As an enthusiastic exponent of Dave Gray’s Gamestorming approach to idea generation, my copy of the book shows signs of wear that belie its short life. If you are unfamiliar with Dave’s work it’s worth taking a look through the site… even better, buy the book. For me it has become an invaluable part of the UX toolbox, containing a wealth of material ideally suited to stakeholder engagement, customer research and much, much more.
One of the regular features in workshops I put together is the Understanding Chain. You can read full details here, but in brief it’s an effective mechanism for identifying (amongst other things) what really matters to an organisation’s core audiences. Questions are brainstormed by workshop participants, then ordered and structured into a narrative, ultimately looking for weak links in the chain – either the overall toughest questions or those that simply aren’t being answered.
Claiming credit for a modification may be going too far; all of the activities that Dave has assembled are inherently hackable and can be tailored to most contexts. But I thought this recent example was worth sharing.
The Understanding Chain had been used in the first of two client workshops, resulting in a number of customer questions identified as the most common and hardest to answer. Central amongst them was – unsurprisingly for a multi-faceted service company – “What do you do?”. With the second workshop involving a similar mix of participants from across the business, we needed something that would begin to connect questions to answers.
With a few minor alterations the Understanding Chain became a ‘Perception Chain’. Rather than “what questions are your audiences asking”, the line of enquiry switched focus to the messages that contribute to perceptions of the organisation:
- What messages does each audience hear?
- How is each message communicated?
- Where does it originate from?
- What need is the message seen to meet?
The messages were categorised in a manner similar to the questions in the Understanding Chain, but in this case the categories used were:
- Ambient (general perception based on word-of-mouth or brand awareness)
- Broad-brush (general marketing messages)
- Targeted (aimed at specific audience)
When the messages had been identified and categorised, the group was asked which was the most potent or impactful. This worked very effectively in conjunction with the questions output from day one; it was a natural step to ask the group if the messages their audiences hear answer the questions they are asking.
This can help to identify gaps in the marketing mix, and – crucially – begin the process of finding a singular message capable of cutting across audience boundaries. It has the potential to get to the very essence of a brand, or to make sense of an organisation’s diverse service offering.
With some small tweaks, the Understanding Chain brought a whole new aspect to understanding customers’ needs – just what our workshop needed.