When you spend years immersed in a single topic, it’s easy to get lost in it, and lose sight of what outsiders know, see, and care about. Every time you’ve had to stop someone mid-sentence to ask what they’re talking about, or let your eyes glaze over during a presentation filled with acronyms you weren’t familiar with, you’ve experienced this. But are you guilty of this same mistake with your customers?
If you’ve been working with the same brand, or even the same industry, for an extended period of time, it’s likely that you’ve lost sight of how much (and how little) many customers actually know about your particular company, the problem you solve, and the companies you serve. However, getting those consumers to tell you what they think of your brand, what they know about your technology, and the problems that they find most important is a totally different matter. In order to do so, you’d need to conduct multiple surveys, deal with dropouts, find a way to keep data quality high without aggravating participants, and invest in focus groups.
But what if there was an easier way?
“We call it ‘outside in’ thinking,” explains Lisa McClung, Managing Principal at Lismore International, a global advisory firm that is pioneering new ways to accelerate business growth. “We’ve found that when brand leaders talk through their company’s struggles with five to 10 industry leaders and visionaries, they get as good – and often much better – results than if they conducted a focus group, especially when it comes to increasing competitiveness and serving their market better.”
The value of the outside in process can be simplified to the embodiment of Isaac Newton’s famous quote: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To abuse another cliche, “don’t reinvent the wheel just to say you did it.” The fastest way towards progress is to ask those who have had success doing what you’re trying to do, and learning both from their experience and from their view from the top.
Finding those experts and accessing them, however, can be another matter entirely. Here’s how to pick out the right people to ask, and how to get them to care:
Visionaries, not just success stories
If you’re looking to build a “good” brand that lasts five to ten years, and leaves you with enough money to comfortably retire, then asking the founder of a brand that lasted for twenty years and left the owner wealthy would be appropriate. However, if your brand is your passion, and you want to change the world with your products, you’ll need to hunt down visionaries that changed the market in their own time as well.
These individuals hold a special talent for not just understanding what the customers want right now, but also foreseeing products that will be desirable in the future. If your brand is to do the same thing, you’ll need to brainstorm with those who have a (proven) knack for fortune telling.
They’re called “lucky”
You can’t control your luck, right? Wrong. While many founders of big businesses may get written off as simply fortunate – whether they were born into wealth or their business was able to take off due to unforeseeable news – in reality earned their success with great timing, a deep understanding of both human and crowd psychology, and a grip on their industry that’s firmer than Macron’s handshake.
When you’re looking to learn from the greats, that means diving into not only their preparation, but their execution – how did they get so “lucky”? What market forces should you be paying attention to and learning from, as they did? What do they see coming down the pike?
They serve multiple problems
Yes, it’s admirable to fix a problem, and for the majority of businesses, solving one problem may be enough. The best businesses, however, create loyalty by solving an entire category of problems for their customers and clients, thus creating an ecosystem that not only satisfies their audience and exceeds all expectations, but also forms a wall of loyalty that protects their brand.
In order to create multiple successful products, the founders you’re looking for have perfected how to not only serve existing needs, but also anticipate future problems and create solutions for them before customers even know they want them.
When you’re looking for the best way to accelerate your business growth, the first step is gathering information about what you can do that enhances your audience’s lives or amplifies their professional success – but it’s important that you be efficient about who you choose to ask. Often times, asking visionaries and disruptors that have come before you is much more effective than any customer survey or focus group could hope to be. By using outside in thinking, you’ll be able to build on others’ success and learn how to make your own luck, instead of struggling for every success.