As we have seen in previous posts in this series, mapping innovation opportunities for your business involves triangulating insights across three areas:
your business and how you currently deliver value to your customers
your customers and their needs (and future needs)
the disruptive forces at play in the market
But a couple of people have asked me recently where is the best place to start, and if there is a correct order in which to tackle these activities. In this post I want to walk through two different approaches — which we’ll call ’top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ — both of which have produced great results for innovation teams I have worked with.
Top-down: Market →Needs →Business
The top-down approach starts with mapping out the disruptive forces in a particular market. That means analysing emerging trends (consumer, tech, industry etc.) and new entrants (including their products, business models, value propositions, user groups and USPs), and clustering these into focused areas of opportunity. Having done that, you’ll need to drill down into each of those areas to sharpen your understanding of the specific user needs and ‘problems to be solved’ at play within them. Once you have done that, the final step is to reflect on your business’s unique capabilities and ask: which needs in which opportunity areas can we potentially address better than anyone else?
Here’s an example of how the top-down approach might work in practice: You are heading up an innovation unit at a large telecoms business, tasked with identifying opportunities outside of the core ‘minutes & data’ business. You have identified an opportunity area around NFC technology in retail environments. Digging a little deeper, you discover that what frustrates consumers is the generic nature of the information and offers they are fed in store, most of which have little relevance to them. You decide to explore ways in which your users’ mobile data might be leveraged to deliver a more personalised experience.
Bottom-up: Needs →Business →Market
The bottom-up approach starts with a synthesis of user needs, asking the question: what are the four or five biggest ‘problems to solve’ for users in our market? Many large organisations are sitting on a gold mine of qualitative and quantitative research reports. These are a great source of insight into customer needs, so re-analyse these reports and look for the big common themes. Once you have prioritised your user needs, it’s time to reflect on how effectively your business is meeting these needs for its customers. It is often shocking to see how such a simple exercise reveals the chasm between what customers really need and the imperfect solutions they are having to put up with currently. Having pinpointed the areas where you’d like to be doing better as a business, the final step is then to look to the wider market for inspiration for innovative solutions to those problems you identified.
Here’s an example: You are managing partner at a law firm and clients keep voicing their frustration at how unresponsive lawyers at your firm can be, and how disconnected they feel from the progress being made in their case. You are inclined to agree: while your lawyers are very talented, they have neither the time nor the means to keep clients continually updated on all the stellar work they are doing. You decide to look to adjacent markets for inspiration, and quickly begin to get excited by digital innovators like Slack and Evernote, as well as the account team model beloved of the consultancy world.
Neither of these two approaches is inherently better than the other. The top-down method tends to be better when you’re less familiar with a particular market and need to get a handle on what the various directions of travel are, before identifying specific ponds you want to go fishing in. The bottom-up method is better when you know your market more intimately and have a ton of existing insight into the customer and their needs, but need to get creative in meeting those needs more effectively.