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By: Luke Summerfield on February 9th, 2017

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What are Fundamental Assumptions in Growth-Driven Design?

Design | Strategy

Imagine you hurt your knee and went to a doctor to get it looked at.

Once in the examination room, you have a short conversation with your doctor to describe how you hurt it and what it is feeling like.

Your doctor listens to the symptoms and says, “Based on what I’m hearing, we should perform surgery right now on your knee. Let me go wash my hands and grab my tools.”

You’re thinking, “his doctor is crazy! Isn’t he going to do any xrays, MRI, or consult with other doctors? He’s just jumping right do surgery?!”

As crazy as this scenario may sound, this is the exact thing we often do with our marketing and websites.

We take a quick snapshot of the world as we personally see it, make a bunch of assumptions based on our (often limited) experiences and perspectives, and then jump into tactic mode.

No wonder so many of us  struggle to hit our goals.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Leveraging the Growth-Driven Design process and implementing “fundamental assumptions” activities can help us gain a crystal clear understanding of our buyer personas, the situations at hand, and validate major predictions before jumping head first into what to build.

What are Fundamental Assumptions?

The concept of a fundamental assumptions comes from the world of Silicon Valley startups and has since been adapted to building websites using the Growth-Driven Design (GDD) methodology.

Let’s deconstruct each word to help gain a better understanding.

  • Fundamental: “a central or primary rule or principle on which something is based.”
  • Assumptions: “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.”

Our goal with fundamental assumptions in GDD and marketing is to boil down the major, core ideas that underpin our customers and business, to validate that we in-fact have them correct.

Most businesses think they know their customers, however, the reality is that there are a lot of assumptions being made that have never been really validated.

Despite this uncertainty, what fundamental assumptions allow us to do is approach the world with a humble and open-minded viewpoint.  They allow us to recognize that we are living in our own little bubble and that we are viewing the world through our “business” perspective. This perspective often does not align with how our customers view the world and does not help us discover their true motivations and needs.

With this mindset, we can invest the upfront time and energy in user experience (UX) research to gain the customer-viewpoint, define those assumptions and run experiments to validate them early on in the process.

Why Are Fundamental Assumptions Important?

Have you ever tried running UP the DOWN escalator? You have to run as hard as you can, fighting against the flow and making slow progress -- until you eventually give up and slide back to the bottom.

via GIPHY

This is exactly what happens to us in our marketing efforts if we have a flawed fundamental assumption.

Now, it is not uncommon to get a fundamental assumption wrong, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok.

The key is to diagnose the issue early and adapt your strategy to fit. The beauty of the Growth-Driven Design methodology is it will give you this flexibility that traditional web design does not.

Traditional web design has a great deal of risk built into the process due to the fact that you invest months of time inside a “bubble” building what you think is the “perfect” (whatever that means) website. Then you cross your fingers that you were right, launch the website and likely never go back to validate or make impactful improvements.

A Deeper Dive into Fundamental Assumptions

In the context of Growth-Driven Design, there are three major categories that fundamental assumptions fit in:

  • persona
  • business
  • website.

Persona Assumptions

Assumptions in this category revolve around our buyer personas and what is going on in their world (i.e. interests, demographics, pain points, behaviors, etc.) 

Using user experience (UX) research, we want to get to a point where we see the world through their “eyes.” We want to have a deep understanding of the progress they are trying to make in life and the challenges and unmet needs they are running into.

The persona assumptions are the most important and also the most risky for us to get right.

Researching, developing, and testing persona-based fundamental assumptions is critical to developing a customer-centric viewpoint which all the functions of the business (product, marketing, sales, services) can be built off of.

Examples of persona-based fundamental assumptions include:

  • What is the “job” the customer is trying to get done in their life? What progress are they trying to make?
  • How are they trying to accomplish this “job” now?
  • What pain point, challenge, or unmet need are they running into which is preventing them from making the desired progress in their life?

Business Assumptions

The second category of assumptions are business-based assumptions.

This is where the story around persona-based assumptions melt together with how your business actually provides value; the ultimate benefits of working with you.

Think of your customer’s life as a puzzle with at least one open slot to fill. Business-based assumptions are the story of why your personas will choose your business’ puzzle piece to fill that slot and what kind of picture the puzzle will make once complete.

Examples of business-based fundamental assumptions include:

  • How does our company solve the pain points or unmet needs identified?
  • How are our personas solving these pain points now?
  • What is our value proposition for customers to use our solution vs. current solutions?
  • What make our solution remarkable?

Website-Based Assumptions

Now that we have a solid view of the world from our persona’s eyes and understand how our products or services can make a difference in them, we can now think about website-based fundamental assumptions.

As the name suggests, these are assumptions you make about why and how your audience will interact with your website and what they’re looking for from it.

Examples of website-based fundamental assumptions include:

  • What situational trigger compelled your personas to start looking for information, products or services?
  • When arriving on the site, where is your persona and what devices are they using to access information?
  • At each stage if the buyer’s journey, what question/s are pulling your personas to seek information?
  • How are they finding that information today? What’s missing from what they are using today?
  • How do internal teams (sales team, HR team, customer service, etc) leverage the website to make progress on their goals?

How Do Fundamental Assumptions Relate to the Rest of the Process?

There’s no doubt that running through the fundamental assumption activities does require an additional up-front investment of time, energy, and knowledge.

Investing the up-front time to research, develop, and validate fundamental assumptions will not only save you time later in the process, it will also give you the thorough, clear understanding of your business, audience, and task to  develop all of the other parts of your design and marketing strategy.

Once validated, your fundamental assumptions will become centralized themes that bubble down into all of the other strategy pieces; journey map, personas, messaging, content strategy, site architecture, etc.

All of these items should have a thread leading back to the original validated thought and if done properly, it will make the creation these pieces easier, faster, and more coordinated.

Once you move to building the actual website, campaign, or project,  the entire team can frequently return back to these validated ideas to ensure what they are building has a tie back to the core value we are trying to create with the customer and the business.

In the end, investing the sweat needed for validating fundamental assumptions  will help ensure your overall success as you will more effectively match what your building to the goals you and your customer are trying to achieve.

Website Throwdown February 2017

About Luke Summerfield

"I wake up each morning excited to discover, experience and share moments of inspirations. I do this at HubSpot, advising startups, writing and speaking. I founded the Growth-Driven Design movement which is transforming the world of web design. In the first twelve months, we grew from 0 to 815 web design agencies in 56 countries offering GDD services to clients. Previous to HubSpot, I helped grow a digital marketing agency until it was acquired in 2014."

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