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Beyond The Obvious by Phil McKinney - Innovation - 5 Killer Questions - Your Customer Offerings

June 06, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 156

Whether you create a physical product, or a product as an experience or service, how do you keep developing it over the course of its life cycle? In today's hyper-competitive marketplace, you need to understand the core value of your product. Phil Mckinney is the author of the new book, "Beyond The Obvious-Killer Questions That Spark Game-Changing Innovation." He provides ten Killer Questions that help define what you're offering your customers. Here is the second set of five Killer Questions to help you capture your competitive advantage...

Can I create an on-demand version of the product?

Is there a way that not offering a finished product could give you a competitive advantage, or even become a selling point?

Manufacturing costs and lag time between ordering and presenting the actual product may cause you to lose sales. Or, it could cause you to miss a window of opportunity if responding to a short-lived fad.

Some businesses offer customized, in-store products (including stuffed animals and pottery). They provide the opportunity to create something without the responsibility of gathering materials or cleanup.

These companies reduce the risk of having a stockroom full of unsalable, faddish product; and they use premium pricing for the pleasure of customers assembling their own product.

Can you give customers the opportunity to take ownership over the product construction process? Can you build the emotional connection by giving your customer the ability to say, "I did this"?

Can I recombine existing components to create new products for customers I don't currently serve?

As more publishing goes digital, traditional print publishers are exploring new ventures. Some magazines are making their print issues feel like "must-buy" items, featuring subscriber-only covers with edgier photography.

Magazine publishers' real assets are their tens of thousands of articles that have been written and published over the years. One publisher is exploring ways to monetize their back catalog of content by creating an app, based on existing articles. If, for example, you're traveling to Italy, you can get travel tips, recipes, fashion stories and a list of important buildings culled from its publications.

Does your company have a similar backlog of information or experience it could reshape into a current product?

"As is often the case, it is the people and companies who are in trouble, and fighting for survival, who are the boldest," says McKinney.

Who will not buy my product because they feel something is objectionable about it?

If you're inspiring to some people that love what you're doing, odds are you're going to be inspiring to others to dislike your product with an equal passion (think any business selling rebellion or a gritty countercultural message, like alcohol or tobacco).

Decide whether there is any benefit or purpose to being strategically disliked or being perceived by some as "not us." "Will it benefit you and your product to deliberately set yourself in opposition to certain social groups?" asks McKinney. Carefully walk the line between creating a connection on one side and provoking rejection on the other.

What is surprisingly inconvenient about my product?

Historically, designers and engineers have presented finished prototypes to McKinney; and he'd have his wife test it for herself. She's a zero-tolerance customer. "She doesn't care how a gadget works; she just wants it to work," he says. Her lack of specific knowledge about a product has been invaluable in helping McKinney see his blind spots.

There are two ways to uncover potential annoyances in your new or existing products:

  1. Observe your customers and see what they're doing with your product; and what their experience it is.
  2. Use the product yourself.

"Either way, you need to be fanatical about constantly improving the product and getting rid of the problems you uncover."

McKinney notes that men are ego-driven and won't let a gadget win. They'll keep tinkering with it and, if all fails, "stick it in the garage and forget about it." Most women will give a product three tries before returning it to the store.

Ultimately, find a zero-tolerance customer. Have them test your products and convey their unvarnished truth about its real usefulness and value.

What products could I create out of unused assets?

McKinney details a highly successful online department store that continually evolves. They've experimented with everything from search engines to mechanical turks, allowing individuals to make money by offering their services in tiny increments of time. They also have more server capacity space than they need and have started renting their servers to provide infrastructure for third-party websites.

Avoid being pigeonholed into one set of services. Examine any underused resources you have available. Is there a way you could offer these to your customers as an extension of your main business? These explorations might not yield big payoffs, but that's ok. Constantly explore ways to stay ahead of the trends that are shaping your industry.

For a list of the World's 50 Most Innovative Companies, as ranked by Fast Company, visit:

Timothy Zaun is a blogger, speaker and freelance writer. Visit him online at

Source: EzineArticles
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