Thought Leadership

Corporate GPS: Seeing The Forest For The Trees

September 8, 2021
Author: Rob Darrow
Seeing the Forest for the Trees

We all have our favorite mobile apps, but I can say without hesitation that GPS has been a game changer for me. Some may remember GPS in its infancy when users would print MapQuest directions from their computers before setting off on a trip. Those of a certain age will also remember unfolding and squinting at their trusty paper maps while trying to locate a current location and a planned destination.

Of course, navigation is much easier now. When I need to get to a new location, I pull up Google Maps or Waze on my phone, and they instantly find the most direct route, the miles I need to travel, and the duration of my trip. Voice directions allow me to keep my eyes on the road while still be alerted about the turns and exits I need to take. And when there is an accident and traffic has come to a standstill, today’s GPS can inform me of the best ways to circumvent the problem and get me on my way. So, in what ways have I benefited from GPS? It’s offered fast, easy, and effective directions on the fly while limiting the number of opportunities to get lost. Without a doubt, GPS has proven invaluable in getting me from Point A to Point B.

And yet, in using GPS, I often find that I have less of a feel for the area in which I travel. GPS may provide a reliable series of instructions telling me when to turn left or right, but I frequently find that in using GPS, I lose a “big picture” context (i.e., where I am within a larger area, especially in relation to other cities, highways, and landmarks). In contrast, those paper maps of days gone by gave me a much better sense of where my travels fit within the overall landscape.

Losing Big Picture Context

I see my GPS experience as a reasonable metaphor that can apply to just about any organization. So often businesses are under tremendous pressure to make detailed decisions about very specific projects, programs, and objectives. In these cases, there is frequently a sense of urgency in figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B (e.g., from today’s current product to tomorrow’s new product) without getting lost or wasting a lot of time and money. The focus is often narrowly focused on an immediate destination (e.g., the next product) and determining the best path to get there as quickly and efficiently as possible. Such efforts are important and often critical to an organization’s success.

However, sometimes corporations plan these destinations while also having lost track of their own big picture context. These firms begin their journey only to discover that they are now operating in a different landscape. They learn that changing economic conditions, industry dynamics, customer preferences, and/or competitive initiatives have created roadblocks that limit their progress. Or they complete their journey only to find that others have a better understanding of the overall market “map” and have found a better, faster, more innovative route to success.

Author and strategist Annie Duke points to Sony and Apple as examples of this phenomena. Many years back, Sony reflected on the success that its Walkman tape and CD players had experienced and determined that they should continue on the path of enhancing these products rather than replace them. In contrast, Apple recognized that the market and technology landscape had changed and introduced the digital iPod as a result. Before long, Apple became the dominant player in the portable music market while Sony occupied a diminished market position.

Navigating Market Disruption Successfully

So how can organizations be smart about developing their own “Corporate GPS?” How can these firms ensure that they see the forest for the trees and are able to navigate their markets successfully? And what can these organizations do when the landscape begins to look disrupted and unfamiliar?

The key is to adopt well-rounded, ongoing efforts to monitor and research the trends and opportunities associated with the larger market context, while also investigating promising, close-in opportunities.  While that advice may sound reasonable in a general sense, you may wonder how that translates into specific, practical actions that you and your organization could take.

Gaining a big picture concept means adopting a global perspective while also engaging in a comprehensive, in-depth approach to developing market insights. There are four keys to Corporate GPS success:

  1. Global Perspective: Opportunities often abound (as do threats) outside the lens that firms sometimes apply to themselves. By thinking more broadly about markets served and products offered, organizations will better understand how they can adapt and thrive in an ever-changing landscape.
  2. Primary Market Research: When it comes to understanding the needs, motivations, and behaviors of customers, no one is better suited to provide these insights than customers themselves. Research that addresses a customized set of issues with a specific target audience provides the kind of in-depth insights necessary for both near-term and long-term decision making.
  3. Secondary Market Research: Tapping into the vast array of information and data available in the public domain is another key to gaining a more comprehensive view of markets. As this information often comes from multiple sources and is broadly focused, secondary research is an excellent resource for gaining big picture perspective, such as market trends.
  4. Advisory Services: Because they are staffed with industry experts who are very familiar with their respective industries, competitors, and products, Advisory Services are an important piece of an organization’s market insights approach. As big picture experts, advisory service analysts use their deep industry knowledge to provide a comprehensive view of market landscapes.

In summary, when it comes to establishing a successful Corporate GPS, firms need to develop a broad understanding of their overall landscape so that they can successfully navigate within it. By so doing, organizations will be able to leverage opportunities, mitigate challenges, and evolve and even transform over time.

We’d love to discuss how we could work together to develop a successful Corporate GPS plan for your organization.

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Darrow Rob
Rob Darrow
Senior Director, Qualitative

Rob is a seasoned qualitative research and marketing professional with over 30 years of experience in qualitative research, product marketing, and product management. Rob has served a variety of clients in banking, wealth management, and health insurance including Bank of America, BlackRock, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Capital Group, Franklin Templeton, Merrill, Quicken Loans, United Healthcare, Vanguard, and Wells Fargo. Among other targets, he has worked with financial services executives, advisors, small business owners, health insurance professionals, and consumers. Prior to joining Escalent, Rob held research positions at Ipsos UU and King Brown Partners. In addition to his research background, Rob has 16+ years of experience in the tech industry, and held senior Marketing roles in both Fortune 1000 corporations and start-up firms including Motorola Computer Systems, Plantronics, Pixo, and Vocera.  Rob received a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, and he is a RIVA trained moderator.