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Shift and Pivot: Monitor Your Audience, Then Self-Correct

How and when to respond when the marketplace changes, when you need to correct a misstep, or when your idea flatlines with consumers.
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KFC’s new Go Cup chicken snacks fits in most car cup holders, for consumers who absolutely must have portable, cheap protein they can eat without utensils. While driving. It’s half the price of anything else on the menu. According to Jason Marker, KFC’s chief marketing officer,half of KFC’s sales come from drive-through orders. Americans order about 21 percent of their meals from cars, per the NPD Group, and that number is going up (slightly). Boneless chicken is increasingly a big seller. Not surprising for a country of suburban sprawl and automobiles that get you around those suburbs.

KFC’s move is a lesson for entrepreneurs who, like anyone in business, increasingly trade in consumer behavior. When the marketplace changes or when you need to correct a misstep, when and how do you shift and pivot?

A few years ago, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom started Burbn, which blended elements of Foursquare and Mafia Wars in a mobile HTML5 app. Systrom got funding for the project, and enlisted Mike Krieger to help. They scrapped the original iPhone code for a more universal app, and then realized it was too feature-filled and cluttered. So they removed everything except the most important features, renamed it, and Instagram was born.

Not everything emerges quite so seamlessly, of course. Some ideas are so quirky, or they have a feature that’s so new, that useful criticism is hard to come by. Then what?

Pay close attention to the marketplace.

"My advice would be to try to postpone intuition as much as possible," says psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman. "You do as much homework as possible beforehand so that the intuition is as informed as it can be."

For brands, that means looking at your market with a deep dive into the habits and buying patterns of your consumers, researching the history of similar products in the marketplace, and looking carefully at what people like about your product now--and how they really use it.

In 2004, Jeremy Stoppelman started a company that was an automated system for emailing business recommendation requests to friends. Their market didn’t bite. They did notice, however, that that users appreciated the ability to write spontaneous reviews of local businesses--just for the hell of it. The team did a shift and pivot, created a community review system, and Yelp was born. It now has 50 million users a month and more than 17 million reviews online.

Look at your project as a failure before you begin.

That means examining your idea from every angle, including the negative ones. As annoying as that sounds, it helps avoid potential failures later. Kahneman talks about the idea of a "premortem"--where you imagine your idea has failed and then list all the reasons why it happened. The beauty of premortems is that they’re easy and cheap to do, and they won’t cause you to abandon an idea, but rather to tweak it in beneficial ways.

I know a retail fashion consultant who wanted to start a personal shopping and styling business because she was tired of working in big department stores and pushing their merchandise. We worked on the first scenario before she hung up her shingle, which was to charge customers an hourly fee of $150. As a "trial" customer, I felt I wasn’t getting enough out of the consultation, which lasted only about 90 minutes and cost $225. Paying for another 90 minutes was too expensive, and at $450, not a good value. So what about a consult based on what's needed rather than per hour, say, for a flat fee of $399 for a closet consult, styling session, and shopping trip? She agreed. Now she’s booked four days a week.

Engage in honest soul searching.

Ask yourself, do I love this idea because I loved something similar in the past? Do I want to stick with it because it reminds me of something or someone pleasant? It’s always useful to figure out where your feelings of attachment are coming from. If there aren’t any, great--but if there are, you’d be wise to unpack those feelings and see if they are clouding your judgment. Otherwise you run the risk of being influenced by inappropriate personal interests or attachments.

When deciding between two different approaches to a problem or a design, choosing the one that seems easier or cheaper to execute should give you pause. We’re hardwired with positive emotions for convenience; we like the path of least resistance. The Instagram founders weren’t overly attached to their busy iPhone app, so it was easy for them to shift gears to something simpler and more functional.

So when your audience doesn’t like what you’ve got or they can’t figure out how to use it, think again, and think about what to let go of. Then you’ll have a clearer closer picture of what’s a misstep is so you can design a winner.

Last updated: Oct 9, 2013

DEBRA KAYE | Columnist | partner, Lucule

Debra Kaye is a Partner at the innovation consultancy Lucule and a former CEO of TBWAItaly. Her book, Red Thread Thinking: Weaving Together Connections that Lead to Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Innovation, was The Washington Post's Leadership Book of the Week. A frequent commentator on American Public Radio's "Marketplace," she also writes for Fast Company and is a sought after speaker at venues such as SXSW.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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