Innovation: Takes all sorts to spawn breakthrough ideas

Brian Millar
Sense Worldwide

The stairs to our company's fourth-floor loft posed a challenge for the dominatrixes. Many were wearing vertiginous Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin shoes, and there was a bit of grumbling by the time they got to the top. I suppose they're more used to dishing out suffering than enduring it themselves. As they made the trek through our building, they raised hardly an eyebrow from our staffers.

At Sense Worldwide, a branding agency specialising in working with extreme consumers, we're accustomed to individuals who are a million miles away from the 'regular customer' who sits in focus groups and fills out online surveys. One day, it's dominatrixes; the next, it's obsessive compulsives, teddy-bear enthusiasts, prescription-drug addicts, or Nigerian hackers.

James, Maria and Jean-Robert do our recruitment. They're ridiculously sanguine about hunting down rare and extraordinary people. Today, I asked them to find us the top cocktail mixologists in Seoul, Korea. "No particular age or gender?" was all James asked. We seek out these obsessives, maniacs and eccentrics because they can help us get to big, breakthrough ideas. Some of them can show us how mainstream consumers will behave in a few years. Some have extreme needs that no product on the market can meet – so they modify them, or make their own. Some of them reject a whole category. You can learn a lot about mobile phones by talking to a power user. You can learn even more by talking to somebody who has deliberately never bought one.

Extreme users think differently