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The 5 Simple Steps to Innovation

Several years ago, I began working with a new financial institution client. I am a marketing insights consultant. My team uses insights to help clients innovate new products, services and customer experiences.

Our client was responding to a new regulation from the government. Handling this incorrectly could mean a major loss of revenue or even existing customers. They had one shot to get this right.

Many in the room weren’t sure they should place all their bets on us.

They fired all kinds of questions at our team. In effect, they were saying: How can we trust that your process will work?

We had our work cut out for us.

We explained our process.

We pointed to past successes.

Understandably, they were nervous.

But we knew we could figure out the right solution to their problem.

To their credit, they moved forward with us.

We Brought Them Through our Innovation Process

We used the same steps that I’ve outlined below:

1. Identify the audience you are trying to better serve

This feels like Marketing 101. Because it is Marketing 101.

Know thy customer.

But it’s the right starting point.

Read everything you can about those people before you start — reports, articles, data. Learn what you can. This will help you understand how to conduct the research during the next step.

If you’re uncertain of who the audience is, don’t fret. You can use the next step to figure out where to focus your efforts.

2. Use ethnographic research to identify the key jobs to be done for your audience

You may ask: Why ethnography?

You need to use research to figure out the right questions to ask your target audience.

This can feel like a paradox: Use research to figure out the questions?

Most business folks formulate the questions first and then use quantitative or qualitative research to find the answers.

But when you are innovating, how do you know what to ask?

You may be missing something important. Ethnographic research gives you the freedom to explore which topics are of utmost importance to your audience.

I recently took an online quantitative survey for an airline. A couple of the questions made me laugh. The survey asked:

Did the gate agent greet you by name? Yes or No

Did the gate agent smile? Yes or No

Somewhere along the line, someone at the airline thought these factors were important to the customer’s experience.

But the survey didn’t ask:

  • Was the inbound airplane on time so that you could board on time?

  • When the inbound plane was late, did the gate agent and flight crew acknowledge that the plane was late?

  • Did the gate agent and flight crew treat the passengers with respect as they boarded?

  • Or did they snap at the passengers and rush them along — implying that if the flight departed late that it was the fault of the passengers for taking too long to board?

Yes, passengers, want to be treated respectfully — and a genuine smile from an airline employee is welcome. But now that I know the airline is measuring this, I will assume that smiles are required and, thus, insincere.

Ethnographic research would’ve revealed what really happened at the gate.

And how the passengers were made to feel.

It would’ve identified the real questions to ask. It would’ve pointed to where breakdowns are occurring in the current customer experience.

You can unearth a wealth of knowledge using ethnography.

You may ask: What do you mean by “jobs to be done”?

Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and co-author of The Innovator’s Solution, said:

“With few exceptions, every job people need or want to do has a social, a functional, and an emotional dimension. If marketers understand each of these dimensions, then they can design a product that’s precisely targeted to the job.

“In other words, the job — not the customer — is the fundamental unit of analysis for a marketer who hopes to develop products that customers will buy.”

Source: Clayton M. Christensen, Scott Cook, and Taddy Hall, “What Customers Want from Your Products,” Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, January 16, 2006.

In essence, customers “hire” businesses to help them accomplish a job.

According to Christensen, those jobs could have functional, emotional, or social aspects to them. My team would add that they could have aspirational aspects to them as well.

For example, customers “hire” Starbucks to:

  • provide exotic coffee flavors (functional job)

  • provide a “third place” for them to meet with people (social job), and

  • provide a cool environment in which to hang out (emotional job)

As a business, you want to identify which “jobs” your target audience is trying to accomplish — including the functional, emotional, social and aspirational aspects. And then deliver a solution that hits on as many of those aspects as possible.

3. Brainstorm around the key jobs to be done

Once you understand the key jobs that customers want to “hire” you to do for them, then you’re ready to ideate.

Ideation based on powerful insights is far more effective than shooting in the dark.

Ideate around the key jobs to be done.

Answer the question: What could you create to help the target audience accomplish their key jobs?

Here are a couple of rules to follow:

Rule #1: Don’t just address a single aspect, such as the functional job.

We have found that ideas that hit on several aspects — functional, emotional, social and aspirational aspects — are the most compelling ideas for customers.

Rule #2: Don’t limit the solutions to the obvious.

Your solutions could take on the form of new products, new tools, new apps, new programs, new buildings, new spaces, new customer experiences or more.

Explore the possibilities.

Rule #3: Don’t overcomplicate the solution.

Hitting multiple aspects of the jobs to be done does not mean overcomplicating the solution. The solution should feel effortless.

Simple is still powerful.

Rule #4: Narrow your ideas to the ones that best accomplish the jobs to be done.

Figure out which of the concepts you’ve generated hit the right criteria — the key jobs to be done — and then further flesh out those concepts.

4. Engage the target audience to help you improve your ideas

At this point, your ideas are probably fairly strong, since they are based on insights and are targeting key jobs.

But our experience shows that at this point they are probably only about 65% effective.

Engage the target audience through additional qualitative research to help you refine and progress your ideas.

A few rounds of co-creation can drastically improve the ideas and make them even more appealing to your target audience. They will weed out the weaknesses and will build up the strengths.

These co-creation sessions are more than just a focus group. They are work sessions where the members of the target audience roll up their sleeves and help you get the concepts right.

I remember once sitting in a session with consumers, working through some concepts. One of the men in the room offered a little advice to me. He said, “These are great ideas. But if you really want to make them successful, you should talk to the people you’re trying to sell them to. See what they say about them.”

I looked him in the eye and smiled and nodded.

Then he realized that he was the target customer and that was exactly what he was there to help us do.

He rolled up his sleeves and went to work.

An interesting phenomena occurs in these co-creation sessions. The participants get very attached to the concepts and want to help your ideas succeed.

They come up with great ways to improve the concepts.

You’ll be fascinated by their ownership of your ideas.

If conducted effectively, these sessions can help you not only improve the ideas, but also generate additional ideas that hit on the key jobs to be done.

5. Test the improved concepts through quantitative research

At this point, your best concepts are about 95% effective.

You understand what your target audience is trying to accomplish.

You’ve made significant improvements.

And you understand how to talk about it to the target audience.

You are ready to test whether it has broad appeal. And you now know the most important questions to ask to measure whether your concepts will have an impact on your customers and on your revenues.

Use quantitative research to measure these important metrics with a broader audience.

When you have the results — the proof that you need — then congratulations!

You’re ready to implement.

How Did It Turn Out for Our Bank Client?

The bank leaders trusted our process. They dove in and worked side-by-side with us.

As we progressed, they gained valuable insights. Within two weeks, they realized our innovation process was helping them answer the questions that had been plaguing them for months.

In the end, we delivered a powerful plan of action for them.

They knew exactly what to do, exactly what to say, and exactly how to help their customers.

As the new regulation went into effect, the bank implemented the plan and realized wild success.

  • They far exceeded their financial goals.

  • They far exceeded their customer retention goals.

  • They won industry awards and accolades for how they handled the regulation.

  • Which helped them win new customers.

The five simple steps worked for them.

The five simple steps will work for you.

If you want to talk to me more about this product could work your business or customers, reach out to me on LinkedIn.