In designing new products, do firms research their customers in depth? For many firms, the answer would be no. For example, consider our recent Trix post. In 2016, General Mills removed the original Trix. The firm replaced it with a natural version. General Mills thought was a great idea. Yet, it it did not work. Kids loved Trix as it was, not the new version. Today’s posts deals with consumer input in new product planning. Thus, we address the tongue-in-cheek question. Homer Simpson, New Product Guru?
Homer Simpson, New Product Guru?
Getting the RIGHT input from the RIGHT consumers is crucial. The right input, right consumer theory probably does not apply to Homer Simpson.
“Customers can offer valuable insights. But if you’ve spent any time monitoring customer feedback, you know they can have interesting opinions. Controversial perhaps. Wacky even. Impossible to bring to market in a profitable way. And occasionally downright bizarre. So how do you square this circle? Customer feedback is extremely valuable, but customers don’t always know what they’re talking about.”
“Exhibit A: One Homer J. Simpson. In an episode of ‘The Simpsons,’ Homer finds his long-lost half brother, who happens to be rich and owns a car company. His brother offers him a free car. Then he soon realizes none of his firm’s cars are what Homer really wants. Sensing an opportunity, he sees Homer as the proxy for the ‘average man.’ He unleashes him with total authority to design a car. The result — a monstrosity. (“You know that little ball on the antenna that helps you find your car in the parking lot? That should be on every car!”) And a monstrosity that costs $82,000, to boot.”
Get the RIGHT Input from the RIGHT Consumers
Does this mean consumers should not be part of new product planning? No, it means the right input from the right consumers is crucial. Homer Simpson’s input is wrong. And he is not typical of the target market. Burstein says: “Here’s the problem. Homer is not the ideal customer. He drives an old, beat-up, used car.”
- Identify ideal customer(s). “Every product isn’t right for every customer. And when you try to serve everyone, you serve no segment well. Instead, you serve all segments mediocrely or poorly.”
- Create feedback mechanisms for ideal customer. “If your ideal customer is a senior citizen, and you have a product like an E-book reader, listen to that customer and serve them through an in-person presence in brick-and-mortar locations. Show them how to use the product. However, millennials may desire very different interactions.”
- Determine if feedback is from an outlier. “Consistently document customer feedback. Also add surveys and customer reviews. You’re trying to identify common themes from customers. You may receive in-depth feedback from a passionate customer. However, they may be an outlier.”
- Analyze feedback to see if it’s any good. “It’s easy to be defensive when you get feedback. Once you know the customer fits your ideal customer set and is not an outlier, take a real, honest look at the feedback. Do this even if it calls out something your firm did wrong. Or maybe they have a good idea.”
- See if you can profitably address the issue or idea. “Much like Homer’s car, not all ideas can be profitable. It helps to reach beyond the marketing team with your customer-first mission. Build a multidisciplinary customer-first team and include folks from manufacturing, product design, service delivery, and customer service.”
- Once you implement it – live it! “Everyone’s actions, every one’s words, all marketing, and all product delivery must exemplify a customer-first commitment.”
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