Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

Here is the second half of tip 14 from Best Practices are Stupid. Be sure to read the previous post before reading this one.

Your Customers Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Innovators looking for input from consumers must assume that consumers cannot always (and may not want to) explain themselves, their behaviors, their attitudes, and their decision-making processes. The average person is only aware of about 5% of their thoughts and feelings on any given topic. When asked outright, consumers will of course provide answers, but those answers may be incomplete at best and quite misleading at worst. How often have you heard representative consumers say in response to a direct question, “I will definitely buy this product” only to see the product fail? Innovators need to find ways to bypass the rational, explicit, conscious mind and tap in the subconscious.

One way to do this is through the use of metaphors and storytelling.  Humans think and speak in metaphors. Just try expressing yourself, your ideas, your emotions and attitudes without the use of metaphor. It is almost impossible and certainly makes for a very bland conversation.  Note that even the word bland is a metaphor in this context.  Metaphors are based on human experiences and help us make sense of the world.

When Oticon wanted to overcome the shortcoming of focus groups and other traditional market research techniques, they decided to use a metaphor-driven approach involving in-depth one-on-one interviews and helps consumers express their vision of how a product might fit into their lives, fill a need, or solve a problem.  The consulting firm (Olson Zaltman) that conducted Oticon’s research, found that wearing a hearing aid was like having “a neon sign on your forehead saying, ‘I’m flawed, I’m old.’”  Now, that’s a pretty powerful metaphor.

Designworks USA, a division of BMW, uses a different approach for capturing subconscious needs of consumers.  While designing cars and other products such as cell phones, computers, and tractors, instead of starting with the basic functions and features, the company has consumers tell them stories about emotion.  Their designers first meet with company executives, employees, and customers in order to capture the emotion that customers will feel when they use this product.  This is done using sketch artists rather than words.  Only after everyone agrees on these emotions will the design of the form and style begin.

According to an Accenture study of executives in 639 companies, the number one reason for innovation failure was that their products and services “failed to meet customer needs.”  Innovators tend to build solutions around the explicitly articulated needs of consumers, often based on numerical data.  But in doing so, the “real” consumer needs are missed.  As innovators, we need to tap into the darkest recesses of the mind in order to capture what the consumer really wants.

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