Deaf & Blindsided: Innovation is About Listening

What does the Inauguration of the 45th American President and Blockbuster have in common?

The organizations weren’t listening.

I know, probably an answer far less snarky than what you were expecting. However, there is a far more pragmatic and important reality impacting your business you need to recognize.

With the holiday season behind us, did you happen to notice the absence of many notable brands we grew up with? Companies like Zenith, Circuit City, Blockbuster, and Borders were nowhere on your shopping list – they are ghosts of Holidays past, for sure. In great part because they didn’t listen.

This month, an outsider takes the Oath of the greatest office in the land as the 45th President of the United States, much to the dismay of both Republican and Democrat alike. One organization can’t believe their candidate won, the other can’t believe their candidate didn’t. They didn’t listen.

Whether it’s politics or products one thing must be present for success:

Listening to your customers.

Too often, organizations get so caught up in their own hubris, they fail to change, grow, or innovate beyond their initial successes. Or worse, they try to change too much, too fast and, as Dave Packard of Hewlett Packard states, “a company is more likely to die of indigestion from too much opportunity than starvation from too little.”

Too many companies are creating the products and services they think consumers want, but often aren’t fully considering why or their customer would even want them in the first place.


Are you listening?

People always want the next new and shiny anything, marketers have trained us for it. As such, companies will jump into the newest trends, use the latest catchphrases, and portray that they’re fashionable to the current state of economy. They throw around terms like “innovation”, “disruption”, and “digital transformation.”

That’s great and all… but a problem arises when your customer’s experience is changed to something they neither want nor expect. You don’t simply change for the sake of changing.

Innovation begins and ends with the customer.

Or, on the other hand, organizations think they can continue to stay the course and not waver from what has worked in the past… Our American politics just got a big dose of reality in this department. Neither the Republican nor Democratic Party took time to listen, observe, and respect their very real and passionate constituency. Both paid a heavy price.

You, first, must hear the voice of your customer.


Five Billion to Bankrupt

Blockbuster thought their audience adored their in-store experience and a bag a popcorn for an evening of entertainment. By the time they realized people loved the actual movies on-demand, with or without popcorn, it had become too late. In two years, they went from a $5 billion dollar company to bankrupt.

The critical component is this: customer experience.

Some would question, “We are good, as long as we are matching our product to demand, right?” That’s a good start, but if you stop there, you may miss it. Blockbuster had a good product – movies.

They had a terrible process: The logistics of traveling to a store, finding a movie in-stock, penalties for late returns, and all of the time it consumed became intolerable the instant someone else offered a better experience.

What does that actually mean? Customer experience is the primary factor to company relevance.

While some companies can argue for a Snapchat geofilter campaign, AR/VR experience, or wearable notifications, others simply don’t need them.

Innovation is not about tech-goo, it’s about customers’ happy interaction with your brand or service. Your company doesn’t need to be everywhere in everything… you need to be into the product and service that serves your customers best.

Innovation is nothing if the customer isn’t the foundational part of the equation.

Important Questions to Ask

•  Are you laser focused on why your customer does or does not do business with you?

•  What does your customer want or need from your product or service?

•  Are you delivering the way your customer desires best?

Deaf and Blindsided

Over the last year, we’ve witnessed Brexit and the US Presidential Campaign model what a lack of understanding for their “customer” looks like (and France might be next). Those in authority became silo’d, entrenched in their own echo chambers of what they perceive to be simple reasoning, established norm, and expected outcome.

We’ve also witnessed Radio Shack, Staples, and Sears on the brink because they haven’t been listening either. These brands all missed tremendous opportunities to transition into digital retail fast enough. They, too, believed their own models were sustainable and ignored the changing customer base.

They weren’t listening.


Don’t Believe Your Own Hype

Be it hubris, arrogance, or ignorance, they weren’t listening to what their constituencies were actually demanding. They believe their own hype, isolate to their own cadre of like-minded, and become paralyzed by assumption.

Will you hear the voice of your people?

Polls, focus groups, and pundits are not the barometer of truth. Anyone will say what they need to say in order to save face, blend in, and acquiesce. This is where groupthink fails us.

It’s what’s beyond the words… the actions that speak loudest.

So, “How can a brand truly listen to their customer?” you ask. Below, we’ve provided a resource to help you do just that. But first, let me share some examples of those who’ve weathered history to prevail.


Building A Legacy Brand is Possible

Today, some companies are skyrocketing in growth. They’ve taken the imperative to listen and create new and creative ways to serve customers faster, more efficiently, and economically. However, even the biggest of disruptors like Airbnb and Uber stand to annihilate themselves if they’re not careful to continue listening – their users, drivers, hosts, and regulators are speaking.

Having a vibrant, legacy organization is possible. Study the methodologies of businesses surviving even over a hundred years into this technological century. Brands like IBM, Diebold, Wells Fargo, 3M, and even Nintendo have iterated, innovated, and survived… even thrived.

Did you know that Nintendo started in 1889 as a playing card company?

Nintendo’s Corporate Mission and Philosophy actually states, “… We believe it is essential not only to provide products of the highest quality, but to treat every customer with attention, consideration and respect. By listening closely to our customers, we constantly improve our products and services.”

Your company can have a legacy. It may not always look like you started, but it will evolve and improve the more you connect to your customer, listening to what they need, and delivering with excellence.

Innovation is about listening

I have Seven ideas to help your organization make the necessary steps right now. Below is a short PDF of seven techniques you can use to listen more accurately to your customers. In it, you’ll learn about data, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and much more.


At Brain+Trust Partners, we’re focused on helping your company connect to customers with the best-in-class tools, teams, and technologies possible. Our level of experience and expertise is here to serve your brand with common sense and long-term vision.

For more information, call us (512) 750-4066.

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