Fuel vs Friction

Understanding What Really Needs to Get Done….Fuel versus Friction

I was fortunate a few years ago to be at a VIP event at the annual Oracle conference in San Francisco to hear a presentation by Doctor Clayton Christensen speaking to, at the time, his latest book “The Innovators Dilemma”. I had no expectations prior to joining for the session, which made my “aha moment” possibly more striking. The guts of the session was one of the central themes of The Innovators Dilemma – which is “what is the work that needs to be done”. Said slightly differently, how do innovators properly identify and define what is the real problem that they are trying to solve in bringing a valuable solution to the business challenge generally described?

For those who are not familiar with the good Doctor Christensen, or his book, his presentation captured the “work to be done” concept most eloquently and cogently in a few different anecdotes. The scenario that was most simplistic and yet described the essence of his point best was the early morning breakfast menu challenge being faced by a milkshake bar and ice cream shop. The store’s owners had struggled for some time in trying to figure out how they could increase their sales revenues during the early hours of the day. Most of their usual store visitors stopped in for the range of treats from the store’s menu around lunchtime and then throughout the remaining hours of the day through closing. But the morning hours as folks were getting their day started was just threadbare. No matter what they tried in changing up their morning menu or offering breakfast items like bagels and the like, they just couldn’t get an increase in traffic to the store.

So the store owners engaged Doctor Christensen and his team to come in and study their dilemma, to try to figure out what the store could do to increase morning sales. After some initial conversations with the store owners, employees, and importantly customers during those early mornings, they also spent a lot of time at the store observing the streams of morning commuters going past and not blinking an eye to stop for a hearty breakfast. After many hours of discovery, listening, and gathering feedback, the revelation finally produced itself to unlocking the potential of a breakthrough moment for the store. Those morning visitors that were repeat customers explained that they thoroughly enjoyed the healthy morning shakes that the store offered and that they were able to have a filling, tasty, and hassle-free shake each morning in their car while they made the drive into their work locations. Hassle-free was important – since the shakes had sturdy lids and a customer could easily consume the shake with one hand while driving, working their phone, etc. – it was a critical solution to their morning commute. So here’s why the shakes were so important to them – hassle-free as we noted, but it also provided them a tasty distraction during the drive into work, and critically it prevented spills and other unfortunate events that can occur with many breakfast selections.

The work to be done was to provide the consumer with a hassle-free, tasty, and low-risk breakfast item. Taking this information to heart the store went about a busy campaign to expand their breakfast shake selections and began targeting morning commuters seeking this breakfast selection. Their morning sales revenues exploded as more and more commuters discovered the great solution to their breakfast and morning commute needs.

AI plays a role

The morning commuter shake scenario describes eloquently the challenge many businesses and organizations face in, first, determining what the actual problem is they are trying to solve, and then secondly, how to influence their behavior with the right engagement strategy. This is where Artificial Intelligence or AI has the potential for significant impact in the digital age. Throughout the content creation, digital campaigning, and subsequent analytics that teams are engaged in supporting their organizations’ objectives AI plays a role. Both in personalizing the experience for customers and prospects by targeting specific content to their interests and needs and then also providing the information and analysis of customer behavior that gives the critical insight to the work to be done. Digital campaigns that engage with proprietary and repurposed content need to have observational data around market engagement and interaction with the content that can drive machine learning technology for continuous learning and refinement.

We spend so much time guessing or trying to figure out what our customers, employees, stakeholders, or constituents want or need (the “work to be done”), and then frequently attempt to change their behavior or address these identified needs and wants with just positive incentives (or “Fuel”) that will encourage the behavior we are seeking from them. We offer discounts on our goods or services, we lower our prices, we add more features or throw out bundled deals, etc. – quite often with pressure sell tactics to encourage them to buy our product, service, social issue, or political persuasion. Much of what Doctor Christensen describes in his studies and work is alternatively described by many practitioners in the concepts around “Fuel versus Friction”.

Still, many organizations fail. They fail because they didn’t adequately identify or understand the obstacles their target audience experiences, which blocks getting to the desired result all parties want. This “Friction” is sometimes the inertia that all human beings have around making a major decision or change. But also, frequently the friction is caused by not firstly identifying the work to be done, which then leads to not capturing the obstacles that their audience has in completing the desired behavior.

Fuel vs. Friction

Here’s an example, let’s say you’re a custom design sofa manufacturer looking to appeal to millennials with a one-of-a-kind custom sofa, that the consumer spends hours online designing and crafting their personalized sofa. Despite many prospective customers spending hours designing their personal sofas, the company’s abandonment rate was well above industry norms. The obstacle the company eventually identified for these customers was they had no solution for removing or disposing of their existing sofa. So, after investing a lot of time they chose to abandon the opportunity. As soon as the company provided a free pick-up service for any old sofas that needed to be removed from the residence their abandonment rate plummeted and sales jumped.

The work to be done was to provide a highly personalized product (custom sofa) that fit with the customers need, but the friction to winning the sale was not lower prices, a better user experience, or even more design tools and features…it was removing the obstacle for the customer of what to do with their old sofa!

Many digital marketers and content campaigners rush to tell their stories and engage with the market, without first doing the necessary lift in understanding the work to be done and then figuring out the right engagement strategy to influence their behavior. It’s easy to increase fuel with incentives and reinforcement to push our agenda, but without first reducing the friction our target audience might feel these efforts will not be successful.

Artificial intelligence can be an effective and efficient technology to firstly provide decision information for situational awareness, analyzing large amounts of unstructured content to determine underlying patterns in the data and substantive intelligence around audience behavior, interests, and intent. AI can then identify the friction by surfacing the content and data that can highlight the obstacles that many experience in taking the next step your organization is requesting – personalizing and localizing the audience engagement to truly influence their behavior and call to action.

Adopting AI in your digital content campaigning is an important component of both understanding how best to influence your target audience, and then executing with an informed strategy that dynamically shifts with the updates and new insights gained through constant interaction with the market.

Contexture AI is a Northern Virginia-based AI technology solutions company providing multi-media monitoring, curation and analytics solutions for broad range content creative and marketing organizations including niche publishers, public relations teams, policy and legal affairs firms and marketing agencies.

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