Working with a client, we discovered that the proliferation of customer choice required a new filter for determining the viability of a strategy.  We believe that identifying the necessity of the brand benefit within the context of the customer experience provides a anchoring concept to the subsequent strategy discussion. This requirement applies for business-to-business and consumer markets.

The proliferation of customer choice is made up of two dimensions:

First, the customer has many different options to choose from in order to satisfy a need.  These options typically cross product categories.  For instance, if you decide that you need to improve your coffee experience in the morning, you can choose from coffee makers that range from low-tech to high-tech, and you can choose from coffee presented in myriad packages, from fresh roasted whole beans to vacuum-packed grounds to pre-packaged coffee pods.  In order to compete for the customers’ attention, you need to be able to demonstrate a clear set of benefits that meet the customer requirements across the categories.

Second, the customer process of exploring the options, specifying choices and purchasing is essentially frictionless.  Each competitor in the market has equal opportunity to provide information to the customer, and the customer’s switching risk — moving from a known to an unknown solution — is mitigated by the availability of information.

Framing strategic thinking in this environment can rapidly be overwhelmed by the power of the customer’s optionality.

Voila Capture658In this case we were working with a brand that is in the midst of a fundamental transformation from a traditional publishing model to a dynamic media model.  The brand leaders had done a very good job of shifting their focus from product to customers and came to the strategy discussion equipped with quantitative and qualitative insights about the market.

They were confounded, however, by  how to adjust their strategy so that they could recharge their growth and perform more effectively in the market.  Part of the issue was how they defined themselves in the market.

Customers consistently reported high  levels of satisfaction with the brand’s products.  The brand we were working with was one of two leading brands in the market, recognized most prominently for its print publication.

As the group worked through the implications of the research, we suggested a shift in how to define the strategy question.

Since the customers and end-users had so many choices available to them, we believed that it would be clarifying to array those choices along an X and Y axis that evaluated each choices effectiveness at satisfying the market needs.

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We defined a necessity as an activity or outcome that absolutely had to be completed in order for the market participants to be successful at their job.

The conversation was complicated by the three dimensional aspect of any media business: the end-users and the customers are not always the same, as in an advertising-supported business such as a magazine or web site.

The brand research showed that the highest necessity for  customers was delivering leads and the lowest necessity — although still valued — was driving brand awareness.  The research also showed that for  end-users the highest necessity was specifying products that facilitated business solution, while the lowest necessity was to be informed about new products.

With that framework in place, we were able to identify which of the media platforms in the market were the most effective at satisfying the needs of the customers and the end-users.  We were also able, using the research, to identify which of those platforms were garnering the most end-user attention and growing the fastest in terms of customer investment.

This gave the brand leadership clear focus on where the emerging opportunities in the market were and how they could migrate their established brand attributes and capabilities against those opportunities.

We believe that every brand can benefit from this kind of necessity-based strategy framework, but that it becomes incredibly powerful in talking about media brands.  This conversation also helps to facilitate focused conversation around issues that become much more complex in a digital environment.  Traditional publishing strategy was a linear process that focused on the dynamic between product/reader/advertiser.  A media solutions strategy requires a more dynamic discussion that can entertain myriad product and services solutions.  By clearly focusing on the hierarchy of needs of the customers and the end-users, and identifying the pathways for migrating brand skills to become more critical to the satisfaction of those needs gives smart teams tangible plans for success.

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