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Consumer Insights—Especially When it Gets Uncomfortable

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came from my boxing coach. After a particularly challenging sparring session, he gently leaned in and said, “If someone keeps hitting you in the head, you should think about moving it.”

Sounds pretty straight-forward, right? Like not even something a person would need to be told. The problem is, I was exclusively focused on what other parts of my body were doing in response to all the cross—jab combos whizzing at me.

I was using my energy to react and mitigate potential damage from the impact, instead of strategically avoiding them.

In reality, most of the effort I invested during those three minutes was dumped directly into "don’t freak out!" blocks and counter-punches. None of which are nearly as effective as a quick slip and leveraging the resulting momentum into a solid right hook.

Solving for “move your head” shifted the problem definition and created space for a more optimal strategy. It also positioned me toward what I control (where my head is in relation to incoming blows), versus taking a reactive approach that can only be influenced.

It’s amazing how quickly stress and physiological urgency break down our ability to respond effectively.

The mind shifts to an immediate priority of “protect the head” and mitigate damage; alternative solutions like “move the head” are further down the list of options.

So, what does all this have to do with excellence in your consumer engagement strategy? Glad you asked, follow me…

In my consulting days, I would frequently meet with companies to learn more about their challenges and strategies for consumer life-cycles. For more established clients in high-demand industries, the perspective was consistently an external focus. Companies would often view customer complaints as problems needing to be solved. Not in the sense of fixing the issue itself, but by minimizing the channels and visibility for negative consumer contacts.

They were reacting and trying to mitigate impact, rather than moving the head.

Think of customer contacts as an early indicator. Coupled with purchasing trends and similar behavior patterns, feedback from consumers provides a deep well of insight. When they stop complaining or asking questions, that’s a problem.

Here are some critical “move your head” areas to consider in forward planning…

1. Tell me more. These three words are priceless in engaging consumers over the long-term. Bring them in and listen. More importantly, have channels to incorporate feedback into change. Established companies can find themselves lulled into a sense of industry expertise. Select business leaders may dominate the marketplace, but your customers are always the expert on dealing with you. Make sure they are part of the journey with your designs and strategy.

2. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Yes, it’s a business with terms and conditions. Policy changes are expected. But these changes impact actual, real people with lives as complex and interesting as yours. Evaluating the true impact on consumers, employees, humans, etc. is a critical element of due diligence.

3. Don’t be this season’s rewind fee. Companies can rapidly implement new fee structures as quick revenue streams. Any significant (or annoying) cost can be flipped into a business differentiator by your competitors. Somewhere out there is a disruptive innovation that will change the pricing model of your industry. Don’t be the legacy system that is bloated with antiquated charges.

4. Actively engage consumers to learn what they dread most about doing business with you. Going back to the example of DVD rentals, companies invested heavily in designing stores packed with merchandise and shiny trinkets. Some even sold popcorn and candy, similar to movie theaters. What they failed to appreciate is that most people wanted to avoid interacting with stores altogether. Consumers didn’t want shiny billboards, they wanted to avoid two things: the hassle of in-store experiences, and disappointment of not getting what they wanted. Netflix came along and quickly solved both problems, with way less overhead.

5. Take the long-view and fail quickly. This is not a new perspective, but definitely one worth reiterating. Humans have a tendency to embrace the status quo, even when it’s dysfunctional. Exploring new use cases, markets, and consumer profiles is going to keep a fresh perspective. Innovation starts with creatively flipping industry assumptions and intersecting ideas that appear completely unrelated.

6. Don’t be bound by the laws of physics. That’s basic. We don’t do basic.

Originally published at on April 28 2018

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