History has shown that hard times can provide as much opportunity as pitfalls. Want proof? Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, and Xerox are just three innovation-driven companies that were founded during the Great Depression. More recently, both Apple and Microsoft began in the midst of an economic trough in the mid-1970s.
In this post and the next, I'd like to share ways in which design thinking can provide a roadmap that will help you position your company to not only survive the recession, but thrive through the recovery.
When we look to our customers for insight, we find that within every consumer problem there is a business opportunity waiting to be mined. And for once, businesses don't need to empathize. We sympathize, because every pinch our customers are feeling we're feeling too. Strategies borne of consumer insight will empower you to look ahead with informed foresight and create a plan for coming out the other side in a better position.
Here are five ways that design thinking can help you survive the short term and connect with consumers.
- Be Flexible: Give consumers your current products the way they need them. This can mean offering smaller sizes to accommodate the cash-strapped, or changing packaging shapes from round to square to slash supply chain costs. Resurrecting layaway plans can keep credit-crunched consumers in the marketplace. Product lines, supply chains, and service offerings must all be re-examined with an eye for creative solutions to respond to today's consumers' needs.
- Adjust Your Pitch: Sometimes it's not your product or service that needs re-designed, it's your marketing pitch. Has your product's relevance shifted along with consumer needs? Take the iPhone. With the change in the economy, it's evolved from a status symbol to a money-saving replacement for multiple devices—a home phone, a media player, a game console, and an on-the-go computer. The "cool factor" is still there, but the change in messaging allows consumers to feel responsible while buying what was once perceived exclusively as a luxury item.
- Get Back to Basics: Examine your product line with an understanding of how each item satisfies the needs of today's consumers. Where can you cut back and simplify your product lines and offerings? Where can you eliminate overlap? Which offerings have lost relevance? Done right, these trims leave consumers with fewer, but better, more distinct choices while you save money by reducing costs.
- Communicate: The internet gives us a myriad of affordable solutions for communicating directly and indirectly with consumers. Smart companies let people know what they are doing to keep their prices low and their doors open. Communicating with honesty and optimism is essential to building and maintaining brand loyalty.
- Listen, listen, listen: Communication is a two-way street. Social media like forums, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter give us new ways to listen consumers. Dell's Ideastorm blog is a brilliant case in point. Created in part as a way to overcome negative comments in social media, Ideastorm has not only helped substantially decrease negative social media commentary about Dell, in 2007 alone, 35 Dell product introductions were attributed to consumer submissions to the IdeaStorm site. Communication helps people feel like they matter to your company. And when they know they matter to you, you're going to matter more to them.
In my next post, I'll share five ways you can position your company to thrive as the economy recovers.
Read more of Ravi Sawhney's Design Reach blog
Ravi Sawhney is the founder and CEO of RKS, a global leader in strategy, innovation, and design.
Since founding RKS nearly 30 years ago, Sawhney has earned a variety of top honors in the design industry, and assembled a client list that includes HP, Intel, LG, Medtronic, Seiko, Sprint, and Zyliss, among many others. In the process, RKS has helped generate more than 150 patents on behalf of their clients.
In 2004 Sawhney was named chairperson of the Industrial Design Excellence Award program, where he created the IDSA/BusinessWeek Catalyst award for products that generate measurable business results. Most recently, he was named Executive Director of Catalyst to direct its evolution into a program to develop case studies illustrating design's power to effect positive change.
Sawhney also invented the popular Psycho-Aesthetics® design strategy, which Harvard adopted as a Business School Case Study. He is a regularly featured lecturer at Harvard Business School, USC's Marshall School of Business, and UCLA's Anderson School of Business, where he teaches this business-driven design tool.
In addition to RKS, Sawhney has played an integral part in the founding of several other businesses, including Intrigo, an innovative computer accessory company; On2 Better Health, a health products company; and RKS Guitars, best known for its reinvention of the electric guitar.