Is Agility actually killing Consumer Centricity?


Successful innovation has never been more exciting – and challenging.

As markets change at increasing speed, digital disruption rips through whole industries and speed of execution has become the essence of everything we do. Many companies are looking for ways to get to market faster, put a higher focus on iterative principles, encourage interdisciplinary working. In a word: agility.

The IT industry has become the reference frame, with agility principles being adapted across multiple categories, from fast moving consumer goods to utilities, services and transport. Traditionally sectors with longer planning cycles.

“Why will it take 2 years before this new petfood is available? They launch a new iPhone in 6 months…” (quote from a confused consumer)

And with this focus on delivery, the attention has moved away from ‘Consumer Insights’. All of a sudden they seem a bit out of fashion and old school. Too much work with too little to show for it.

But if we take a step back from agility and ask: what about the success rate of new launches? And above all the reasons why, it gives us pause for thought.

Up to 80% of all product launches fail. Still.

If we look at this figure in the context of start-ups, the numbers are even more dramatic – some sources claim that about 90% of all start-ups fail. One thing we can’t accuse start-ups of is a lack of agility! This is where the idea was invented…

What most start-ups don’t tend to do, however, is to put the (real) user at the centre of their development. Web development, logistics, algorithms, SEO and clicks come first. For many, the closest they get to the consumer is in form of an ideal ‘persona’ created by a group of cool digital nomads in a hip co-working space. A world and a reality apart from that of many of the potential future users.

And in traditional industries we also see the boardroom moving further away from the consumer, rather than closer. Budgets for research are being cut, smart data analysis can answer most questions and there “isn’t really time to do proper research anyway if you want to be agile…”.

So is the consumers’ voice still being heard? Are the skill sets needed to anchor innovation processes in a consumer reality being neglected?

Our years of experience with innovation processes suggest no quick fixes, no golden bullet, but rather a need for a highly skilled consumer-focussed, flexible process. We call it r:evolver.

Here are some of the basic principles.

1. Zoom in, zoom out.

Co-creation isn’t just about sitting with people and asking them to come up with new names, concepts and ideas, it’s about sensitively observing, questioning sparingly, and then reflecting on what you have seen to actually puzzle together what could be the right solution.

We were briefed recently by a bank to work with them on re-inventing their e-banking platform, adopting a consumer centric approach.

After each phase of consumer interaction we zoomed out together with the client to ask ourselves, first: What does all of this really ‘mean’ and, second: What could be the solutions that address the issues we have recognised? Or identifying the consumer insight and creatively developing different possible answers to the insight from an e-banking perspective.

We went through three stages, starting with observation of current behaviour, going through a co-creation phase with paper prototypes to finally A/B test different e-banking approaches with current and potential customers.

Ultimately we were able to deliver a new, visionary – and highly consumer centric – e-banking platform.

2. Slow-down, speed-up.

Each innovation process requires a different pace. There is no one process that fits all. Developing a new e-banking solution that is core to business is different, for example, to a quick product launch to outpace the competition.

In a recent project, we were precisely in this second situation. Lots of research had been conducted, product ideas developed and many idea fragments for positioning, communication and pack were available. But we had to move fast.

In 3 days we managed to co-create full concept routes with consumers, creatives and stakeholders as well as validate them with a robust sample.

In concrete terms this involved one day of Panorama® Group co-creation sessions, where we connected and combined all of the different elements of the puzzle. This was followed by a day of reflection and refining the ideas with the client stakeholders. The process finished with a day of eTrack® qual-quant validation. Providing a clear recommendation of which way to go (from the quant) as well as further guidelines for development (from the qual).

There was no time for new research. But by integrating research approaches into the idea development itself, we could ensure that the final propositions were developed with the future user at the core of the idea.

3. Mixing it up: Switching from System 1 to System 2 and back again.

The best innovation teams are those with complementary skill- and mind-sets, that combine the strictly logical, linear approach with a more lateral, intuitive, “how on earth could we make that happen?” angle.

Often it’s about dosing phases of creativity with more structured logical sessions, moving in and out of playful worlds then back to the real world again of sales, distribution, logistic issues.

A controlled approach to the chaotic.

A pharmaceutical company approached us to help them to rethink how their sales force interacts with physicians, maximising the range of available and new digital communication tools. With a mixed group of computer experts (“nerds”), senior physicians (“gods”) and sales reps (“briefcases”) we embarked on a rollercoaster ride of creative acceleration and logical gravitation.

We knew that for this to work we had to create chaos. To transform ‘gods’ into juniors, to turn ‘briefcases’ into touchy feely empathisers and to force ‘nerds’ into the responsibility of a Dragons’ Den type jury. The session was fun, fast – but not furious. It helped us to mix up the analytical with the playful. Or System 1 with System 2 if you like.

Most importantly it generated new, different and highly relevant ideas.

In summary: So how do agility and Consumer Centricity sit alongside each other?

Agility certainly doesn’t need to kill consumer centricity. On the contrary, it can gain a lot from it and maybe the disciplines of consumer centricity of the past can also benefit from becoming more agile.

As things speed up, we all need to become better in working with different types of data and different types of people. In an agile world, we need to learn to let go, to trust each other with what we are really good at and to embrace diverse expertise when it comes to creating breakthrough ideas.

A solid understanding of people and experience in talking to and really grasping consumers can add invaluable richness to an innovation process and can help to avoid the traps of selective listening, inventing insights and closed creativity.

The consumer experience can help us to innovate sensitively, with validity and at speed.

And, most importantly, making the consumer central to the picture can have a significant impact on success rates!

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