Opportunity Canvas: how to pivot your products and services to meet changing customer needs

There has been a lot of talk about pivoting at the moment and I just want to provide some inspiration and share some thoughts on how. However, before I get into it I want to acknowledge that as a result of COVID-19 a lot of businesses have had to close down overnight. And pivoting is not easy. I launched my first consultancy practice a week before the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) really hit, back in 2007. I ran that consultancy for 3 years and whilst I looked for opportunities to pivot it was more perseverance than pivoting that kept it going, but we were barely staying afloat. In the end we did pivot by moving countries to a bigger market. Not really a viable option right now! So whilst a pivot sounds small it’s not. A pivot is a substantive change to one or more elements of your product or business model.

So yes it is bloody hard, but we as humans are an adaptable and creative bunch. And as my coach Linley Rose said at the time, we need to lead with: confidence, optimism, resilience and hope!

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin

So here is my optimistic view and tips on how it is possible to turn the current disruption and market change into an opportunity to survive (and hopefully thrive) by pivoting your product or service to meet new customer needs.

Example pivots from the past to modern day

A classic example of a pivot, many of us would be familiar with, is the UK story of Lucozade and how in 1983 it pivoted from being a health tonic for children recovering from illness to being an energy drink for sports people. Or the luxury brand Hermes, which started out in the early 1800’s manufacturing harnesses, bridles and saddles for horses. Only for the automobile to come along in the early 1900’s and become the mainstream means of transportation leaving Hermes with a rapidly shrinking market. Yet, they were able to pivot their business by using the same materials (leather) and skilled people (leather workers) to become a luxury manufacturer of handbags. The rest is history…

Right now our world and lives are changing, and so are our needs and wants. In this there is opportunity to satisfy these new customer needs, which in some cases may be achieved by pivoting our products and services and utilising our existing assets and talent. Take Stagekings in Australia as a recent example. Stagekings specialised in building giant pop-up stages and structures for large events such as sporting events and arts and music festivals. COVID-19 and the public gathering edict killed their business overnight. However, by identifying a new mass customer need (productively working from home), they’ve been able to pivot their existing skills to design, manufacture and sell work-from-home desks and other ‘isolation’ furniture.

Opportunity Canvas

I’ve designed the Opportunity Canvas to help people identify, evaluate and harness similar opportunities.

The Opportunity Canvas charts the following:

  • what your existing customer need and insight is
  • what your existing product or service offering is
  • what the new opportunity is (the new customer need and insight resulting from the market changes)
  • what your new solution to your new customer need and insight is
  • what the new solution will take or borrow from the existing solution
  • what the new solution will add to or build on to the existing solution

Opportunity Canvas process guide

Step 1: Starting point Start with your current customer insight and offering. Outline it on the canvas.

Step 2: Define opportunities Explore and identify how your customers’ (and non-customers) lives are changing and develop a detailed understanding of their needs and wants — functional, emotional and social. Distill the key customer opportunities.

Step 3: Brainstorm solutions Using these new customer opportunities, brainstorm new solutions for satisfying them — a workshop can be a good way to do this. Innovator’s Playbook contains lots of techniques for running ideation workshops. To run these remotely, both Miro and Mural are good platforms for running virtual workshops.

Step 4: Define what the new solution adapts and adds ‘Adapt’ and ‘add’ defines the relationship between the existing offer and the new offer. Helping you identify what you can leverage from what already exists (e.g. materials or a technical capability) and what needs to be created (e.g. virtual service or delivery). Do this for each potential new solution. Flesh your solutions out further with the free downloadable Idea Canvas.

Step 5: Prototype & test solutions Your new solutions are hypotheses that you need to both de-risk and validate with your customers. The best way to do this is build some quick low-fidelity prototypes (e.g. a concept board or story board) and test them with your customers (customer testing can be done via Zoom as well as a number of remote customer research platforms that exist e.g. the Web Creator Suite from Dipolar — thank you for the tip Michael Stokes).

Step 6: Finalise the new solution Once, you’ve validated that your solution is desirable to customers; you need to consider the rest of the brand and the business. The changes you’ve made to your offering will have a knock-on effect for the whole brand and elements of your business model i.e. customers, packaging, distribution channels and partners. E.g. Lucozade changed their packaging, brand communications and channels in which it was sold. To stress-test and modify the rest of your brand and business you can use the following frameworks to help: marketing’s 4P’s (or 7P’s) for your brand and a value chain model, and/or the Business Model Canvas for the rest of your business.

If the new customer opportunity (and solution) is invalidated then your options are to pivot to another opportunity and/or solution or if you are out of time or funds then stop the process.

Good luck!

Author of Innovator’s Playbook. Innovation Strategist, Trainer & Speaker. Founder of Methodry — helping teams innovate on their important challenges.