BusinessWeek offers thoughts on how to turn around a struggling business by studying your customers and paying close attention to your brand:
As you study your customers, look for things that aren’t working for them. The better you understand the pain points within and around your industry, the better you can enhance your brand’s relevance. Run-flat tires reduce the inconvenience (and danger) people feel when they run over a nail. Satellite radio eliminates the annoyance of static on lonely interstate highways. The Egg McMuffin lessens the hassle of eating in the car. Even minor enhancements can have a major impact on customer satisfaction, from a curved shower rod (who would have thought you could keep that clingy curtain at bay) to a Web form that remembers personal data (key in my address? again?) to a simple apple slicer (great for you and me, even if it’s not so good for Band-Aid).
Once you have a solid list of pain points, brainstorm about how you might relieve them. This is where understanding the changing lifestyles of your target is vital, as it gives you a sense of what they’ll be wanting/needing/expecting down the road. Some new ideas may require a costly and significant overhaul of the way you do business, while others will only require a simple process change, ordering option, or service enhancement. Over time you’ll probably implement a variety of ideas encompassing all of the above.
Need a head start? Try imagining solutions from the perspective of well-known, well-respected brands. For each pain point, ask: "How would Nordstrom (JWN) overcome this problem if they were in our business?" "How would Southwest Airlines (LUV) approach this challenge?" "What would the Marines Corps do about this issue?" Nike (NKE), Ritz-Carlton, Harley-Davidson (HOG), the Mayo Clinic—you can drop any number of companies into this equation that will cause you to consider different ways of relieving the pain. Many of your ideas won’t be practical (and some may not even be possible), but the exercise will open your mind to creative solutions.
Regardless of how you go about innovating, make sure you’re continually pursuing the next thing, because a company’s commitment to staying relevant must never cease. As you consistently address your customers’ evolving expectations and overcome the things that frustrate them, improvements that by themselves may only be measured in inches will move your company miles from where it is today. That’s where your customers will be. As long as you’re there to meet them, they’re likely to stick around.