Focus on customer problems, but don’t lose sight of other market forces.

Jeff Bezos has famously cautioned against being too focused on competitors.

“If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.”

But being customer- rather than competitor-focused doesn’t mean you should ignore everything else.

Indeed, one of the key questions to ask during customer discovery is “how are you solving this problem now?” This is a question about competition.

Jobs Theory states that customers are trying to make progress in their lives, and they hire products and services they believe will help them ‘get the job done’, under specific circumstances.

Let’s say you want to celebrate a special event with a meal. Would you hire sushi or pizza? Depends if the circumstances are a 7-year old’s group birthday party or a 3-year wedding anniversary with your spouse. Before you design a solution, you need to understand not only the customer job, but the other ways the customer has considered or is actively trying to get it done.

As product and business leaders, we can’t let our focus (customer problems) mean we lose sense of what is on the periphery (market forces).

Solving a problem for the customer is about more than just creating a new something.

It also means making it easy for customers to understand how the solution fits into their life. In 1962, the book “Diffusion of Innovation” listed five characteristics that impact how innovation spread. They are:

  1. Relative advantage
  2. Compatibility
  3. Complexity
  4. Trialability
  5. Observability

Right up there is ‘relative advantage’, which speaks to competitive forces. What are people doing now, and how easily can they understand how your solution is superior?

There’s no denying that customer-focus is essential to creating great products. But products exist in a market or category. If you’re not clear on your position in that category, how can you expect your customers to be?

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