Having worked with a broad base of clients on their growth strategies in the past decade has proven that many leaders tend to dig for gold 50 feet below the surface right here, where it’s actually located 5 feet below the same surface over there. These missed opportunities gives new market entrants a chance to succeed where the incumbent should and could have – IF they had the resolve to think and lead differently, versus attempting to simply throw more money at the problem. Specifically, there are four approaches organizations often take, none of which reliably lead to the actionable insights leaders need to grow their business:

  • Research and profile large, growing and “untapped” profitable markets
  • Survey their best customers
  • Segment markets based on customer attributes, such as demographics, or based on product characteristics
  • Benchmark the competitive landscape

Here is the problem: they all address key attributes of an existing market. Current demand doesn’t show you what they need vs. what they want, and how those needs will evolve into latent demand or anticipated need which often fuels doing things differently – real innovation. Asking existing customers what they want won’t give you the opportunity to create the iPad of your industry!

The first step toward actionable insights is to become crystal clear on the strategic, desired outcomes. Organizationally, we conduct research often due to some type of mishap – missed revenue targets, losing market share, etc. – in an attempt to get us back to the status quo. Compare and contrast that approach to taking the current status quo and uncovering insights into stair steps into a new norm! Transformation (differently – real innovation) of what our market and we as an active participant in it, have always done vs. how do we keep doing what we do better (incrementalism!).

As such, here are four key areas where actionable insights can be ascertained from research:

1. Focus on customers’ jobs-to-be-done. Former P&G CEO A. G. Lafley often spoke of consumers’ poorly addressed jobs as “nuisances” and encouraged his product development and go-to-market teams to identify and resolve them. Successful products such as Swiffer, Febreze and Crest WhiteStrips all provide elegant solutions to consumer “nuisances.” How can you take the emphasis off of the attributes of your products or services, but rather on the task your customers must perform?

2. Identify Non-customers. Are there customer segments currently unable to use your product due to wealth, training, convenience or accessibility? Oftentimes, a reconfigured or repositioned product can open entirely new markets for growth.

3. Identify “over-served” customers. Are there people who would be thrilled with a scaled-down, less powerful, simpler-to-use product or service? As Apple has repeatedly proven, sometimes the best use of technology is to simplify and uncomplicate, rather than proliferate options, features and confusion. LegalZoom sprang from the insight that many legal services – from a sublease agreement to trademark registration – were simple and formulaic. The use of high-priced specialists is unnecessary and can be replaced by an intuitive, low-cost online service.

4. Search for customers using your product or service in unexpected ways. Years ago, we used fingernail polish remover from mom on Boy Scout camping trips as bug repellents! Fast food chains have discovered commuters, for example, prefer milkshakes as an ideal in-car breakfast solution. Even a single versatile product (take, for example, baking soda) can inspire decades of successful innovation and growth in multiple categories (e.g., toothpaste, deodorant, laundry detergent and cat litter).

Nour Takeaways:

In decades of client work and parallel research, there is no indication of one best way to organize a research function, but what is clear is that top performers – leaders of firms delivering consistent innovation successes and organic profitable growth – take great pains to align desired research outcomes with appropriate resources, methods and incentives.

  1. Insights – especially those that result in breakthrough innovation and profitable
  2. Growth – follow hard work, focus and clear process. Insight is the wellspring of innovation and, as such, is fundamentally concerned with identifying what isn’t – not measuring what is.
  3. Actionable insights are much easier to find if you know where to look and how to identify them. Some of the very best ideas are simply hidden in plain sight for CEOs to find.
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