by Iain Bryant on 17/12/12 at 8:00 am
In our experience amazing innovations often happen at the intersection of different cultures, disciplines and mindsets. The challenge for the innovator is to orchestrate such intersections as often as possible so as to increase the chances of creative fusion – those big bang moments.
It was in anticipation of just such a cross cultural experience that I organised for tickets to the lady Gaga concert. I am not a huge fan of Gaga, and in fact can only name two or three of her songs, but have been fascinated for some time as to how an artist who has been in the mainstream for barely five years, can amass a global following of fanatical fans, a string of record breaking world tours, off the charts album sales and a twitter following of more than 30 million people.
Her show is rich in sets, outrageous costumes and supporting dancers, but nothing remarkably different from the shows of Madonna, Michael Jackson or Queen, yet her following is many times theirs. Her music is ok, but nothing that will likely survive across the decades in the way that the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd or Dire Straits have.
So what is it that she does different that you and I as innovators and business people can learn from? In five short years, how does a 26 year old young New Yorker become the “mother monster” to so many dedicated fans and an inspiration to a generation? What she does differently to all of the millions of artists the world over, that has made her such a success?
The magic happens the moment she personally addresses her audience. She talks with them and not at them; she identifies with them and she makes them feel like they belong. She speaks to their dreams, their frustrations, their identities and their pain, and she genuinely enjoys interacting with them.
She shares the same feelings that they have of their own environment, a slight rebelliousness and resistance to authority, but in a way that is not antagonistic and not combative. She reassures them that it is good to be an individual, that it is good to be unique. And she lets them know that it is ok to be that way.
It is here that her model is different. Her show is not about her – her show is about her fans.
We are so accustomed to the show being about the showman, the product brochures being about the product features, the salesmen being only about the deal and the web sites being only about the company.
In all these customer-facing interactions, it is hardly ever about the customer. Product brochures should be about how the product can help your needs. The sales pitch needs to be about how you will be better off as a result of the experience. More company web sites should be about how they can more conveniently serve your needs and not about how good the company is.
When we begin an innovation journey with a new client, we often use their customers’ areas of pain as the point of departure. Sometimes we may even begin with the pain points of the customers of their customers. We spend a huge amount of effort to establish what is the actual job that they are looking to get done.
This is often very different to what you initially perceive it to be. For example, the music industry always assumed that people wanted to own the music of a particular artist. But what they actually wanted to do was to ‘listen’ to the music of a particular artist as and when they wished. Ownership, and co-incidentally payment, was not really of consequence to the music aficionado.
It turned out that the ability to share musicis a higher priority than owning it, and that the ability to download only the songs you like, is far more useful than buying an entire album. This is a very different value proposition, and one which has caused remarkably different fortunes for the iTunes store and cloud music services compared to CD stores and distributors the world over.
If we can examine our offering and change it to address the real needs of the customer, the real jobs that the customer needs to have done, then we usually have the beginnings of an exciting innovation to bring to market, and in doing so, the original products tend to sell themselves.
It is here that Gaga gets it right. Her audience does not really need another string of hit songs to add to their already swollen collections. She realises that her little monsters have a need to belong, and a need for an approving mother figure who lets them know that it is ok to be different. The real job that they require is for someone to tell them that its ok to be themselves. And she does this job well.
Retail king, Raymond Ackerman,realisedearly on that his business was not necessarily about selling groceries, but that by championing the cause of the consumer, the groceries would sell themselves. In the same way, Gagarealises that by really caring for her fans, the rest of her business will take care of itself.
In your own business, do you really know what is the job that your customers need to have done, or are you merely just pushing product at them in thesame way you have done for years? Perhaps it is time to take a long hard view at your business and invest some time in working out exactly what the real job is that your customers need to have done, and how your products can do this for them.
While you may think your customers merely want to buy motor cars, airline tickets, cappuccinos or tins of paint, the real job that customers need to have done may be quite different. If the job is a different one, it may be much more lucrative to repackage your offering to cater for the real need.
As Gaga reassures us, it is ok to be different and it can be lucrative to push the boundaries.
Iain Bryant is a director of Future by Design Innovation, an advisory providing solutions to senior executives on issues of growth and innovation. Future by Design assists clients to profitably implement new innovative approaches to their businesses, their products, their customers and their people. For some clients he acts as a consulting Financial Director, where they first need to get control over the financial core of their businesses. View more articles by Iain Bryant.