Last Wednesday, Mona Chammas and I attended eat:Strategy, where the discussion centred around research, psychology, branding, and design, as they relate to strategy. It was a day filled with both agency and in-house perspectives.
One of the overarching themes was the importance of building continuity between data, insight, strategy, and execution, while also aligning with project objectives. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s quite remarkable to be able to accomplish in practice.
To illustrate visually, let’s have a look at Leona Hobbs’ strategic sweet spot Venn diagram, one of my favourite ideas of the day:
To me, business objectives and audience needs/wants can come together to inform strategies to some extent. What sets projects up for successful execution, however, are the other two components: organizational readiness and regulatory considerations. How many of us have found ourselves in a situation with a stellar idea that meets business goals and customer needs, yet have a tough time selling the idea through, whether with a client or internally to stakeholders? Innovation can be uncomfortable for everyone, so there needs to be an appetite for it, as well as the right (regulatory) environment.
I’ve handpicked the most potent thoughts on customer research, insights, and strategy from the conference, in bite-sized form.
Strategy vs. tactics
A shared gripe of those working in strategy is when others mistake a tactic (an action that can be taken to execute the strategy) for a strategy (an idea of how goals or objectives can be achieved). The realization for me yesterday was that if not for my business background, I wouldn’t have known the terminology. Part of the issue in my opinion is education and developing a shared understanding of the meaning of the words strategy and tactic. I would challenge the strategy community to help educate others on the difference in creative ways.
Here’s my simple attempt at an illustration:
(Organizational readiness could involve knowing how to drive. Regulatory considerations could mean driving on streets instead of the sidewalks.)
Customer research as secret weapon
Leona highlighted some facts from an Interbrand study that were telling: more than a quarter of the 672 companies surveyed across 10 sectors are not seeking customer input when developing digital experiences and 46% of those surveyed are not even making use of publicly available data for customer research. The takeaway for me is that there is an immense opportunity to improve customer research and set your brand apart from the rest.
Two ways to set your research efforts up for success
1) Align research objectives with business and project objectives (I am a big advocate of developing a shared understanding of research questions and business goals).
2) Invest in a robust analytics setup so you can get useful, actionable insights from your data down the road.
For more nuggets on eat:Strategy, check out Mona’s post.
Social experiments are fun because people are so unpredictable, full of surprises! I recently pilot tested an exercise with some Nuruners to let them get their feet wet with design research as we move towards increasingly collaborative research in our teams. What was really highlighted to me was the human tendency to gravitate towards judgment and familiar stereotypes vs. curiosity and empathy. It’s instinctual.
The world can be a chaotic jungle, so we navigate through it by organizing what we see into familiar categories in our brains. It helps us quickly understand our surroundings and reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed. It streamlines our lives. While these mental buckets are great for efficiency and survival, it means that much more effort is needed for us to unravel life experiences that can tint our perceptions.
The challenge when we’re trying to understand our customers, clients, and end users, is to shift from looking and judging to caring, actively observing, understanding, empathizing, and appreciating a person’s experience in a given moment or process. There needs to be curiosity, care, and appreciation for the person’s experience. It’s not easy, but when done well, can surface some opportunities to offer meaningful experiences for customers, filled with all kinds of utility.
How can we rediscover that curiosity and innocence towards our surroundings and people we encounter? Travel can be a great way to culture shock us into a state of healthy awkwardness and sensitivity, though there are some more cost-effective ways to get a fresh perspective. Of course it also depends on the project and domain, but some empathy-inducing research methods can be valuable. Role-playing, experience prototyping, design fictions, empathy maps, and physical devices like empathy suits are some methods/techniques to name a few. MIT’s AgeLab has been using a full body suit called AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System) to help researchers and students better understand the needs and experience of an aging body through physical sensation.
Research methods aside, a couple points of inspiration that get my curiosity flowing are photographer Jason Travis’ photo series called “Persona” and Keri Smith’s How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum. If you have any anecdotes, inspiration, or curious habits to share, I’d love to hear them here or via twitter (@jenchow)!
According to a recent report by Pew Research Center, 30 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 said they use their phones to avoid interacting with people.
Have you ever pretended to be on a call to avoid chatting with someone?
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