2017: My Year Of Over Sharing
Late last year, I made a decision to focus more of my energy and effort this year on sharing specific stories and insights from the front lines of Inertia, but with a much broader audience – people outside of our team, clients and colleagues. To kick off my year of over sharing, in March I released our first ebook/guide Manufacturing In China: Getting It Right.
So What Story Do I Tell Next? How About The One That’s Happening Right Now
A couple of weeks after I released the guide I was having lunch with Chris Clapinson, who runs a boutique marketing and content agency OddSox Creative. Chris helped put the Manufacturing In China guide together and we were discussing what stories we should work on next. At the same time Chris and I were brainstorming story ideas, we were working on another project – repositioning Inertia. Inertia is growing and changing quickly, and I’ve been working with Chris on a plan to reposition Inertia so that our messaging/story/brand/website better reflects some of the recent changes as well as our future aspirations.
And then it occurred to me – the work work we’re doing on repositioning Inertia might make for an interesting story that’s happening in real time. Which brings me to this blog post….and very likely a few more follow up posts on this topic.
I’m going to approach this a little differently than the Manufacturing In China guide. By differently I mean it’s going to be a little less polished. The guide was an exercise in carefully distilling a lot of accumulated knowledge from our years working in China – whereas this will be admittedly a little more raw. Most of what I’m going to share is a work in progress. Post it notes, partially formed ideas and all. My hope is that it will invite questions and interaction and even impact how we reimagine Inertia.
Growing Pains & Gains: Repositioning Inertia
So, as for repositioning goes – I guess a quick background is in order first. I started Inertia 13 years ago. Before Inertia I worked in the motorsports industry, and before that, in the auto parts industry. My initial inspiration for starting Inertia came from the realization that engineering companies would invest heavily in tools and technology, while the design process, information management and client collaboration remained stagnant and unevolved.
The disconnect between WHAT companies could do for their clients and HOW they went about doing it, was the catalyst for launching Inertia. As you might imagine, 13 years has flown by. I started the company with one person (me) and we are now 22 – spread between Toronto, USA, and China. Our core business is separated into 6 segments: New Product Development Strategy, Industrial Design, Engineering, Prototyping, Manufacturing & Supply Chain Management.
Our clients range from medical to clean tech, fitness to health & safety as well as consumer products. If you were to look at our website today, you will see that our offerings reflect some of our day-to-day reality, but doesn’t capture the whole picture. For starters, we work with both start-ups and established corporate companies – and both require different approaches. The bottom line is that the entire ecosystem of how products get made is evolving rapidly. This includes relationships/partnerships, commerce/funding, technologies and process.
My goal with this repositioning exercise is to make sure that we better understand our client’s needs, the value we bring and then reflect this across the Inertia brand.
First, I want to capture and share the work/approaches/partnerships that are already happening but we’re not talking about. Second, I want to evolve our positioning to capture the vision I have for the future of Inertia. It’s worth mentioning that as I get deeper into this exercise I often find myself wrestling with where to draw the line between representing our current state – and conveying future aspirations. I’ll talk more about this a little later on in this blog series.
Before I get into more detail around my adventures in repositioning – I have a confession to make. Although I’m very open to the work involved in repositioning Inertia and the importance of the exercise, I am a little allergic to much of the hyperbole around the process of doing so. There is an endless sea of opinions, ideas and methodologies on how to go about repositioning yourself. I find some concepts way too theoretical, others I just plain don’t understand, and others are just too drunk on their own kool aid. I tend to gravitate towards plain, straightforward language and concepts that are rooted in practicality.
To this end, after some discussion, Chris and I decided that we needed a tested, well documented framework to work from. We settled on Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas. If you’re unfamiliar with the Business Model Canvas (BMC), here is a video from Strategyzer, the company behind Osterwalders business model canvas. Before going any further, I strongly urge you to watch the video. It will help a great deal in understanding how we’re approaching this exercise.
We chose to work with The Business Model Canvas for a few reasons. First, as I mentioned above, I wanted to work with a tested, well-established framework. There’s tons of information online and a couple of great books written on the topic – as well as plenty of case studies for reference.
Second, I wanted a flexible framework to work with. I have no doubt that what we settle on today as our positioning – will morph and evolve in the future. Because of this I wanted something that we can update easily and can adapt with us. Third, and perhaps most importantly, I wanted something that my team, clients and prospects can easily understand.
I’m not going to spend time too much time explaining the business model canvas. The video I mentioned above does a great job of doing that. There is also a website and book that provide tons of great information. I will however insert links to relevant videos and other resources throughout my posts to help explain how we approached and prioritized the tasks required to do the exercise.
Getting Started: Identifying our Customers and our Value Proposition(s)
To get the most out of the exercise Strategyzer (the folks behind the business model canvas) recommend you focus on your customer segments and value proposition first. These are the foundational aspects of the BMC and if you don’t get them right, then the rest of your BMC won’t align properly. I’ve included an image of what the business model canvas looks like and you can see the blocks dedicated to defining your customer segments and value propositions.
The same folks who designed the Business Model Canvas created a framework for designing a value proposition. It’s called the Value Proposition Canvas (VPC) I really recommend that you watch this video. It’s a concise and easy to understand description of how to create a good value proposition. It will also help give more context to some of the work we’ve done on coming up with our value proposition.
Getting our value proposition right has added significance for us. First, we need to make sure that we’re alleviating the pains and creating the gains that really matter to our customers. Getting this right is at the core of achieving a strong product/market fit.
If you’re in the product creation business, you’ve likely heard the axiom product/market fit a lot. Going through the value proposition exercise for Inertia has reminded me just how truly important it is to get the fit right. It’s not just for Inertia’s sake either – our customers’ need to find it for their customers as well. I’ve seen plenty examples of good money thrown after bad on products that haven’t done the work to get their product/market fit right.
Achieving product market fit (through rigorous validation) is something you can bet on seeing as part of our revamped service offerings.
STEP 1: Who are Inertia’s Customers?
Our first job was to identify our different customer segments. The reason this is an important first step is that each of our customer segment may require a different value proposition.
The blog Cleverism has done a nice job of explaining the importance of customer segments as they relate to the BMC. Also, below is a quick summary (from the folks at Strategyzer) of the criteria we used to differentiate our customer segments:
- The customer groups have a particular need which justifies the creation of a product to match this need.
- The group needs a separate Distribution Channel to be reached.
- The groups require relationships of different kinds.
- There is a very clear difference in the level of profitability each group represents for the organization.
- Each consumer group feels strongly enough to pay for a different version of the product or service, tailored to their preferences.
Using these criteria we identified the following as Inertia’s 4 key customer segments:
- Hardware Start-Ups
STEP 2: Mapping Our Customers Jobs, Pains and Gains
The segment that reflects the largest part of our business currently is corporate, so we decided to first focus on creating Inertia’s value proposition for our corporate clients. To do this, we started by mapping their jobs, pains and gains. The BMC defines customers Jobs, Pains and Gains as follows:
- Customer Jobs describe what customers are trying to get done in their work and their lives
- Customer Gains describe the outcomes customers want to achieve or the concrete benefits they are seeking.
- Customer Pains describe bad outcomes, risks and obstacles related to customer jobs.
Earlier this year, Chris spent time interviewing many of our customers to talk about aspects of their business as well as their experiences working with Inertia. We used what we learned in those interviews, along with input stemming from my experiences and customer relationships, to come up with the following lists of our customers jobs, pains and gains:
STEP 3: Mapping Inertia’s Services, Gain Creators and Pain Relievers
For the next step of the exercise we mapped out Inertia’s Services, Pain Relievers and Gain Creators. The BMC defines them as follows:
- Products and Services: These are products and services we offer our clients.
- Pain Relievers: Describes how your products and services alleviate customer pains.
- Gain Creators: Describes how your products and services creates customer gains.
STEP 4: Finding the Fit
For this next step – we bring the two lists together (Customers needs, pains and gains and Inertia’s services, gain creators and pain relievers) It’s important to note that for this part of the exercise BMC asks you to prioritize your lists and customer lists from most important to less important – with the top five or so items from each of the lists. This mapping is done to help visualize whether or not Inertia’s value proposition is in fact addressing important customer jobs, alleviating pains and creating gains.
“FIT: You achieve fit when your customers get get excited about about your value proposition, which happens when you address important jobs, alleviate extreme pains and create essential gains that customers care about. Striving for this fit is the essence of value proposition design.”
Strategyzer: Value Proposition Design
Next Post: Creating a new value proposition for Inertia
In my next post, I’lll explain what the x’s and !’s stand for and share how we used this mapping exercise to help design our value proposition for our corporate clients. I hope you found this information useful in some way. If you have any feedback, suggestions or questions please don’t hesitate to reach out.