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The Power of Assumption Flipping

In today's fiercely competitive business landscape, standing out is not just an option; it's a flipping necessity ('scuse the pun!).

As a brand strategist and consultant, I've witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of daring to be different in a category. Embracing uniqueness and challenging assumptions can breathe new life into your company, captivate customers, and position your brand for unprecedented success. It can also rally, motivate and energise your leadership as they forge a new path.

But you can't just be different. You have to add value in your difference. You have to be good and different. Remarkable for the right reasons.

In this post, I'll explore the potent concept of "assumption flipping", delve into some real-world examples, and show you how to unleash innovation in your team and business using the power of brand thinking.

Picture this: you're a CEO with a vision to reinvigorate your company and craft a brand that customers are excited about. The first step is to shatter the shackles of conformity. Challenge the industry norms and question long-standing assumptions. It's time to flip the script and turn conventional thinking on its head. The status quo needs to change - else you will stay in the sea of sameness. Fighting things out in price wars. Racing to the bottom. You know its time to turn the tables and create something of value that will drive up your margins, create waves and get you noticed. So how could you do it? And how do you do it in a way which de-risks the risk that being different ultimately will bring?

The Assumption Flip Workshop:

One powerful way I like to incite innovation within a leadership team is through "The Assumption Flip" workshop. This exercise pushes participants to identify and challenge underlying assumptions about your product, customer experience, or industry. I was taught this by world renowned brand strategist Marty Neumeier and I've been using it for the last 5 years to improve customer experiences and innovate with clients. It's powerful. By daring to question the status quo, you unearth radical ideas that can transform your brand's positioning. So if radical innovation is what you want. Read on.


Step 1: Identify the Assumptions

Gather your leadership together. Begin by identifying the assumptions that underpin the current category, product or customer experience. These could be beliefs about customer needs, preferences, limitations of technology, or industry norms. They could be typical ways that the category serves customers. It could be the standards that epitomise the "norm" or "typical".

Brainstorm as many as you can onto post-it notes for a set period of time (say 20 mins).

Step 2: Question the Assumptions

With all of the assumptions up on a wall, encourage participants to question each assumption one by one. For example, if an assumption is that a customer expects a physical store experience, ask whether that is always true in every case and what would happen if the assumption were reversed. History has proven that the most memorable brands are the ones that stand out, not fit in. Take Apple, for instance. They disrupted the tech industry with revolutionary products that rejected the norm. Their "Think Different" ethos echoes the power of embracing uniqueness and divergent thinking.

Step 3: Flip the Assumptions

Once assumptions are identified and questioned, challenge the participants to flip these assumptions. Brace yourself for an influx of unconventional ideas. What if your high-end retail store transformed into an interactive art gallery? Or your traditional customer service morphed into an AI-driven empathy engine? The possibilities are endless when you challenge your team to flip their thinking. This means considering the opposite of the assumptions or thinking of scenarios where the opposite could be true. Some flips will be useless. Others will add huge value to a certain part of your audience and thus provide a rich territory for new innovations and positioning.

Step 4: Explore the unusual

With the flipped assumptions in mind, brainstorm and explore unconventional ideas for customer experiences based on your top flips. If you have lots consider voting to unearth your top 5. Encourage participants to think beyond the usual boundaries and come up with bold and unique concepts that will add huge value to customers. Detail why it would be helpful and for whom it would be most useful.

In the quest to be different, fearlessly explore uncharted territory. Tesla, the electric vehicle pioneer, ventured beyond traditional automobiles to integrate renewable energy and autonomous driving. Their boldness has positioned them as leaders in both the automotive and sustainable energy sectors.

You should come out of your workshop with a number of well considered very unusual but very valuable ideas to explore further. Its important to note you should not act on these yet! There is another step, post workshop, you should consider before planing further actions.

Yours truly running a corporate brand innovation workshop earlier this year

Post workshop

It's important someone takes the ideas and Evaluates the ideas based on desirability, feasibility and viability:

Desirability - this is when early research plays a part. Try and get your idea in front of customers. If possible, create prototypes or simulations of the innovative ideas and test them with a small group of customers or stakeholders. Use their feedback to further refine and improve the concepts. Assess how desirable and useful they find the idea.

Feasibility - usually done with a representative from Finance. could we finance the idea? When might it start generating revenue? What kind of revenue might we expect and when? What would be the "business case" for implementing this idea.

Viability - Having taken on board user insights and done a feasibility check see how your new ideas stack up. Review again with the leadership team and see how implementing some or all of the ideas align with the core values and goals of the organisation.

Assuming you decide to implement a new direction remember having this defined is just the start. Being different alone is not enough; you must communicate your uniqueness to the world. Your people need to understand it and what will be expected of them. Craft a brand narrative, vision for the world and "big idea" that resonates with your target audience, highlighting how your innovative approach fulfils their unmet needs and aspirations.

Examples of flips in action

"Ok Matt - nice idea". I hear you say. "But have you got any examples of assumption flips working in the real world?" I'm glad you asked. Here are a few famous ones that serve as illustrations of assumption flips in action:

  1. Airbnb: Flipped the assumption that travellers prefer traditional hotels, offering unique and authentic accommodations in local homes off the beaten path.

  2. Dollar Shave Club: Challenged the belief that shaving products needed to be expensive and complex, providing affordable, subscription-based razors directly to consumers.

  3. Liquid Death: Flipped the assumption that water brands had to look a certain way (pure), be packaged in bottles and not make a statement about your lifestyle.

  4. Warby Parker: Disrupted the eyewear industry by offering stylish, affordable glasses online and challenging the assumption that designer eyewear had to come with a hefty price tag.

  5. Tesla: Revolutionised the automotive industry by flipping the assumption that electric cars were boring and impractical, offering high-performance, luxurious electric vehicles.

  6. Netflix: Flipped the assumption that viewers needed cable TV subscriptions to access quality content, pioneering streaming services and original programming.

  7. Patagonia: Defied the conventional fashion industry by focusing on sustainability and environmental consciousness, connecting with consumers who value ethical products.

  8. Lululemon: Flipped the notion that athletic apparel couldn't be fashionable, creating high-end, trendy activewear that resonates with style-conscious fitness enthusiasts.

  9. Spotify: Altered the music industry by offering on-demand streaming music services flipping the idea that you had to own the music you paid for.

  10. LEGO: Transformed from a traditional toy manufacturer to an educational powerhouse by challenging the assumption that toys had to be mere entertainment, integrating learning elements into their products.

Conclusion - get flipping

The power of being different is not just a buzzword; it's the driving force behind thriving brands in the modern business landscape. By being different brands can disrupt a category and stand out. They can become the only choice for a particular type of customer with a particular set of needs and desires.

Through the art of assumption flipping, you'll unleash a torrent of innovation within your team, leading to a brand that captures hearts and sparks the imagination of customers. So embrace the challenge, and dare to be different. Your brand's extraordinary journey begins now.

Remember, it's not about being quirky for the sake of it. It's about redefining your category, exceeding expectations, and leaving a lasting mark on your industry. Embrace your uniqueness, flip those assumptions, and let your brand soar to unprecedented heights.

Your audience (and people!) await a brand they can't help but be excited about – it's time to deliver!


Thanks for reading my article. If you'd like some help running an "Assumption Flip" workshop please don't hesitate to reach-out for a free exploration call to see if I can help you.


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