than actually buy them. On the other hand, if you're introducing a simple upgrade to an existing product, you may be able to get away with asking whether or not they like it. Just make sure it's not inching you away from providing the ideal experience to meet their needs.
Don't forget to evaluate your ideas, especially if they are new. And please, don't get caught in the "consumer said they liked it" trap. Many companies have failed to launch new ideas based on this information, only to watch their competitors beat them to the punch.
A quick recap: This is the second of the three things necessary to translate consumer insight into a successful product or service. I've been talking about the necessity of understanding consumer motivations in order to develop offerings they will buy. Since then, it has become clear to me that the best consumer learning, positioning, and criteria definition will not matter if your company lacks the ability to translate these directions into viable products and services. All too often, the products and services that get developed are disconnected from the consumer that originally inspired them.
The first part of translating is awareness. Are your people aware of the connection between what they are doing and how it relates to satisfying a consumer's needs? Do they see their work as a job to get done, or as a lever in catching the attention of the person who will buy it?
The second element of translation is capability. Let's say the people in your company are aware of their ability to influence the end product in a way that meets consumer needs. They know how to manipulate design elements and influence usability to evoke the desired responses from consumers. Knowing how is one thing, but can they actually DO it?
Several things can get between knowing what to do, and having the capability to do it. Do your people have enough time or money to make the right things happen? Do they have the right skill set to actually deliver? Some companies have a "check box" approach to the skill set question. Do we have an engineer assigned to this project? Check. Do we have a marketing person assigned to this project? Check. Do we have a designer assigned to this project? Check. But who is asking "Do we have the RIGHT engineer, marketer or designer on this project?" Precious few.
Think about the challenges you are presenting to the people in your company. Which is harder work for them. Developing offerings that will delight consumers, or developing offerings they know will work and can get through the system?
Are the people in your company aware of how their job function can actually contribute to realizing the company strategy? Can they even articulte the company strategy?
You can find out if they can articulate the company strategy by asking them. But how do you know if they are aware of how their job function can help to realize it? If the people in the company are not aware of how their job function contributes to the realization of the corporate strategy, then how can they make decisions that will keep everyone aligned toward the same direction?
Try asking your employees why they made the choices they made last week. For example, if your company is trying to compete through becoming the technical leader in your industry, then everything your employees do should support that message. If you run a design group, and your employees are choosing colors because they are popular, then you have a disconnect. They should be selecting colors that connote technical excellence. If they do not know what connotes technical excellence to your consumers, they should be asking to conduct research into that topic.
The same goes for the engineering group. If they are doing things because it was the way they did them at their last company - the company that is not the techcnical leader, then there is a disconnect.
The point here really, is that people want to be successful. They will try to replicate past successes. Your job is to make them aware of the need to examine the reasons behind past successes. The reason why something worked before may be exactly the same reason why it will not work now. It will be difficult for your company to realize its strategic goals if your employees are pulling you in different directions.
Be aware of what direction your employees are going, and be sure they are aware of how their choices can keep you on track or lead you astray.
I wrote a post a while ago about Consumer Translation. In it I talked about how it doesn't matter if you have determined how best to guide your business based on consumer insights if your organization lacks the skills to translate what the insight and direction means to them as they do their day-to-day jobs.
Since then, I've been seeing more and more examples of these messages getting lost in translation. Strategic directions are mapped out and explained, criteria for the success of new products and services are explained, and even the final executions of products that satisfy the criteria are determined with good consistency. And then the products get built. And they end up not being very different from the products and services they have always built.
As with most things, the success all comes down to the details. Little decisions get made that put people back in the comfort zone of doing what they have always done, for the same reasons. In the next few posts, I'll explore what I see as the main areas of focus that can help to facilitate successful translation.
As I understand it, the term Lead User was coined by Eric von Hipple from MIT. I highly respect the work he has done in identifying and codifying their value as the ideal group from which to learn from and guide innovation efforts. One thing that I don't agree with, however, is that he tends to talk about lead users as the people from whom you find the ideas.
As others have expanded on von Hipple's work, they are taking this point to the extreme. They talk about doing Lead User research as if all you need to do is find the right people, and then sit back and take notes as the Lead User tells you what to do.
They then say that the toughest part of doing good Lead User research is finding them. Of course it's tough to find the people they are describing, and I tend to wonder whether there are even enough of them out there to make it a worthwhile effort to even try.
I suggest we get back to the basics here. A Lead User is a person who has extreme passion, needs or other motivations that drive them to seek solutions beyond those that satisfy the everyday consumer. Some of them may also be good at creating processes or solutions to do what they need to do, but most of these solutions are ways to work around the status quo. Don't look for these people to do your job for you. You need to learn from them; understand them from the inside and out. You then need to pose a challenge to your organization. "If we build products and services that do _____, we can succeed and lead in this market." You then need to design the products and services that will satisfy those goals.
The Lead User can't tell you how to do that. Expect to learn a lot from them, but don't expect them to push your pencil for you.
I've been having many conversations lately about how best to learn from lead users. The conversation usually starts with differentiating a lead user from an early adopter.
Most people are familiar with early adopters. They are the people who are interested in a category, and are usually the first ones to buy new products in that category. In the category of portable music players, for example, these are the people who had MP3 players before the iPod was launched. They were so interested in what the MP3 player could do, that they were willing to put up with the fact that they were not particularly easy to use. Early adopters are willing to spend the time to learn all about the new product, and they love being the first one to have it.
In contrast, a lead user in this category would be the person who would say, "I'm really interested in the music. I want to spend time interacting with the music when I want it, and how I want it, and I'm not going to spend time learning how to use a gadget or put up with its limitations." They may stick with older solutions until something better comes out, or they may actually invent their own, new solutions.
When I'm doing consumer research in an effort to guide breakthrough innovation, I want to learn from the lead user. If I were to develop a new solution in portable music, I would want to talk to people who were passionate about portable music. And ideally, I would want them to be people who shunned current solutions as not good enough.
Many companies approach the task of developing a breakthrough innovation by trying to learn from people who are highly involved in their products. This is a great way to learn how to improve the existing product. But if you want to create a truly groundbreaking product or service, you need to find new ways to deliver what your product is doing for them. And the best way to learn what the product truly needs to do for people is to identify and talk to lead users.
The Wall Street Journal published their list of the top management gurus today. Here's the part that was most interesting to me:
...changes show that time-strapped managers are hungry for easily digestible advice wherever they can find it. Today, the most pressing themes include globalization, motivation and innovation. Traditional business gurus writing "weighty tomes" are in decline, he says.
The call is for management by sound bite. Unfortunately, the themes of globalization, motivation, and innovation don't necessarily lend themselves well to the sound bite. Well, the problem is that they do, but those sound bites are usually dumbed-down, sexy PR statements. The real work requires a complex intertwining of skills to ensure success. Don't get me wrong, each of the top five gurus is very accomplished in their own right, but no single one of them has the right answer.
That's why they can all exist on the speaking circuit. They all have something valuable to say, and it's up to you to use it wisely.