Theodore Levitt famously said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
Customers buy outcomes:
- Solve a problem
- Complete a task or project
- Gain sustenance
- Be entertained
The product or service is a tool to achieve a result. For instance, I am critical when I hear companies talk about developing a “social media strategy.” That’s like a contractor saying, “I am developing a hammer strategy.” Social media is not an outcome, it’s a tool.
What outcomes does your brand deliver?
From MVP to MVO
Eric Ries popularized the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in his seminal book, The Lean Startup.
The Minimum Viable Product is a process to rapidly bring to market new products and services. The process emphasizes iterating:
- Launch a product in the fastest time at the lowest cost,
- capture customer feedback,
- iterate and refine the product offering, and
- repeat the steps until you have a successful product.
The MVP process is different from a Minimum Viable Outcome (MVO). While the names and ethos of the methodologies are similar, the objectives differ. The MVO process is a positioning exercise, while the MVP process is an execution exercise.
A Minimum Viable Outcome is the basic outcome a customer wants to achieve. To come back to Theodore Levitt’s drill analogy, the quarter-inch hole is the MVO of the drill bit.
Your brand’s MVO is a pre-step to product development, and empowers you to innovate with purpose. With a clear outcome in mind, you and your team can create category defining products and services.
Wrapping Your Arms Around Complex Problems
Some products and services are clear cut. A drill makes a hole. It’s not complicated. On the other hand, some problems or needs are too great for one organization to solve.
For instance, I am on the board of directors of CODE, a NGO focused on advancing literacy and girls education. Literacy is a complex problem. The forces that prevent children from learning to read and write are daunting, and there really isn’t one tool or answer to solve global literacy.
As a result, organizations like CODE are constantly stretched to serve a need that is greater than their reach and resources. That pull can be highly problematic, because a Jack of all trades is the master of none.
To combat the negative pull of a complex problem, the MVO process provides clarity:
- What does the market really want and need? (Related to the expertise and capabilities of your organization.)
- What is the smallest measurable outcome you can deliver to address that need?
- Why is that outcome important or valuable to the target market?
- Does the target market recognize and value that outcome? If not, what outcomes does the market value?
Complex problems often generate multiple Minimum Viable Outcomes. This is a core value of the exercise. By clarifying the potential outcomes your market wants to achieve you can determine where your brand plays and how it wins.
Coming back to CODE, the overarching outcome of literacy is for children to learn to read and write so they can secure their future success (get a job, educate their families, get out of poverty). A Minimum Viable Outcome of advancing literacy could be to train teachers to educate the next generation.
Training teachers to spread literacy is only one path. CODE can consider multiple MVOs, and determine different routes to deliver on its literacy objectives. This understanding helps CODE to both challenge and clarify its mission. It can’t do it all, but with laser-like focus it is achieving measurable results to advance literacy.
Discover Your Brand’s MVOs
Products and services are about you and your company. It’s what you do. Outcomes are all about your customers. It’s what they want.
You can push your brand further by focusing on your customers and their needs. By defining the Minimum Viable Outcomes you have an opportunity to innovate around a defined need. This helps you to narrow your focus, and use your limited resources with purpose.
What do your customers want?
Start big. In an ideal world, what do your customers really want? Get the ultimate outcome down on paper. Once you’ve documented the ultimate outcome push the concept by asking, “What’s the next best thing?”
Keep asking, “What’s the next best thing?”, until you arrive at a set of clear, tangible outcomes that your customers will value. These are your Minimum Viable Outcomes.
Understanding your customers’ MVOs opens up so many possibilities. It helps you clarify where your brand plays, the problems it solves, and how it wins. And that process is all anchored on your customers and their needs. That clarity of focus will give your brand a tangible competitive advantage over companies iterating to find a need.