The best—and the worst—way of learning about market demand is to ask the customer

experimentation leads to innovationWant 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:

Bottom line: Customers don’t know what they want—until they see it.