Want to know what customers want? Ask them, but don’t believe them; rather observe them in their environment.
It’s the best way because potential customers can answer this question better than any self-proclaimed marketing experts can with their fancy reports, focus groups and all.
It’s the worst because customers don’t really know what they want. They know what their problems are, what they like, and what they don’t need. But they don’t know what you can develop for them that they really want. Don’t believe them if they tell you; they have less imagination than you do.
I’ll give you one example of how this is playing out in one of my current ventures, Spuma, where we aim to define a bigger idea on an emerging industry; mexican craft beer. My motivation for starting this venture was by asking myself: how do you invent culture in an unexpected way?
Our approach is to combine artistic culture with the DIY nature of craft beer brewers.
I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy sell to craft beer brewers when we started in December 2014; and it hasn’t been. But, we’ve made progress with some and they are onboard with our vision. Our approach is not something they thought they need, nor could they have imagined it themselves.
We’ve taken the time to develop prototypes of our approach, and to sit down and learn about craft beer brewers needs and aspirations. Andm we’re tweaking our business model based on that feedback; while still maintaining an element of surprise.
The key takeaways are this:
- True innovators give customers what they don’t know they want; as well as what they want right now. They do so by combining a deep empathy for the customer’s present issues as well as by anticipating future needs; not an easy task for any innovator.
- You need to be able to both satisfy and surprise your customers.
- You can’t depend on customers to tell you what your next product / service will be; you must invent it.
- The best way to source ideas from customers is to observe them in their environment and then ask questions about the things they are trying to achieve.
- Prototype, that’s that shortest path to innovation.
Bottom line: Customers don’t know what they want—until they see it.