To Market, To Market, To Design a Fat Pig

02 Mar 2006|Darrel Rhea

Often when clients begin to work with us, one of the first questions they ask is “How do we get our customers to accept and buy our products?” Given that is what their work is almost always measured by – numbers that represent units sold, profit per unit, and overall profitability – it’s understandable. But it’s the wrong question to be asking.

Traditional “common sense” has taught manufacturers to develop products first then work hard to get the market to accept it. When innovating in this mode, designers get reduced to “putting lipstick on the pig” and design researchers are called on to optimize the best possible color and shade of lipstick. You get the idea. It all creates an egregious waste of energy and resources because the basic product concept might really oink.

The best way to get customer-acceptance of products is to design products (and services) that are a direct expression of consumer or customer needs, wants and desires. This practice is Customer-Led Innovation, and it is the most effective way to produce value for customers – which is the primary job of innovation in the first place.

This methodology isn’t just asking customers what they want, which is what conventional research does. Instead, it requires insights from developing a contextual understanding through observing customers’ lives. By doing this, development teams can begin to be clear about what is meaningful to their customers and what features will deliver truly meaningful experiences. These are the experiences that will create sufficient value for the customer to seek out a product, to pay more for it, and to tell a friend about it. That kind of success is embraced by any manufacturer.

So let’s back up. The question our clients should pose first is, “How can we develop products that our customers will lust for?” Everything else will start to fall in place, starting with an internal crystal-clear articulation that defines the dimensions of value for your customers. This is a well-grounded value proposition that is based on your customers’ experiences (not on the development team’s assumptions) and includes a full range of benefits — including functional benefits, economic benefits, emotional benefits, status or identity benefits.

Having this articulated statement as the basis for a business plan keeps the development team focused and wins on-going support by senior management. It also helps avoid the compromises that almost always seem to happen along that way (such as lowest-cost or easiest-to-implement solutions), which are the death of otherwise healthy innovations that should have grown big (and fat) in the marketplace.

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