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Unlock the Innovation Power of Customer Insight

by Brianna Sylver

"What is market research?"

To many, it is gathering and analyzing information about consumers' needs and preferences...understanding the market, if you will.

Yet, at Sylver Consulting, market research is more than understanding — it’s action. Customer insights hold the power to shape an organization — from the inside-out — when they’re made actionable. Customer insights can catalyze cultural change.

So, what does it take to truly unlock the innovation power of an actionable insight? Read on for three tangible tips that you can start implementing in your work today.

  1. Set your aperture right

    Many people say: “Put your customer truly at the center of your development,” but that phrase is overused these days and often falls on deaf ears.

    Your customer does not wake up thinking only about your company. They wake up considering the full scope of what they have to do in their life that day. Your offering may come into that picture and support the individual in accomplishing their “jobs” of the day, but you are one of many offerings they interact with as they do their “jobs.” You are competing with those other offerings in helping the customer do their jobs.

    Why is this important to the creation of actionable insight? It comes down to one word: aperture. You have to set your research “aperture” broadly enough to find the places in your customer’s life where you can help them in unexpected ways.

    If you start your research engagement asking about your product, company, offer, engagement experience, etc. without first understanding the full scope of “jobs” that your research participant needs to get done in the day, you get “narrow aperture” feedback on your product and where you can improve. Narrow aperture feedback is fine if you’re looking for incremental tweaks to make your offering better serve existing customers.

    But narrow aperture feedback fails miserably if you’re looking to “change the game,” or are driving to be a market/industry leader in a particular category. For that level of ambition — which is often the work that Sylver gets involved with — you’ve got to set your aperture wide. You have to consider the whole end-to-end “job” experience of your customer and seek out insights in their life about untapped potential for ease, integration, delightful experiences, etc.

  2. Know your ambition

    Bottom line, organizations have to continually innovate their offerings at multiple levels to sustain their competitive advantage in the market. So, when starting a market research project you should get clear on the type of innovation that your customer insight is meant to spark.

    Is your customer insight meant to:

    • Optimize existing offerings for existing customers?
    • Support the org in expanding from existing business into “new to the company” business?
    • Fuel breakthroughs for the industry, helping your org to invent or create something not yet existing in the market?

    Bringing clarity to your project’s ambition at the get-go not only helps you to structure your research at the appropriate level (see Tip #1 above), but it also helps the organization culturally manage expectations around an initiative.

  3. So, how should innovation efforts be allocated for organizations? The table below, adapted from Harvard Business Review, lays out the average innovation ambition allocation and the expected return on investment of that innovation for an org’s bottom line. (This viewpoint is an aggregate cross-industry, cross-geography viewpoint. Your specific allocations might be different.)

    scroll >

    If the org spends... is likely to yield...
    Core innovation efforts
    Efforts designed to optimize existing offerings or existing customers
    of their consumer insight/innovation time here
    10% return
    to the org’s future market potential
    Adjacency innovation efforts
    Designed to expand the company into new markets, offerings or customers
    of their consumer insight/innovation time here
    20% return
    to the org’s future market potential
    Transformational innovation efforts
    Designed to create industry leading breakthroughs
    of their consumer insight/innovation time here
    70% return
    to the org’s future market potential

    The key takeaway here is insights professionals need to match “actionable insights” to the innovation needs and ambition of the organization on a project by project basis. A mismatch here is detrimental to the org overall and to your role as a champion of customer insight in the org. Know your ambition!

  4. Lean into workshops to support the actioning of insight into solutions

    Theoretically, I think you’d be hard pressed to find an insights/innovation professional today who doesn’t think it a good idea to put their customer at the center of development. However, ensuring that the customer stays at the center of development is a much trickier nut to crack; one that most companies struggle with.

    One very powerful tool to lean into, to ensure that your insights inform innovation at the chosen ambition level, is workshop facilitation. At Sylver Consulting, workshop facilitation — workshops of all different types, sizes and scale — are a critical component of our process. Each is designed intentionally and purposefully, centered on the learning and solution outcomes desired of them.

    These are not meetings. They are not about conveying information or helping people to understand materials. Each workshop is designed to intentionally support the attendees to activate insights — integrating them into what they already know and then creating a new outcome, solution, decision, etc. as a result.

    Purposeful workshop facilitation changes the internal dialogue around customer insights data. No longer do people say “That’s interesting…” and then move onto whatever they were doing before, thinking they’ll just reference the data in their next portfolio/development conversation. Instead, they roll up their sleeves, and say “That’s interesting, and here are all the ways we can respond.”

    Workshop facilitation is a unique skill. It can be taught. I’d recommend looking at training rooted in creative problem solving techniques. One thing to definitely stress, however, is that brainstorming and post-it notes do not equal a facilitator.

We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg here on what it takes to unleash the innovation power of customer insights. While not exhaustive, these tips hopefully give you, as an insights professional, some ideas on where and how you might evolve your practices to further unlock the innovation power of your customer insights.

  • 2021
  • Market Research
  • Customer Insight
  • Innovation
  • Design Thinking
  • Workshops

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