Customers are talking: reading signals from the edge

In Search of Innovation,” in the WSJ Business Insight section today, provides a useful synopsis of ideas for finding new growth areas. The basic lesson is unsurprising but still useful: to discover new growth areas you have to look where you normally don’t.

An excellent addition to the article itself is the audio interview on the web page with co-author John Bessant of the Imperial College Business School in London. Bessant focuses on listening to weak signals of customers/prospects “at the edge” of the business for sources of innovation. He points out four key areas companies can look:

1. Geographies – Western companies need to understand the innovations required by customers in emerging economies far from corporate headquarters.
2. Underserved customers/noncustomers – as stated by Clayton Christensen and others, look for people who don’t use your products and try to understand why.
3. Critics – don’t ignore complaints–use them to assess how your products can be improved. As Bessant says, people don’t complain to annoy you, but instead to communicate their frustration.
4. Competitors’ customers – to find competitors’ weaknesses and strengths and to explore gaps in both your products and your competitors’.

And of course the best way to learn from people fitting any of these descriptions is to find their stories–via interviews, reading blog postings, Tweets, etc. That will tell you what you need to know.

[Self-promotion: webinar on "Customer Insight From the Ground Up," next Wednesday at 1pm US eastern time.]

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  • Joy Bergmann

    The WSJ article was a great read, John. But it neglected to highlight outsourcing of innovation to specialists in the field. From what I gather from your firm's work, you might agree with our belief at Fahrenheit 212 that “outsider perspectives” can uncover bigger ideas, and move them to market faster.

    Potential clients of yours probably think they know their customers better than you could. And yet you see the things they are blinded to by familiarity. We do the same when looking for opportunities hidden within company assets and in the marketplace.