Is the customer always right? That really is the question... but in today's digitally surging and rapidly changing environment, does this still stand true?
Remember the episode of The Simpsons where Homer designs a car based on what he, as the average American, wants? Or when Kraft's new Cheese Vegemite product ended up with the horrific customer-voted name of iSnack2.0? Both were absolute disasters, and illustrate the point that a lot of Consumer Psychologists and Market Researchers are wrestling with at the moment with product and brand innovation: whether or not to ask their customers for their advice when it comes to product decisions.
If you have ever transformed a brand, re-branded or repositioned a product, you'll understand how tough this can be in general, especially when emotionally charged customers want to have a say. That old adage of 'the customer is always right' certainly holds true to a degree, but the world has changed and evolved quite a bit since those simple 'selling equals money' days. With the new-age customer being highly informed and presented with an abundance of choice, not to mention countless avenues of feedback, do they really know what they want?
Consumers Cannot Express Or Predict Their Needs
Consumers are statistically quite unable to explain motivations behind their behaviours, and even worse at predicting how they will act in certain situations or to new offers. Research has shown that the bias levels and inaccuracy involved is incredibly high because they struggle to understand their own rationales which then leads them to overthink when presented with a new product or campaign. So basing product and organisational decisions on their responses alone is not as reliable as one would think.
This is why market research is such a detailed and extensively scientific process; because it has to ask the right questions in order to break through these biases to find the real truth underneath. So, while the consumer may say one thing, it may be several complicated underlying factors which really leads them to a conclusion, and thus they didn't even know that was happening inside their 'consumer black box'.
There are many ways of getting valuable consumer insight, and unfortunately, asking them what they think or want is rarely one of them.
People Dislike Loss
Marketers today are quite familiar with the concept of loss aversion, whereby a loss is felt with around twice the intensity of a relatively equal gain. So when evolving a brand, definitely take this into consideration. Marketers must manage this by being discrete about product removals, or providing substantial justification so that customers learn to deal with it (or morn) in their own time, rather than going to the shelves and finding it missing.
Sovereignty Of Customer Choice
We all yearn for autonomy; a sense that we are in total control of the decisions we make. People hate the 'slimy sell', where they feel they are being manipulated or guided into ways of buying and using a product, rather than discover it themselves. Customers prefer to come to their own conclusions, so if you are altering your strategy or repositioning, make the changes and then let the consumer make their decisions afterward, not before.
Customer Opinions Are To Be Taken Lightly
Managing consumer-shock at product changes is one of the greatest challenges facing marketers today. Consumers thrive on consistency, like things to be kept simple, and are not shy anymore about voicing their opinions, too! They prefer tweaks not revolutions, and they want us to downplay change, especially to brands they have a strong advocacy to.
Marketers need to carefully manage the feedback and opinions offered by their customers and take this data into careful consideration, rather than gospel. After all, some of the most revolutionary niches were realised when the initially sceptical customer discovered a new found love for the new product.
This is clearly seen with a lot of Apple's early products, such as the iPod. Steve Jobs was famous for ignoring what customers thought, and instead, told them what they wanted, to great success.