For many years, relying on in-depth analytical assessments of market trends, consumer surveys and brand equities identified the opportunities and generated the innovations to drive consistent business growth. It was a time before the internet crumbled so many competitive barriers to entry allowing anyone new – big or small, near or far – to launch a new product, before the time of big data burying managers in both relevant and irrelevant information about customers and before consumers became saturated with so many new offerings and messages that innovation needed to be truly significant to stand out or attract their interest. Today, relying only on the traditional left brain tools – information, data and analysis – is not enough to generate the truly breakthrough and disruptive ideas required for significant growth. It is essential for innovation success and growth to begin to integrate some right-brain skills and abilities – including empathy, intuition and imagination. Why, because increasingly your customers are making their choices and taking action from places of feelings as they are overwhelmed by increasingly growing numbers of options and messages.
“In a complex world, emotions can be considered as short-cuts that enable us to make decisions; as Dr. Marcel Zeelenberg says ‘feeling is doing’.” Antonio Damsio, Neuroscientist
Delving into your customers’ feelings and emotions is a right brain exercise by definition. It requires empathy, skilled listening and observation and tools that enable managers to “walk a mile” in their customers’ shoes. And for many managers and marketing teams, it is unclear how or where to begin this new approach. Based on our experience at SPARK, delivering innovation and disruptive ideas to our clients for over 20 years, there are a few simple actions that a management or brand team can make to begin the process of better understanding their customers’ feelings and unarticulated emotional needs as well as developing a better integration of the traditional left brain tools with the newer right brain tools.
- Start with a clear, focused, left brain definition of the business objective including identification of the core target group, which becomes the key touch point for designing and validating new ideas.
- Forgetting the business objective for a moment, initiate an in-depth effort to better understand the core target empathetically. This will require face- to-face conversations, qualitative and ethnographic research and meeting the customer out in the world at key points along their product/experience journey. It depends on great listening skills – and often is easiest done with some outside, expert help in these areas who bring no preconceived ideas about the customer.
- Focus on possibilities instead of problems. Too often a team narrows its thinking by working on customers’ problems and concerns. Focusing on the possibilities created by customers’ unmet needs – both functional and emotional – often opens up a broader set of opportunities.
Moving forward, managers and their teams will need to begin learning and developing a more integrated set of skills and tools – both left and right brain – to achieve the significant growth goals they desire through disruptive innovation.