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Improve and innovate, asking “what problems are we solving for the customer?”

Drive both continuous improvement and fundamental innovation efforts from a customer-first perspective.

This is an excerpt from “Table Stakes: A Manual for Getting in the Game of News,” published Nov. 14, 2017. Read more excerpts here.

The innovation team must establish criteria by which experiments/efforts are selected to pursue (and, as part of that, garner the necessary human and financial resources). A key criterion for all such efforts should require identifying the specific problems potential customers confront that will get solved (or attempted to be solved) through the effort at hand. Here, ‘customer’ can mean individuals, families, groups, and communities as well as private, nonprofit and/or governmental entities.

Here’s one illustration teams might use:

We wish to pursue X because X is something people:

  • Must have to be informed citizens in the places they live
  • Need to make effective choices for the necessities of their lives in our geography
  • Want to enhance the quality of their lives beyond necessities in our geography
  • Need/want to connect locally with others in meaningful, purposeful ways that make the place they live together better
  • Want or need well beyond our geography in ways that our enterprise can build a sustainable competitive advantage through digital scale and reach

With respect to any proposed product, service or business reaching beyond your geography (the last item on the above list), make sure the criteria for consideration include the following:

  • How many users/customers might this innovation reach in theory?
  • What yield on that potential number is required to make this worth our while?
  • Are there competitors against whom we must succeed in order to achieve the required yield?
  • What basis do we have for believing our offering is superior to those of the competitors?
  • Do the competitors have related/additional products/services/businesses that make it less costly for them to serve the audiences we seek?

In making the case for X, the folks proposing any innovation should at least hypothesize how many customers there might be who share the needs described as well as the proposed pathway to monetization. Once such hypotheses are stated, the innovation discipline ought to require stating the level of confidence that such things are or will be proven correct (e.g. very confident all the way to ‘no clue but worth figuring out’).

Use an analogous logic for proposing, choosing and pursuing innovations in how to serve enterprises that need to reach, connect with, sell and/or service local audiences. What specific problems do such enterprises have that your news organization can solve? How many such enterprises have that need? What promises might you make to solve those problems? Do the technology and tools exist to meet those needs? Does your enterprise – either alone and/or with partners – have the capabilities to fulfill the promises you’ll make?