Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?


This book is about understanding, defining, and influencing where your customers are going and who they want to become when they get there. The Ask offers a lightweight but high-impact methodology for aligning strategic, marketing, brand, and innovation leaderships around customer transformation. That transformation comes from innovatively investing in who you want your customers to become.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Innovation is an investment in human capital—in the capabilities and competencies of your customers. Your future depends on their future.
  2. Innovation is about designing customers, not just new products, new services, and new user experiences.
  3. Customer vision is as important as corporate vision. Your corporate vision and mission statement should respect and reflect your vision of the customer.
  4. Align customer vision (what you want your customers to become) with user experience (what you are asking them to do).
  5. If you can’t be your own best beta, find and design the customers who can.
  6. Anticipate—and manage—the dark side of The Ask.
  7. Customers don’t just adopt innovations; they alter them, adapt to them, and are changed by them. Like economic Charles Darwin’s, successful innovators strive to observe and understand how their customers evolve.
  8. Successful innovators don’t just ask customers and clients to do something different; they ask them to become someone different. Facebook asks its users to become more open and sharing with their personal information, even if they might be less extroverted in real life. Amazon turned shoppers into information-rich consumers who could share real-time data and reviews, cross-check prices, and weigh algorithmic recommendations on their paths to online purchase. Who shops now without doing at least some digital comparisons of price and performance? 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. Successful innovators reinvent their customers as well as their businesses. Their innovations make customers better and make better customers.
  9. Google continuously improves the quality of its search by improving the capabilities of its searchers—and vice versa. As Google’s searchers grow smarter and more sophisticated, so does Google. Win/win.
  10. What does our proposed innovation ask our searchers to become?
  11. “The entire corporation must be viewed as a customer-creating and customer-satisfying organism. Management must think of itself not as producing products but as providing customer-creating value satisfactions . . . In short, the organization must learn to think of itself not as producing goods or services but as buying customers, as doing the things that will make people want to do business with it.” The innovator’s ask refines and reframes Levitt’s organizing insight. What business a company is in depends, in large part, not on existing customers but who tomorrow’s customers will—and should—be.
  12. Who do our customers want to become? What kind of customers should we be investing to create? What kind of customers will our innovations “buy”?
  13. Let’s update Becker’s comments in light of how innovation transforms its beneficiaries. Perhaps the innovator’s most important assets “by far” aren’t its employees. Suppose its most important asset is its customers, and how it invests in its customers, how it treats its customers, how it raises the skill level of its customers. Maybe that’s a dominant factor determining whether this business is going to succeed.
  14. Innovation should be an investment narrative explaining how customers become more valuable.
  15. Google brilliantly reinforced its “innovator’s ask.” Its innovations asked customers to become people who expected immediacy. Google’s UX economics made search faster and easier. Users could literally do more in less time. Speed enabled and accelerated how Google transformed customer expectations. A Pavlovian would say Google conditioned its searchers to immediate gratification.
  16. Conventional management wisdom has evolved from thinking about innovation as designing for customers, to innovation as designing with customers. The Ask takes the next essential leap: thinking about innovation as designing customers. Innovation should be treated as a medium and method for (re)designing customers.
  17. Training people to use shopping carts not only transformed how shoppers shopped, but increased how much shoppers bought.
  18. Visionary organizations that value innovation should have simple customer vision statements. They need to imagine—and articulate—who and what their customers should become.
  19. What customer values, expectations, perceptions, or behaviors does your vision transform? How do your innovations enable your customers—or key customer segments—to achieve this? Your innovations are investments in realizing the customer vision.
  20. Apple trained its customers to become design connoisseurs.
  21. Microsoft’s innovation asked for real commitments of time, thought, and effort. What did Windows innovation upgrades and updates ask customers to become? Experts. Microsoft’s complex—and complicated—flow of feature and functionality innovation asked customers to become students of Windows. Was this a stupid ask? Absolutely not. It created commitment.
  22. For Apple’s and Pixar’s innovators, the value of self-awareness trumped any need for customer focus. By designing for themselves, they transformed their most demanding customers.
  23. The “being one’s own best innovator/customer” paradigm enjoys a fantastic business history. Henry Ford, George Eastman, and Edwin Land were all DIFY—do it for yourself—entrepreneurs.
  24. All innovations come with risk. But the dark side of The Ask is not about the innovation’s riskiness but the customer weaknesses and vulnerabilities that innovation might expose. To argue that these innovations represent inherently bad investments overstates the case. But the inherent nature of these asks means these investments can lead to bad outcomes for both customer and innovator.
  25. The Ask shouldn’t be monolithic; it’s an invitation to segmentation. Customers and clients aren’t created equal.

What I got out of it

  1. Fascinating way to think about innovation and asking the simple question of “who you want your customer to become” can be insanely clarifying and focusing.

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