One Size Does Not Fit All

One Size Does Not Fit All

By Andrea Coville with Paul B. Brown

Andrea Coville is CEO of Brodeur Partners, a Boston-based PR and communications agency. Paul B. Brown is author or co-author of more than a dozen business books and a former TCB Review columnist. Excerpted with permission from Relevance: The Power to Change Minds and Behavior and Stay Ahead of the Competition (Bibliomotion). ©2014

Almost everyone thinks successful innovation starts with a great idea. Almost everyone is wrong.

The great idea comes second. You must begin with the killer insight, a deep truth significant enough that it helps you make a meaningful number of sales or allows you to forge relationships with a large number of people.

Ultimately, an insight tries to make someone’s life simpler and more economical, profitable, efficient, and—if it is truly meaningful—worthwhile.

And the easiest way to come up with that insight, an idea that is going to resonate with your customers and potential customers (in addition to increasing sales, earnings, and market share), is to connect an attribute of your offering to a need your customers have. Then you must show how what you have come up with can make their lives better. More specifically, you want to demonstrate why at least some aspect of your offering solves a problem or fills a need that is relevant to your customers.

Why is developing the insight the place to begin? That’s simple. Insights are so important because ideas are so easy. We are convinced you could come up with twenty killer ideas before lunch—everything from making it possible to fly a jet to work to simplifying the tax code—if you really had to.

Coming up with ideas isn’t a problem. But, ironically, starting with the idea—even if it is a great idea—can be. Why? Because if you start with an idea, there is no guarantee you are going to connect with your target audience. You could come up with a solution for no known problem. Or for a problem that your target customers simply don’t have. Examples abound. The following comes courtesy of innovation consultant Mike Maddock and his book Brand New:

The Iridium phone was a truly great invention. We are guessing here, but we believe that the inspiration for the product was this:

Wouldn’t it be great if we created a cell phone that allowed you to call or email anyone in the world from anywhere in the world at any time? And by everywhere, we mean everywhere: the poles, oceans, sky, and absolutely everywhere in between.

Who wouldn’t want a phone capable of delivering communications to and from the most remote areas in the world, where absolutely no other form of communication is available?

When you ask the question that way, the answer would be: Of course everyone is going to want one.

But when you started giving people a bit more information (“the phones are going to cost what?” and “how much a month?” and “the charge per minute is going to be what?”), you would quickly realize that the number of people who want the phone and are willing to pay for it is not large enough to support the investment.

That’s why you need to start not with the idea but with the insight that identifies what the market needs and is willing to pay for.

And when you do, your default position must be this: You cannot be all things to all people. Common sense tells you why.

First, it is virtually impossible to find a product that everyone needs. Water, you say. OK. Tap? Naturally sparkling? Carbonated? Bottled? Branded? Imported? Single-source? Flavored? With vitamins added? You get the idea. Even what seems like the world’s most basic commodity, water, can—and has been—sliced and diced (if you can slice and dice water) into endless variations.

Second, you run the risk of looking ridiculous if you try to be all things to everyone. Think about people who don’t dress age-appropriately. It is not a pretty sight. It is no different when you twist yourself into a pretzel trying to make your state-of-the-art router seem appealing to everyone (“Grandparents will love it because . . .”) or when you attempt to make that new boy band into a group for “music lovers of all ages.”

Third, reaching the widest possible audience requires you to be extremely bland. You can’t risk offending anyone for any conceivable reason as you search to lure every possible customer you can. And bland things are, by definition, commodities. There is no emotional connection to a commodity. (Don’t believe us? How connected are you to tap water or white sneaker laces? They are commodities and don’t offend anyone, unless there is some kind of flaw with them. But you are not fiercely loyal to them either.)

You can’t be all things to all people and still be relevant. To be relevant, you need to find a need you can satisfy and then fulfill that need for a core audience. You build from there.