Customer insight is a huge part of opportunity mapping, because there is no point chasing opportunities that address needs people don’t have.
You must take time to understand your customers, and to get a handle on what your value proposition is to them: why they need you, how they talk about you, what delights them, what frustrates them, how they use you, how you make their life better, why they reject you… You should also consider the possibility that your business may be well placed to serve the needs of customers beyond your current base — is there anyone you should be talking to who is not a target customer currently, but who could be in future?
Clay Christensen refers to “the jobs the customer is trying to get done”. I also regularly hear the question, “What problem are we solving for our customers?” This is a great question, and you cannot map opportunities effectively until you are able to answer it. First establish the outcomes your target customers are trying to achieve — a shorter commute, a cleaner home, social recognition etc. — then look for opportunities to design more effectively or delightfully for those outcomes. If your business solves several problems across a wide customer base, segmenting your customers according to the key problem you are solving for them is typically much more effective than traditional demographic segmentations.
Don’t make assumptions. Don’t ask your friends. Guess work is not going to cut it. You must talk to your target audience — preferably in person. There is a huge amount already written on how to conduct qualitative research, and I won’t repeat it all here, but I will say this: I have spent hundreds of hours in the homes and workplaces of customers all over the world, from Miami to Manilla, and the value of ethnographic research with people in their own environment (as opposed to a focus group) is hard to overstate.
Observation is just as important as conversation, especially when it comes to understanding the context in which customers engage with your product and the competing priorities they have in their lives. Does the customer you go to see receive dozens of phone calls and messages during your 3-hour visit? How have they decorated their desk at work? If they say they like running, how well-worn are their running shoes? There can be big differences between what people think they do, what they tell you they do, and what they actually do — and these differences often provide rich insight into what customers really need, and how the category is failing them currently. You’ll only pick up on these things in person.
Be careful not to confuse customer needs with customer expectations. Needs don’t tend to change very fast, but expectations can evolve very rapidly indeed. I need to check my bank balance from time to time, just the same as my grandfather did 50 years ago. But I don’t expect the same experience he had in 1966. I need to hail a cab… well, you get the idea.
Get a handle on the needs first, then look at how expectations are changing. That’s a big topic — I’ll be writing a few posts on that.