Learning from Pirates

Spike at Brains on Fire wrote

In the vast majority of cases, pirates were violent and vicious – even barbaric. But for the sake of this post, allow me to put all that aside and talk about a handful of things that we, as practitioners of marketing, can learn from these dogs of the high seas. (read more below)

A bit of a stretch, but it is a fun way to get some ideas put across. My favorite was that Spike was going on a marketing book fast, but the second statement, “Realize that you’re in a democracy” is essential. In summary, do what your customers want or they will mutiny (he said “oust”, but “mutiny” is so pirate-y).

A lot of companies pretend to understand the basic idea of simply giving customers what they want for a price they are willing to pay, and yet matching customer desires with a new product or service is often one the most overlooked aspects of strategic planning. As Christensen and Raynor wrote,

By the time you add it all up, three-quarters of the money spent in product development investments results in products that do not succeed commercially.*

Warnings on what to watch out for when introducing and managing products or services can be confusing—race to be the market leader, make sure that you out-engineer everyone, but don’t do too much or you’ll be taken out from below.** If you look at the product or service management process on a more fundamental level, the answer is much clearer: match your innovation’s design with the customer desires.

My generalizing of this challenging task to the concept of matching design and desires may seem like too much of simplistic view of a complex principle, but it is through a user-centric approach—design-led innovation matched with broad customer understanding—that acceptance by a market is most likely to occur. These two areas (design and desires) represent a deep and often misunderstood aspect of product or service planning, but one that has increasingly come to represent the future of business strategy. Design experts Bound and Coleman explain,

Thinking and practice around universal design have been developed through industrial collaborations […] In parallel, the design and research communities […] have made significant strides in understanding […] consumers and integrating these [understandings] into design and new product development processes.***

Pirates got it; we should also learn to listen.

*Christensen, Clayton; Michael Raynor; The Innovator’s Solution, 2003, p 73, Harvard Business School
**See Christensen, Clayton; The Innovator’s Dilemma, 2000 edition, p 226, HarperBusiness and Carr, Nicholas G.; “Top-Down Disruption,” strategy + business, Issue 39, Summer 2005 for examples.
***Bound, John; Roger Coleman; “Commercial Advantage from Inclusive Design,” Design Management Review, Summer 2005, p 56 – 63

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