When Tim O’Reilly recommends a book, I tend to scurry off and read it. So when he dropped a ‘share’ about a recent Harvard Business Review eBook from Michael Schrage called, “Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become?”, I was downloading it in seconds.
Turns out it was a good reco.
Schrage’s premise is interesting, describing, “how a simple question—who do you want your customers to become? transforms strategic, marketing, and innovation insights. This question—what I’ll call “The Ask”—successfully provokes managers and entrepreneurs into reimagining, redefining, and redesigning their customers’ future.”
The book invites you to think about innovation in a new way: not as product innovation but by thinking of your customers as your primary innovation asset, then investing in them.
As I read it, I flipped back and forth between thinking, “This is really interesting’ and ‘This is just another way of spinning old ideas.’ When I was feeling the former, though, it did make me ask some fruitful questions about Velocity itself and our clients’ businesses.
In Schrage’s terms, Velocity is investing in its customers and asking them to become a different kind of B2B marketer. Everything we do – from our own content marketing to the way we initiate our projects and ramp up new clients – asks our clients to be the kind of B2B marketer who:
- Understands the power of content
- Uses analytics to guide success
- Works hard to track marketing through sales to revenue
So Schrage would say we’re investing in client innovation. Makes sense. And put this way it does make me see things in a slightly different light.
I like business books that shine a light on things from a different angle and this one does that. For that alone, it’s worth the $3.99.
Shame about the cases
What I didn’t like so much — and it’s something thousands of business books do all the time – is the way it uses case studies.
Essentially, he does a tour of hugely successful companies and casts their success in his own terms. So Apple was successful because, “Jobs clearly asked his customers to passionately appreciate great design.” And James Dyson asked his customers “take a good look” at the dust accumulating in their vacuum cleaners instead of hiding it away in bags.
Well, I guess so. But weren’t both Apple and Dyson simply appealing to a value that people already had inside them: a love of great, fresh product design? Did they really ask people to change or did they simply appeal to an inherent desires and do it better than the competition?
I’m actually not convinced that Apple and Dyson invested in re-inventing their customers. I think they invested in great product design. This may be an old-fashioned notion but they did it in new-fangled ways.
Schrage keeps these kinds of examples coming and none of them convince me or make me believe his premise any more or less. It’s the kind of post-rationalisation that tends to make me throw business books across the room (an expensive proposition in the era of eBooks).
Apple succeeded by doing many, many things better than their competitors. Some of them were huge things – like leaping ahead and creating new product categories – and hundreds were tiny and invisible. To reduce them to one simple idea is to strain credibility and detract from the power of that idea.
Still: good book; interesting idea; and worth a read for any B2B marketer trying to invent better customers. If you read it, do come back and let me know what you thought.
Here’s Michael Schrage’s blog.