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I’d like you to imagine a time when we not only knew everything there was to know about our customers but we also deeply understood what drove the actions, thoughts and behaviours of those people. Is it a nirvana, an impossible goal; or is it the logical endpoint of the development of the internet of things?

The irony is that once upon a time, when the world was young, we did deeply understand our customers. Most of the trade was local and the traders, and then shopkeepers, not only knew and understood the customers, they also knew everything about their lives and their families. This meant that it was easy to anticipate shopping patterns, needs and desires.

Then we started moving into the industrial age. Trade became more impersonal as goods were freely moved around the country and people started pouring into the towns and cities. We started to lose that direct link between those who produce, those who sell and those who consume. The ultimate end of this change was the rise of large stores such as supermarkets which offered entirely impersonal transactions.

The logical consequence of this was that businesses started to feel the lack of customer knowledge. With the personal link broken there was no way of knowing why people bought what they did or the reason behind any change in shopping patterns. So businesses started collecting data. At first, the data collection was crude but with the rise in computing power came more and more sophisticated methods of data collection. Businesses started to gamify transactions through the use of store cards and special offers, looking to draw customers in and collect data at the same time. Then big data came on the scene with the logical next step being the internet of things.

As technology has become ever more sophisticated, businesses have started finding out more and more about their customers. But have they managed to get back to the situation in which they really understood their customers? Well, no they haven’t and this is a problem when it comes to adopting a true innovation model. To really be able to innovate, to solve genuine problems and create game changing solutions you have to not just have data about your customer but have a true insight into their lives. You may note that I buy a jar of coffee a week, but unless you know who drinks that coffee, when the coffee is drunk and what other beverages I may be buying and consuming you can never really produce a product which will resonate with my consuming needs.

Yes technology can bring us incredibly sophisticated levels of data but unless we really seek to understand the customer then we won’t even know that we are asking the right questions. That’s why insight is a key element of innovation culture, and that’s why a true innovation culture will seek not only to maintain a more internal collaborative style but also to collaborate directly with customers. The data we gather is incredibly useful but it is only when we supplement this with direct customer interactions that we can really start to truly understand our customers and create game changing products for them.

Back in the old days when we did deeply understand our customers we were fairly restricted in the products which we could offer them. Now thanks to technology and data and collaboration we can look forward to a new era in which we not only understand our customers but have the ability to create something special for them. Is data dead? No, it is a vital part of an innovative future but it can only play its part alongside a move towards a deeper understanding through innovative collaboration.

If you’d like to learn more about shaping the future through building an innovation culture feel free to email Cris at cris@thefutureshapers.com or visit www.thefutureshapers.com for more information on how Cris and his team help some of the worlds smartest companies succeed through innovation.

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Topics:
innovation management ,data management ,innovation

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