(This is the first post in a series of three.)

I don’t need to tell you that the global coronavirus pandemic is having a major impact on business.

Retail stores and restaurants are shutting down. People are forced to stay in their homes. Many are losing their jobs, and those that aren’t, are forced to juggle working from home and taking care of their kids that are home from closed schools and daycares.

But when you think about it, the current rate of change is really an accentuated version of what we have all been facing in recent years – staying relevant in an environment where consumer perception and behavior changes quickly. Because now, consumer behavior is changing VERY QUICKLY.

And smart businesses are using tools to pivot quickly and meet consumers where they are.

The good news is that there are innovation tools you’ve probably already heard of that are EXTREMELY helpful when you need to quickly pivot in a new direction.

At Sprocket, one of the innovation tools we use is the LEAN Startup framework. You can learn more about it here. We love it because it’s a simple feedback loop built on the premise that you should learn from what you build and use that knowledge, quickly, to iterate and change over time.

Lean Startup Feedback Loop

The LEAN Startup Feedback Loop

In today’s rapidly evolving environment with COVID-19, I believe you could take this framework straight off the shelf and succeed with it. However, we’ve been doing some work with several clients recently where we’ve made a few adaptations that make this framework even more useful in turbulent times. The three adaptations are:

  1. Create “Was/Now Statements” to empathize with customers
  2. Create new growth IDEAS from your Was/Now Statements
  3. Create a filter that favors leveraging existing assets to select what IDEAS to BUILD and use experimentation

This post will look at the first adaptation in detail – creating Was/Now Statements.

Create “Was/Now Statements” to empathize and create new ideas.

Lean Startup is a wonderful framework, but it’s pretty silent when it comes to telling you how to think of ideas. At Sprocket, we’re firm believers that ideas come from a firm understanding of human goals and needs – what are they trying to accomplish, how do they measure success, and, perhaps most importantly right now, what stands in their way.

People have new barriers to confront when it comes to accomplishing their goals. These barriers may be functional (can’t leave the house), social (can’t connect person-to-person with others), or emotional (lost motivation). As a marketer, it’s critical that you update your knowledge of your customer’s context as well as their mindset. In order to do that, we recommend conducting a “was/now” exercise to develop a bit of empathy.

“Was/now” is a simple exercise that forces you to think about what your prospect’s/customer’s life was like prior to the current environment and what it’s like now. (By the way, this can change frequently, so performing this exercise multiple times may be helpful for you.) We think it’s helpful to frame it like an adlib with this structure:


When {context}, our prospects/customers want to {goal and supporting needs}, and they used to {behavior}, but now {barrier standing in the way}, which leaves them feeling {emotion}.


Let’s unpack this, one element at a time. To better illustrate points, I’ll use carpet cleaning as the example solution/industry.

When {context}. This is the background scenario your prospect/customer finds themselves in. If we use the example of carpet cleaning, this might be “when I perform a thorough spring cleaning on my home”. It’s important to define context precisely, because people behave differently in different contexts and it’ll provide insight into how you can help them.

Our prospects/customers want to {goal and supporting needs}. The people you serve are hiring you to help them accomplish a goal – and accomplish it in a certain way. As a carpet cleaning service, you may help your customers “rid their home of dust and allergens” (goal) and you may do it the quickest, cheapest, or most environmentally friendly way (needs).

And they used to {behavior}. The first two pieces of our adlib don’t usually change over time…people have goals and measure success in different ways. But in times of crisis, you have to be on the lookout for rapid changes in human behavior. The first step is to define what “normal” behaviors existed prior to a crisis. An example of a customer behavior in the carpet cleaning service example may be “customers welcomed service technicians into their homes without hesitation”.

But now {barrier standing in the way}. Now we get to the cause of disruption – the barrier that is now preventing your prospects/customers to behave like they typically would. Our timely barrier for the carpet cleaning service is “people’s concern for their personal safety due to COVID-19 is creating anxiety around having other people enter their home.”

Which leaves them feeling {emotion(s)}. The last element to define is the resulting emotional response. How do the people you serve feel because of their new predicament? Be on the lookout for a variety of emotions – it’s often not just one simple feeling. For example, our carpet cleaning service customers may “feel anxious about having a service technician enter their home” (a direct reaction to the barrier) – but they may also “feel a lack of accomplishment because they can’t get their carpets cleaned like they typically would”.

Here’s a complete example when you put our carpet cleaning service example together:

“When I perform a thorough spring cleaning on my home, I want to rid my home of dust and allergens in an environmentally friendly way. I no longer feel comfortable letting service technicians into my home because of personal health concerns related to COVID-19 and that leaves me with a lack of accomplishment because I can’t perform the task myself.”

By building Was/Now Statements (you’ll likely create several/many), you now have a powerful tool to inspire new idea creation as well as align your team in the same direction.

The next post in this series will give you some tips on how to leverage your Was/Now Statements to inspire new growth ideas. We’ve also built a helpful canvas tool for you here (it’s a free PDF download, no email required).

Was Now Statement Canvas