I love numbers. More than 50% of Google search now happens on mobile devices? Good to know. 54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas? Worth remembering. Nothing like a cold, hard fact to help you see the wood from the trees. These numbers are based on actual, recorded behaviours, and they can provide powerful insights. When it comes to opportunity mapping, remember this: facts are your friend; figures, not so much.
Here are some situations where numbers are less than useful:
‘The value of [insert market here] is projected to reach $100bn by 2025’
Professional analysts struggle to accurately forecast what’s going to happen in the next quarter, so how could anyone draw up any meaningful predictions for the next 5 to 10 years? Just take a moment to contemplate quite how many variables are involved in such a calculation, and the number of gross assumptions that must be made to arrive at any figure. Think about changes in government, economic crises, wars, technological breakthroughs, corporate scandals… Just because it’s a specific number, it doesn’t mean it’s an accurate prediction. Business intelligence firms are among the worst offenders here. Next time you come across that latest Gartner report making financial forecasts for your industry, remember that in 2006 the firm predicted that Vista would be the last version of Windows, declaring that “the current, integrated architecture of Microsoft Windows is unsustainable — for enterprises and for Microsoft”. Their invite to the Windows 7 Party obviously got lost in the mail.
‘46% of people in our survey said they would be ‘very likely’ to use/buy/recommend [insert unreleased product concept here]’
Asking hypothetical questions of disengaged consumers is a great way to generate reams of useless data. It is madness to imagine that anyone knows what their future self will want or need, out of context, as they sit in front of their computer screen mindlessly working their way through your survey. In 2003, how many people even knew what a social networking site was, let alone thought they would soon be spending several hours a week on one? I was perfectly happy with my TV until I watched a game on my friend’s HD widescreen for the first time. There is only one way to assess desire for your product, and that is by getting it into the market and seeing who buys it.
‘Last year, sales of [insert device here] were up by 24%’
This is at least a fact, but it is also a lagging indicator. All performance peaks out somewhere, so who’s to say where things are on this curve? Sales may continue to increase, or they may not. When coupled with other evidence, this kind of statistic may contribute to a more holistic picture of where the market is heading, but on its own it isn’t anything to hang your hat on.
Opportunity mapping is not about predicting the future with certainty. Nobody can do that. It is about developing a set of hypotheses on the potential directions of travel for your industry, so that you can begin innovating with focus and conviction. Some of these hypotheses will be flawed, others will be on the money — the innovator’s challenge is to find out which are which before it’s too late.