Innovation Needed: The Baltimore Orioles

Pity, please, the Baltimore Orioles, as we come out of baseball's All-Star break.

Not only are the Birds the worst team in baseball, but they also score No. 102 out of 122 in the Ultimate Standings, ESPN's annual ranking of how much Major League Baseball, National Basketball Assn., National Football League, and National Hockey League teams "give back to the fans in exchange for all the time, money, and emotion the fans invest in them."

We are intimately familiar with those standings. For the past eight years, we have been working with ESPN (DIS) to create the rankings and with some of the teams themselves to capitalize on the market opportunities those rankings represent.

What struck us about the teams that scored the highest was not that they had winning records. The world champion New York Yankees, for example, scored in the middle of the pack, No. 62. The higher-ranked teams did a better job at gaining an understanding of what their fans truly want. Winning turned out to rank as only the seventh most-important thing to fans.

In other words, only some teams and leagues have consistently worked really hard to acquire insights into what makes people go to a game and support their team, via buying merchandise, watching or listening to the game, etc.

But how can the Orioles and everyone else struggling to force a true connection with customers and potential customers obtain those insights? We are glad you asked.

Ideas That Get Results

Before you can start looking for an insight, you need to know what an insight is. Here's our definition: An insight for the purposes of innovation must be a penetrating customer truth rich enough to generate significant ideas that can help build your business. If you cannot drive business with it, it's not an insight; it's trivia. This is the big leagues. Trivia is unacceptable. Try again.

Ultimately, an insight seeks to make someone's life simpler, more convenient, more economical, or even more worthwhile. How do you know when you're on to something? Three conditions:

1. You can express the insight in terms of a statement of facts from the customer's point of view.

2. There are clear reasons the facts are true.

3. But there is a problem, or tension, in the marketplace that needs resolution before you can give people what they want. (For the background on why this is so, go to How to Find the Best Insights.)

Day Games for the Kids?

How could that formula help the Orioles or you? Well, let's play it out. The O's could start by talking to fans who might say, "I really want to go to a game, because it will be a chance to create some memories for my kids, but most of the games are at night, and the kids have school." That could lead to the insight: We should have some of our games start at 5 p.m.

For a pet food company, the insight could flow from talking to a dog owner who says, "I really love to feed Barky scraps from the dinner table, because it makes him so happy. But I know people food doesn't necessarily have the nutrition he needs." That could lead to a new line of dog food treats. You are having spaghetti and meatballs for dinner? Give your dog Love Your Pet's spaghetti-and-meatball-flavored treats, shaped like the real thing and containing 100 percent of the vitamins she needs.

The key in every case is to pay special attention to the tension, the thing keeping the customer from getting his or her needs met. Again, if your solution is not addressing an unmet need in the marketplace, it is not an insight.

This three-step approach can help you—and the O's. But they could sure use a leadoff hitter and some better pitching, too.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.