I recently heard someone in the telecom space say that we’ve taken this “rectangular piece of glass” as far as we possibly can, despite carriers today aggressively looking to be more relevant in our digital future. Seeking innovation and disruption, carriers today are seemingly open to looking at everything, but the comments about the evolution of “rectangular glass” indicate that carriers may not be seeking answers to the right questions.
In their quest to ensure they’re not just innovating for the sake of innovation, carriers must seek to innovate in the ways that subscribers want them to innovate – delivering differentiated value not being delivered by others. To do that, carriers must use research to answer questions like “What are core consumer problems?” not merely, “Will consumers validate our preconceived ideas about anticipated results?”
Ultimately, innovation-oriented research doesn’t need to be complex. But it does need to focus on identifying and understanding consumers’ problems and how their lives might be made easier or better, not about how a technology works or delivers value. Carriers seeking to stay relevant in the digital future must keep this research approach at the forefront of their efforts.
Here are some common mistakes carriers – and other tech companies – have made in their quest to innovate.
Mistake 1: Validate needs before solutions
Explanation: Too often, telecom companies offer new products because they have the technology and the materials to build it, and not because there’s a demand for that product or service. This puts them in the position of figuring out how to sell something for which there may not even be a market – and it could be a recipe for disaster.
Example: The idea of the PDA – remember the Palm Pilot and Handspring Trio? – was introduced at a telco about 30 years ago. At that point, email was still very new, and the idea of taking your work home or to the beach was not just absurd; it was upsetting! This idea was introduced way before its time, and well before there was a market for it. The technology was there, but no one wanted it yet.
Ask Yourself: Am I building this solution because I can build it? Or because consumers actually want or need it?
Mistake 2: It’s consumer research, not personal validation
Explanation: As researchers, in order to optimize our ability to develop studies that reach the proper conclusions, we need to cast aside our own preconceived ideas and biases, and open our minds to all possibilities. Any bias going in will slant the research because it’s likely to not only impact the questions asked – it will also affect the results and the analysis of those results.
Example: In 2016, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of researchers who were hard at work analyzing election polls. They presented their current findings at a conference. Looking strictly at the numbers, their results showed the election was a toss-up. However, despite the diversity within the group — who were of different backgrounds, in addition to various levels of education and experience behind them — when asked who the team voted for in the election they replied most likely Hillary. This likely influenced their interpretation of the findings – and we all know how that election ultimately turned out.
Ask Yourself: Am I prepared to be surprised and delighted or disappointed by my findings? It’s critically important to review research with an open and unbiased mind, and to be prepared for whatever it is you find. When flat-earthers finally board their rocket ship, they will need to be open to the idea that the earth will be a sphere, and that no one has hoodwinked them. In short, If you believe the possible to be impossible, you will never correctly predict the possible.
Mistake 3: Numbers don’t lie, but stakeholders are mules of a different color
Explanation: You are not your audience – and it’s dangerous to assume that you and/or your colleagues have the same habits, characteristics, wants and needs as your audience. If you work for a large tech firm or telecommunications company, you probably make above-average income, and you probably surround yourself with people from a similar income bracket as well as similar neighborhoods. That means you’re not including many diverse groups in your assumptions about the market.
Example: Years before smartphones, an innovative company developed a video phone, with the assumption that everyone would want one. It was a great idea, except that each unit sold for $2,500 in an era where the median household income was $30,000. The company sold approximately 8,000 units before pulling the product from the market. The product team hadn’t considered anyone outside their peer group when developing and pricing the phone.
Ask Yourself: Have I thoroughly researched my market – beyond these four walls? Do consumers outside my age group, income bracket, education level and region have an interest in or a need for this product or idea?
There are so many useful ways to think about researching innovation and how the “rectangles of glass” we call our mobile phones can still be improved to drive greater customer satisfaction and loyalty. The key is to ask the right questions, and to ensure you’re not hindering your own innovation with bias or misguided research. By following best practices in research from cradle to grave, and approaching research without preconceived notions about the results, you may just stumble onto real, industry-changing and disruptive innovation.
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