“Customers are selfish and cruel” – this is what I personally believe in. I do not blame them. They have the rights to be selfish. It is their hard-earned money that keeps the companies alive. Every company serves a certain group people and/or market. Markets are ever changing. What is considered as a value added service today, maybe considered as the obvious part of the product tomorrow. So, I was just wondering, who defines the market for the companies. Who instigates all these changes? Who pushes the companies become more innovative? Is it the company itself, its customers or the competitors?
I was having a discussion with one of my colleagues lately. He is senior to me in terms of age and industry experiences. According to him, it should be “you”. How can he be wrong? It is the company/brand that takes all the risks. Any industry that you want to pick, the competition is severe. The power is no longer with the companies; it is with the customers. They have more options, more access to information and more purchasing power. Therefore, it is a tremendous and continuous pressure for the companies to find out the ways to satisfy their demands, figure out the business feasibility and finally introducing a solution/product. But it was never easy. Companies need to adjust their capabilities with the things customers ask for. And in some cases, companies need to look for the things that haven’t mentioned about (in marketing term, we call it latent demand). There is a saying “Do not listen to your customers. Because, they do not know what they really want.” One of the greatest CEOs of the world Steve Jobs used to believe in the same philosophy. This philosophy never says that you ignore your customers’, rather it puts the companies into a more responsible position. It is the responsibility of the companies to offer new and upgraded solutions. No customer asked for portable digital music player. But it was Apple who introduced the player through iPod series. Please note this carefully, the need for portable music player was already there. Apple simply upgraded the music system into portable digital format and thus created the demand. Periodic brand and product audits, monitor the efficiency of supply/distribution chains, review pricing strategies, design communication strategies, etc are some of the tools that help realize the demands better. There are three ‘L’s to be innovative and creative in the market. And these are Look, Learn and Leverage. Look refers to research & development, learn refers to the insights and leverage refers to actions that need in place to implement better. It’s a cycle of process that should never end.
However, it is not always possible for the companies to know everything. Companies are not gods. Lab tests might not always give these companies the precise user experiences. Besides, companies and customers try a new product with two different sets of motives (ignoring other related costs). Therefore, the results cannot be the same. The point I am trying to establish here is that, the customers also play a major role in reshaping the business models as well as the markets. For example, if the customers love to have more pickles with their meals, there is no other way than to provide more pickles; as simple as that. You cannot replace the need of “extra pickle” by offering more sauce or anything else. Many companies are spending huge amount for extensive market research, focused group studies, one-to-one discussions, etc just to the get the key insight. Yes, it is possible to change the tastes of the customers. But you cannot do it overnight and more importantly it will involve more costs, efforts and risks. Do not get me wrong; I am not against it. Many marketers successfully did it in the past and I do appreciate that. But what I mean here is that it is not always the right thing to do. Coca-cola is one of the top brands of the world. I hope many of you can recall the epic failure of Vanilla Coke. Not just coca-cola, there are dozens of business cases where some giant companies failed to change the tastes.
And how can I not mention about the competitors. Many of us might not consider competitors as the driving force. But I do. Let me give you an example. Have you seen the demo of the new iOS 7? Check again. Apple admitted that iOS 7 is not like the previous iOS. It is the whole new iOS in terms of presentation and performance. Why? Apple is gradually losing its market share to a Korean giant ‘Samsung’. Anything that Samsung offers is appreciated by the customers. So, finally Apple had to consider changing the look and feel of its iOS. Nokia on the other hand introduced Asha series to tackle the Chinese brands. Consider any FMCG, Telecom or Financial brand. You will feel the similar heat. Companies are challenged every day for almost everything by its competitors no matter which industry they are in.
Bottom-line: Marketing is not a pure science; it is rather a social science. Hence, there is no universal or straightforward solution to the problems. Problems are situation, geography, target audience, industry, etc dependent. As a matter of fact, every problem is unique to some extent. We cannot say exactly why a specific market did not respond to a specific product. In the same way, it is not just the company or the customer or the competitor changing the market; it is rather the combination of all three. Every successful product is insight driven/derived. And the insights mostly come from these three groups. The intensity may differ from case to case, but the direct and/or indirect influences cannot be overlooked.