What a year 2016 has been – and we’ve still got some time left to see what comes up! Two of this year’s major events have been Brexit and the US Presidential Election, and both of them highlighted the importance of the outlier. Don’t take this as another opportunity to blow off “outlier” information that could help your business in ways you can’t yet envision. People are lamenting Polling and Data in general – with Forbes trying to make sense of it all in an article directly after the election last week – but the reality is that the data was showing something that many chose to blow off as “outlier” or inconsequential data.
Lately in business, there’s been a push for Audience Development. I agree with that movement, but believe that it’s somewhat of a misnomer if you’re only trying to build an audience without truly involving audience either directly through two-way explicit communication or indirectly through digging into how the audience is responding to your product and messaging. Besides, the audience might already exist – requiring you to just tap in. And, the indirect audience communication allows you to gain deeper insights into what moves members of an audience to consume. And considering this is where you’re truly able to see and explore the outlier.
As intimated above, this isn’t just about politics and feelings – it’s about business. And far too many companies don’t take even a moment to try to understand the implications of outliers on their business. It’s not too late to own up to what you gain from outlier information and get out of the trap you’ve fallen into.
There are numerous “truths” in play:
- Data is running rampant and trying to figure it out can lead to eyeballs turning to the backs of our heads.
- We’re too busy to take away from our laser-focus on the task at hand.
- Before embarking on the exploration of outliers, it’s challenging to place an ROI on it and there are no assurances you’ll even find one.
- It is a lot easier (and human nature) to find answers to support your assertions and beliefs rather than step out of your comfort zone to explore/consider another perspective.
- x (There are plenty of your own truths that can be placed in this slot…)
With even the mere consideration of Truth and Fact being turned on it’s head this year, there still exists Reality, and the Reality is that there’s a strong possibility that your business and it’s profitability is being undermined by not at least putting some resources against exploring outliers and trying to evaluate what they mean. I’m not talking about a huge team of scientists exploring a brave new world over the course of years here. It could just be a matter of doing a simple exercise of asking individuals, teams, divisions to highlight events that are taking place out of the norm in their purview. Many of those established outliers might be reasonably and thoughtfully explained in a matter of minutes. But you could find one or a few that require further consideration – and the findings from those explorations could mean the difference between success and failure. In those terms, is it worth it?
I’m willing to bet that many wish the outliers had been considered when determining messaging and points of view for the Brexit and Presidential votes.
But let’s take politics out of it. There’s a number of things that can be learned by asking the right questions of employees, customers and the data. Many of the following were discovered when doing just that on behalf of our clients over the years:
- Social Engineering Of Your Product – When a user or consumer utilizes your product in a way that you had not imagined, that’s big. Early adopters or fringe users are generally good at viewing your offerings in a different way than the mainstream, finding solutions for problems via “rigging” products that are close if the exact solution does not exist. Sometimes, they’ll share their findings via social and boards. Sometimes, they won’t share it at all, but you can find it via usage data that might come back to you. Either way, the knowledge of how your product has been socially engineered can lead to product, Marcomms or media development that addresses the need or breakthrough. Who knows, it could be a matter of flipping a switch on a site and immediately being able to drive more usage…
- Competitive Advantage – Asking the data the right questions – and having access to the right data – can shed a light on where you have an advantage over your competitors and vice-versa. If you believe that your competitors are all effectively playing with the same widgets and dials, the off-norm points directlyh at what sets you apart. With this knowledge and a measured response, you can either expand your lead or at least level the playing field. Just like the example above, it could be just a simple messaging tweak that pays dividends immediately.
- New Product Demand – This sort of relates to the Social Engineering, but it could lead to the opportunity to cost-effectively create a new product or line that would meet the needs of your consumer. Again, it takes a special person to see and use your product in a different way – and tracking what’s being done can provide invaluable insight into the possibilities.
- More Effective Messaging – How many times have you come across the fact that not enough people know about you or your product? And how much do you find that your intended target isn’t getting the message you hoped they would – and have no idea what you’re all about? Looking at how your brand or product relate to the outlier could illuminate exactly what is perceived or an alternative viewpoint on your product or service. Either way, that new insight into how your product can be perceived can open many doors and opportunities for growth.
- As They Do And Not As They Say – Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but taking time to understand the outlier mentality regarding a brand, product, movement, etc. provides much deeper insight into motivating factors that can’t always be found at face value by merely asking questions. Even as a sample, the outlier’s actions can provide pathways to success or even just defensive positioning.
There are obviously more examples and many more considerations when exploring outliers and what you can gain from the knowledge they provide. In many cases, companies aren’t even in the best position to carry out such an exploration themselves. This isn’t just a call for fresh perspectives. It relates to the knowledge that is brought to breaking down the data. Hell, even in the image above, one can make the mistake in believing the orange seat accounts for just one outlier. Are we assuming too much if we’re blinded too much by the orange to properly evaluate the different shades of green in our exploration? You betcha!
Even if you’re an expert in your field, the leader of the pack, or first to market, it takes a trained eye to ask the right questions of the right data and see the outliers for what they are. We are often too in-the-weeds or close to our product that we are blinded, But, if you can’t afford an outsider’s perspective, take a moment to dig deeper into what’s going on in the outskirts of your provincial product estate…