Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become?

Book by Michael Schrage ASIN:B008HRM9X4. This brief book explains how a simple question—who do you want your customers to become?—transforms strategic, marketing, and innovation insights. This question—what I’ll call “The Ask”—successfully provokes managers and entrepreneurs into reimagining, redefining, and redesigning their customers’ future.


  • There's a kernel of value here
  • But not sure it's better than the original article
  • Many of the suggestions over-stretch the concept so badly as to hurt the credibility of the good parts.



Introduction: The Ask

This brief book explains how a simple question—who do you want your customers to become?—transforms strategic, marketing, and innovation insights. This question—what I’ll call “The Ask”—successfully provokes managers and entrepreneurs into reimagining, redefining, and redesigning their customers’ future.

The Problem “The Ask” Solves

The Road Map for This Book

The core of the book explores six key insights that follow from the question, “Who do you want your customers to become?” and the practical implications.

Innovation is an investment in human capital—in the capabilities and competencies of your customers. Your future depends on their future. Innovation is about designing customers, not just new products, new services, and new user experiences. Customer vision is as important as corporate vision. Your corporate vision and mission statement should respect and reflect your vision of your customer’s future. Align customer vision (what you want your customers to become) with user experience (what your innovations ask them to do). If you can’t be your own best beta, find and design the customers who can. Anticipate—and manage—the dark side of The Ask.

Innovation Transforms Customers

Model T was a fantastic innovation. But its biggest impact, by far, was turning ordinary people into drivers.

What is the Prius’s “innovation ask”? That auto owners become as ecologically correct and ingenious as the vehicles

Asking Customers to Become Someone Else

Successful innovators don’t just ask customers and clients to do something different; they ask them to become someone different.

Successful innovators ask users to embrace—or at least tolerate—new values, new skills, new behaviors, new vocabularies, new ideas, new expectations, and new aspirations. They transform their customers.

Google Gets It: Creating Better Searchers

PageRank algorithms—honed

“Google gets smarter every time someone makes a link on the web,” declared Tim O’Reilly, the publisher and Internet investor who coined the Web 2.0 sobriquet.2 “Google gets smarter every time someone makes a search. It gets smarter every time someone clicks on an ad. And it immediately acts on that information to improve the experience for everyone else. It’s for this reason I argue that the real heart of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence.”

Google is just as heavily committed to the “searcher” business.

“Larry [Page] is into making people what he wants them to be,” says a former Google executive who worked closely with the cofounders, “which is a little smarter.”

Google’s competitors have been forced to live search environments defined by Google’s innovator’s ask. They’ve been forced to come up with differentiating innovator’s asks of their own.

Who’s My Little Princess?

When Nike-turned-Disney executive Andy Mooney checked out a Disney on Ice show in Phoenix in 2000, he couldn’t help noticing that many of the little girls in attendance were dressed up like little make-believe Disney princesses.

He quickly convened a meeting of his team and launched the Princess initiative.

repackaged the whole group as princesses. No longer were these characters identified only with their isolated fairy tales. They were an exalted sorority, a justice league for the sandbox set.”

a single (retrospectively) obvious question presented itself at that Phoenix Disney on Ice show: What do little girls want to become?

Getting Beyond Marketing (and Strategic) Myopia

these questions and cases recall Ted Levitt’s classic 1960 article, “Marketing Myopia.”

Levitt argued the single most important marketing-strategy issue confronting executives was, “What business are we in?” Most companies, he insisted, fundamentally misunderstand their markets and thus facilitate their own obsolescence. “The classic example of this is the buggy whip industry,”

Short? Tall? Grande? Venti?: What Does Starbucks Want You to Become?

what does a Clover-brewed cup of Organic Ethiopia Sidamo ask you to become?

The greater their sophistication and appreciation, Starbucks calculates, the more valuable those customers become. Discriminating customers are assets.

“We’re just as passionate about music as we are about coffee,” Starbuck declares.

Mix in the wi-fi and—not unlike McDonald’s before it—the myriad of food options Starbucks offers, and the strategic question becomes not, “What is Starbucks’ long-term retail strategy?” but “What kind(s) of customers is Starbucks trying to create?”

This Is Only a Test: What Is Your Organization’s “Ask”?

Identify the single most successful innovation—product or service—your organization has introduced over the past three years.

In no more than three sentences, describe the two most important ways that innovation fundamentally changed the behaviors and expectations of your most important customer or market segment?

how this innovation should transform your best customers over the next two years. (ideal customer)

Ask yourself, would you be comfortable presenting these innovation insights to your organization’s next most important customer or client?

Transformational Insights: Revisiting—and Revising—the Fundamentals

Key Insight #1: Innovation Is an Investment in Human Capital—in the Capabilities and Competencies of Your Customers. Your Future Depends on Their Future.

Innovative employees aren’t the only human capital resources in a dynamic innovation marketplace. What about the customers?

Increasing the human capital stock of customers and clients is as economically, financially, and strategically important as managing the human capital capabilities of the firm.

succeed because their innovations have made their customers more valuable.

Making Innovation More Valuable

Human capital development is regarded as indispensable for economic development and growth.

an innovation capital perspective gives innovators a powerful framework for evaluating innovation investments.

Google: Immediate Gratification Isn’t Fast Enough

Its innovations asked customers to become people who expected immediacy.

Note:This feels backwards, though there's definitely a FeedBack loop.

Key Insight #2: Innovation Is About Designing Customers, Not Just New Products, New Services, and New User Experiences.

Designing tomorrow’s best customer is not the same as designing tomorrow’s best product.

MacGyver Medicine for the Masses

the global challenge of providing effective health-care technologies in poor nations

Devising appropriate medical tools and technologies is important, says Gomez-Marquez, but developing better medical innovators is essential. “We believe that users in the developing world have the potential to be the everyday inventors of their own solutions,” he notes. “In a Nicaraguan hospital, a nurse might quietly create neonatal UV protectors from layers of surgical gauze.

the Little Devices Lab has been developing what it calls MEDIKits—for medical education design and invention. The goal and role of these “Design for Hack” construction sets is encouraging informed invention by doctors and nurses in the field.

“medical Erector Sets.”

The “Drug Delivery Kit” was the Little Device’s first.

The last part of the kits package contains general purpose materials including Velcro, adhesives, paper and plastic sheeting, tubing, needles and respiratory masks.”

“Something emerged we didn’t anticipate,” he recalls. “They hacked our kits.”

In follow-up versions of the kit, the team learned to design degrees of freedom that anticipated user-driven modifications.


The Newest Innovation in Shopping

the first shopping cart

there wasn’t a soul using a basket carrier.

‘No more carts for me. I have been pushing enough baby carriages.

Goldman hired shills.

“I told this young lady that was offering the carts to the customer to say, ‘Look, everybody is using them; why not you?’ and immediately it became a huge success.

Their presence made it easy for shoppers to see themselves as shopping-cart users.

His shoppers had to want to become—to want to be seen doing—what Goldman’s innovation asked.

self-service has dramatically underachieved expectations.

What did these self-checkout technologies ask its users to become?

Key Insight #3: Customer Vision Is as Important as Corporate Vision. Your Corporate Vision and Mission Statement Should Respect and Reflect Your Vision of the Customer.

Most corporate vision statements focus on grand enterprise aspirations.

The customer vision, however, is fundamentally different. A customer vision statement explicitly identifies the qualities and attributes the organization aspires to create in its customers.

Successful Innovation Rebrands the Customer, Not Just the Product

Identify the two or three most compelling characteristics of your customer vision.

The customer—not the innovation—is the asset.

Facebook’s mission “is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

This Is Only a Test: What Is Your Company’s “Customer Vision”?

Briefly describe the two most important values and/or behaviors the organizations’ innovations seek to cultivate in their customers.

Apple’s Vision of the Customer

]]Steve Jobs]] wanted customers to become as design-obsessed and detail-oriented around digital technology as he was. The ability of customers to embrace the values, craft, and quality of Apple design was essential to its success. Apple trained its customers to become design connoisseurs.

(Note:Is that really true? Or is it that a CraftsMan mentality is the only way to get a congruently elegant experience delivered to the user, who won't consciously recognize it, but just Feel it?)

Learning from Luxury: Branding the Customer Vision

They’re selling branded lifestyles, not just best-in-class products and services.

That makes them superior templates for “customer vision” design and “innovation ask” insights. Treat them as sources of design inspiration.

Note:Huge assumptions here.

Key Insight #4: Align Customer Vision (What You Want Your Customers to Become) with User Experience (What You are Asking Them to Do).

Where macro-asks define the vision of the customer, micro-asks seek to deconstruct the customer experience challenge.

Serious innovators need to know the costs their innovations impose. They need to understand the economics of their customers’ experience. This must be measured. Customers rightfully demand that innovations be worth their time and effort.

Don’t Solve the Wrong Design Problems

Don’t Make Me Think

Innovations that forgive—or, at least, ones that won’t make users feel bad—suggest a design philosophy sensitive to placing unnecessary demands.

Deviant Asks and DIY Furniture

The traditional marketing and positioning conversations were proving worthless. Instead, I asked, “What do you want your new customers to become?” Their answer was immediate: “Statisticians. We want our customers to become statisticians.”

IKEA, by contrast, eventually resolved its ambivalence in innovatively investing by helping its customers help themselves.

But as of February 2012, IKEA started posting remarkably clear, accessible, and instructive YouTube videos on its corporate Web site.

Keeping Customers in Line: Southwest Airlines Trains for Turnaround

Southwest has successfully trained its customers to queue up in advance.

Filth Sells: How Dyson Transparently Aligned Contrarian Innovation

Dyson designed a user experience guaranteed to show customers how well their Cyclones worked. He made the chamber of his vacuum cleaner transparent.

What did the micro-innovation ask customers to do? It asked them to take a good look.

Key Insight #5: If You Can’t Be Your Own Best Beta, Find and Design the Customers Who Can.

Apple strove to become its own best customer. That’s not a cliché; it’s a cultural norm.

What thrills and excites you should thrill and excite your customers. When you yourself best represent what you want your customers to become, introspection becomes the best answer to The Ask.

Being Your Own Best Beta

“We’ve Flipped the Classroom”

Key Insight #6: Anticipate—and Manage—the Dark Side of The Ask.

Would You Like to Supersize That?

McDonald’s frugal virtue of value was reinterpreted as the gluttonous vice of obesity.

Innovative Private Parts

Facebook and Google confront comparable outrage.

Even effective medical interventions invite dark-side doubts.

medical and cultural critics of Viagra, Prozac, and Zoloft insist these innovations are less about healing people than about facilitating chemical dependency.

Subprime Innovation

The innovator’s ask applies well to any innovative financial instrument,

Flying High with Ryanair: The Rudest Ask in Commercial Aviation?

Think of O’Leary as Southwest cofounder Herb Kelleher’s evil Irish twin.

Dark Side, Dark Questions

the dark side of The Ask is not about the innovation’s riskiness but the customer weaknesses and vulnerabilities that innovation might expose.

This Is Only a Test

Conclusion: Going Further with The Ask

Extending Strategy, Marketing, and Brand Frameworks

It turbocharges SWOT, PEST, STEER, scenario planning, blue ocean, and Porterian five-forces strategic approaches.

Segmenting the Ask: Going Further with Your Marketing Discussions

What Does This Book Ask You to Become?

Readers should recognize that innovation isn’t about an exchange of value at a moment in time but part of an ongoing investment in customers as appreciating assets.

Crowdsourcing The Ask: Invitation to Comment on This Book

Instead of defining innovation as an investment in the company’s future, we treated it as an investment in the customer’s future.

Innovations should make customers more valuable.

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