Friday, March 04, 2011

Stop disrupting and solve the disruptions

It struck me recently that a lot of firms treat their customers as nameless, faceless objects all of whom share the same needs and have the same reactions to products.  Of course marketing has taught us over the years to segment our markets and attack the needs of the customers within specific segments.  If the segmentation is done well, segments should be relatively distinct from one another, with homogeneous needs within the segment and heterogeneous needs across segments.  This neglects one really interesting aspect of life that innovation often solves:  innovation around "moments" or "movements".  We as innovators spend far too much time trying to disrupt markets when we should find solutions for the frequently occuring disruptions that happen in a customer's life.

We assume that everyone in a segment has relatively the same expectations and needs, so therefore a product or service that addresses some needs or expectations that the people in the segment have will be rapidly adopted.  What we miss is that many of the people in any segment are not actually static:  they are moving into and out of various life events and life stages even while in the segment, and it is at these critical inflection points that innovation may provide the most value and be the most easily adopted.

Consider that many people don't adopt new products or services because to do so means to change their behavior.  Consumers who are in their "happy place" in their lives, content with their surroundings will resist change.  A product or service must have significantly more value over existing services or products in order to encourage them to change.  However, we humans go through a number of intentional and unintentional "life events" in our lives where change is thrust upon us, and these moments of change are often excellent opportunities for innovation, since the customer is experiencing change and uncertainty, and any product or service that eases the change or shortens the time to reach the new status quo is valuable.

Here's just one example:  Think about the different financial decisions and transactions an individual undertakes in just a few years.  Graduating from college most will start or increase their banking services.  They now must pay their own bills and perhaps plan for retirement even at an early age.  Often, not long after college an individual gets married and combines resources and learns to plan and budget in the company of another person.  Typically, not long after that a child comes along and forces the couple to budget for the expenses of raising a child.  In many cases, in less than a decade, this individual moves through three significant life changing events, each of which are significant opportunities for product and service innovation by financial institutions.  Yet few if any offer any real training, education, budgeting or planning tools to help smooth the way through what are significant disruptions in an individual's financial life.

What's interesting is how many of these life events or disruptions there are in an individual's life, and how little innovation is available to ease the transition between them.  Getting or losing a job, getting married or getting divorced, a death in the family, moving to a new location, having a child, sending that child to college, becoming an empty nester, retirement, and many more "life events" are significant disruptions and open up the individual to change.  In these instances the individual is open to new ideas because their existing world is changing, and any idea, product or service that simplifies the change or reduces its impact is valuable.  These, clearly, are major life events, but there are a host of other, smaller events that leave us needing more information, better insight or a bridge between an old existence that was safe and comfortable and a new existence that is yet uncertain.  Innovators need to focus on these shifts, disruptions and life events as opportunities for new products and services, because the customer is in a period of disruption and needs to be "re-anchored" in a safe, productive place once the change is complete.

Stop trying to force change and disruption on the client with new products and services they find difficult to adopt in their "steady state" life and instead find opportunities to smooth the inevitable disruptions we all face in significant life events or other imposed or inevitable disruptions in life.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:15 AM


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