Discovery – Achieving Insight and Understanding
“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight andunderstanding.” — Marshall McLuhan
Self discovery and self awareness are key attributes in one’s personal growth, development and ultimate self fulfillment. The same holds true for your business. The better you understand its true nature, capabilities – strengths and weaknesses – the more likely you are to make the prudent decisions that will lead to your firm’s success, sustainability and ultimate value in the marketplace.
This discovery process will help you capture the prevailing perceptions both within and outside your company. It’s a qualitative process that should be viewed independently from any quantitative brand research or analyses that you may have already conducted or are considering.
Goal one of this exercise is to identify the perceptions of your senior executives and note where they diverge from those of selected “market-aware” outsiders and any market consensus that may be expressed in published reports and analysis from respected sources. Ultimately, the discovery process will help you determine the perception gap or “value gap” (see prior blog entry) that separates you from your strongest possible market position.
Goal two is to reveal conflicting perceptions within the executive team itself. Often such conflicts can go unnoticed for years – even among executives who work together on a daily basis. That’s because when companies are product-centric in their thinking, it tends to nurture a false consensus among senior managers. Differing views regarding the company’s broader strategic market role fail to surface or are papered over as managers find themselves preoccupied on the daily treadmill of tactical marketing.
The discovery process should yield a body of insights that is roughly representative of market perceptions, and provide some indications of how key stakeholders view the company’s trajectory and future market role.
Combined with your own experience, common sense and insights, these findings will provide the rough outline of a positioning architecture for your firm. This will be the starting point that will help your management team reveal your company’s most strategic value.
The three discovery methods detailed below do not have to be conducted in a specific order. In fact, work schedules and the availability of interview subjects may make it necessary to mix things up to get it all done. It is important, though, to be deliberative and thorough in completing each.
Discovery Method 1: Internal interviews
Assignment: Conduct a one-hour interview with each senior executive involved in the key economic drivers at your firm. In addition to CEO and COO managers, include top leaders from Sales, Marketing, Product Management, Channel Management, etc., i.e. those driving business strategy.
Your interview strategy is to push your executives outside of their familiar narratives in their responses, and to force them to consider aspects of the company from new and broader perspectives. The goal is to capture their sense of the company’s current and potential market position. You may want to use existing SWOT analyses as starting points, but remember, you’re trying to encourage a broader and more aspirational view of the company and its role in the marketplace.
Discovery Method 2: External interviews
Assignment: Conduct interviews with a variety of people who are outside of the company but are familiar with the company and its products.
If possible, include outside opinions from three different perspectives: customer, partner or consultant, and editor or analyst—ideally from multiple individuals in each category. Because their participation is a courtesy, it may not be possible to get a full hour for each interview, so you must be efficient. The goal is to capture their view of the market landscape and where your company fits in.
Discovery Method 3: “Fresh-eyes” Internet research
This means assessing your market and your company’s place in the competitive landscape from the perspective of a newcomer. Here, it’s important that you put aside what you think you know about the market’s assumptions and construct a new profile of the company based on publicly available information.
Assignment: Conduct Internet searches for information and opinions about your company, your technology and your market. Your most reliable sources include:
- Analysts’ reports: Look to organizations such as Forrester Research, Gartner, Aberdeen Group and others for expert insights on market trends and competitive rankings.
- Industry publications and organizations: Virtually any endeavor that represents a defined arena of economic activity—from alpaca farming to zydaco music festivals–is the subject of a trade journal or trade association. A simple Internet search for a specific market or technology, followed by the term “magazine,” “news,” or “trends” will likely point you to a publication or web site devoted to it.
- Independent blogs, chat rooms and other online forums: The Internet has “democratized” opinion journalism and dramatically expanded access to all manner of information. The same search techniques that lead you to established e-magazines and portals will likely also turn up an assortment of these sources.
- Competitive web sites and social media: Your competitors are using their web sites, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other digital assets to shape market perceptions and preferences in their favor. It’s important to know how they are framing the debate.
When you have completed your interviews and research, document and organize your findings. Develop a summary of the findings, interviews and research. Be sure to note areas in which the views of your executive team significantly differ from those expressed by outside individuals and organizations. From this discovery process, you should be able to clearly articulate:
- Who are all of your direct competitors?
- Who/what are your indirect competitors?
- What are the trends for your product category?
- How are broader market forces impacting your industry?
- Given this baseline data, what are the key concerns and motivations that are driving your customers and prospects?
- What are they thinking?
- What keeps them up at night?
Based on the discovery process, combined with your knowledge of your company’s products, technologies and processes, you may have already formed some preliminary ideas about your company’s “Perception Gap,” as well as its untapped opportunities. Using your findings and your instincts, you are one step closer to developing an effective positioning architecture for your firm and portraying your company’s maximum market value. Remember, the goal is to move from “default” market positioning to your ideal, maximized position—your desired destination. But first, there’s more work to be done.
Next Step: Going Deep – Illuminating, elevating and leveraging the value of your company’s core assets.
VP, Business Development