It’s The Experience, Stupid!

One of our clients was trying to reinvigorate its building materials business in a recent project. The initial work focus centered on potential levels for innovation. The executives considered developing a more flexible manufacturing process, or possibly increasing the effectiveness of their distributors, or even reducing package sizes if that might meaningfully change the economics of their business. They argued that growth had to come through the existing business system. It was entirely rational, yet it entirely missed the mark.

In taking this focus, the executives were more concerned about their own business practices and not thinking about why people bought their products. It wasn’t because customers woke up in the morning with a burning desire to buy lumber, but because a homeowner dreamed of achieving a better life in a better home. By taking a step back, our client realized that the market didn’t want hammers and nails; it wanted walls and rooms.

Once we defined this underlying motivation behind why people purchased building materials, the client understood that their real challenge wasn’t about optimizing the existing distribution system. Their task was instead to build a network of architects and contractors who could deliver. By improving the homebuilding experience, our client could also unleash new demand and grow the overall market.

Making the switch from “Should we do this?” to “How can we make it happen?” can provide the defining moment of any innovation project. It’s also the moment where many innovations founder. By focusing on what’s practically achievable, or trying to predict possible growth in year five, clients regularly miss the ability to deliver a new, improved experience–and lasting growth.

One way to facilitate innovation delivery is to develop what we at Doblin call a business concept illustration. This can be anything from a simple sales brochure to a prototype store. The common element is that it immediately evokes an emotional response. Unlike “looks-like” or “works-like” prototypes, these illustrations aim to bring to life a fundamental shift in how the innovation addresses a market need. This isn’t about asking our clients to “imagine a world where…” or suspend disbelief. Rather, it makes the new idea hook into everything we already know to be true, showing how magical a new experience might be.

Teams have to focus on this element of magic in order to help sponsors understand why the innovation is important. If teams can express how their project will meaningfully change an experience, financial analysis becomes less of a focus. Given that it’s often a fool’s errand to try and predict innovation using most common metrics, this is incredibly useful.

For our building materials client, we didn’t focus our business concept illustration on the contractors who bought and used the product. Instead we focused on the housewife who dreamed of a home – our client’s clients’ client. We developed a short animation describing how they can help the housewife achieve her dream. They knew they could help her; they just never realized she was part of their business equation. In a four-minute video, we were able to turn them from being skeptical about why they should invest to instead asking us how they could accelerate development.