What might we learn from the surprise outcome of the General Election, for which all opinion polls failed to predict an outright Conservative majority?
Firstly, what people say does clearly not always match what they do.
This is why focus groups and anecdotal feedback can be dangerous drivers of business strategy.
It was a focus group that famously laughed the idea of the Sony Walkman out of the room before it went on to revolutionise the music business in the 1980s.
The problem with asking me what I think is that my answer is bound to be camouflaged in what I want you to believe of me.
The person who states they’d happily pay more tax may not actually vote for more taxes, preferring behind closed doors to let others pick up the bill.
Perhaps the most powerful reminder I noticed is that success depends so heavily on knowing, understanding and falling in love with your customers and what matters to them.
What do they need, what are they worrying about and crucially what do they hope for?
This is not at all the same as doing what they say.
It is actually about designing what you do based upon insights developed from observing them.
‘The customer is always right’ refers not to what they demand, but to how they behave when they don’t know you are watching.
The business graveyard is supplied by the “love thy product” and “customer-driven” religions.
All successful innovation requires a loving ‘customer-driving’ approach.
It is therefore worth noting, in the case of the party election messaging that in the last 10 years the number of senior managers and professionals in a workforce of 32m rose by 2m to 13m.
During the same period, those with degrees grew by 50 per cent to 14.2m.
There are now only 780,000 claiming job seekers’ allowance and most of them have been claiming for less than six months and are effectively “between jobs”. Meanwhile there are over 5m small businesses but just 1.1 million on zero hours contracts, many of which suit both the employee and employer down to a tee anyway.
At its core this rebalancing towards a more aspirational electoral customer base was perhaps always likely to underpin a more positive response to a “rewards for hard work” message than a “soak the rich, protect the poor” call to arms.
Find out what they hope for.
Go and get it.
Give it to them.