Who's Our Customer...Really? Have you ever thought in reacting to a particularly noteworthy product use or service experience, "They had me in mind when they developed it." If you have, then the product developers properly did their jobs. It's healthy for us to remember that our customers are real people. We should think of them as more than a set of descriptive demographics and psychographic characteristics. Our target audience needs to be somebody, not something. Which customers are you targeting for your innovation? Who are they? What are their needs? Hutch Carpenter recently wrote a nice post on the topic of "inside-out thinking". He describes the potential pitfalls of deciding from the confines of a corporate office, based on internal thinking and business strategy dictates, what products the customer should receive. This, instead of visioning and designing products resulting from an insightful understanding of customer pain points and needs.
With this message as background, I wish to recount discussions I had last week with a couple of business colleagues. The first of these was with Jerry Mastellon. He and Richard Blanch co-own high-end skin care products company Le Metier de Beaute. They develop and market products that are sold through prestige and specialty retailers. In discussing with Jerry a client's stated product needs relative to his company's development capabilities, he made a powerful point. (Paraphrasing) "Every time we deliver a product to a company based only upon what the company says it wants, it is never nearly as successful as when we are sure that we are developing a product based upon what the end-customer says she needs."
Their product development philosophy drives them to stand in retail store beauty departments for extended periods and engage directly with customers, who confide to them their needs, their concerns and their experiences with other products they've tried. They don't simply formulate performance cosmeceutical products for "Women 45-54 years of age". Instead, they first learn about the skin care needs of Mary, a 53 year old woman from Long Island with sensitive skin, who breaks out when she uses products containing Retinol, and as a result, is very cautious about her product selection. And Debbie, a 45 year old woman from Westchester, who frets about her deep set eye wrinkles from years of sunning herself and is looking to undo some of this damage without having to visit a cosmetic surgeon. And many others, too. Obviously, they can't economically produce custom products that satisfy every individual's specific needs. By selectively addressing common customer "hot button" needs, they develop a tight product assortment designed to be highly attractive to their target customers. They test their newly conceived products with a variety of customers to ensure that they deliver the desired results. They sample their new products with customers, editors and beauty bloggers, seeking unbiased online reviews. These reviews/ testimonials allow customers to relate in very personal ways to the results other people achieved through experiencing their products. These reviews also help ensure that they have faithfully delivered against their customers' requirements.
I also spoke with successful entrepreneur, Bill Diffenderffer, co-founder and executive chairman of Silvercar (www.silvercar.com), a new business that intelligently redefines and significantly enhances the airport car rental experience. Bill told me that the main thing that separates the big winners from also-rans in business is that the winners pursue customer understanding to a level that others don't. Again paraphrasing: "Everyone drills down this far", he said, motioning with his hands to signal a level slightly below the surface. "The winners know how to take it to a deeper level". When we insightfully understand who our customers are, and in turn, their most pressing unmet needs, we stand the best chance of hitting the mark with our products and services and being rewarded with marketplace success.