The Unusual Suspects

London’s Savile Row is a historic street that’s home to many of the world’s finest suit makers. For over 200 years, discerning gentlemen travel from around the world to order handmade suits and clothing from expert tailors on this famous street. It’s been a boys’-only club for generations…until now.

Enter Phoebe Gormley who decided to shake things up a bit. Phoebe opened Gormley & Gamble, the first custom clothier on Savile Row exclusively for women. With the same meticulous details, highest-quality fabrics, and world-class service, she’s offering a long-overdue option for her female-only customers. The store has captured the hearts and minds of customers and the media around the globe and is setting a new standard for female professional attire.

Phoebe’s invention wasn’t a new technology, product, or service. Instead, she applied a proven model to a different customer. Typically when we pursue innovation, we think about how to deliver more value for our current customers. After all, we know them well and can use our creative energies to make their lives better. We invest our resources to drive our existing businesses forward. That’s the usual approach.

The unusual approach, in contrast, involves innovating whom you serve rather than what you do. Phoebe offers fine quality, handmade professional clothing just like dozens of competitors on Savile Row. Her business model and services are completely unremarkable other than the fact that she’s the only one serving female customers. She took something that was working well and applied it to a different target.

Think of it as cross-innovation, whereby your creativity involves serving a new market with an old offering. LEGO has a social network for kids too young for Facebook. La Brea Bakery offers bread for people with a gluten intolerance. There are hundreds of existing products and services that have been adapted for specialty markets ranging from senior citizens to ex-cons to soccer moms. There’s even flavored vitamin water for pets!

As we look to push our businesses forward, exploring the unexpected strategy of cross-innovation can open up meaningful opportunities. It begins with a simple question: “Who else might really enjoy my product or service that is currently underserved?” Tweaking an existing offering for a new market can represent a less-risky, lower cost opportunity than traditional product innovation. And in these uncertain times, safe and cost-efficient sure sounds good.

This week, make a list of five completely new customer types that could benefit from your expertise. Try them on and see what fits. And just like Phoebe Gormley, you might just land on a new opportunity that’s tailor-made.