Locating the Buyer Need

Is your organization in the habit of finding unresolved problems? If not, chances are high that you are currently–or will be soon–losing market share to more nimble competitors who are “tuned in” to buyer habits and frustrations. Many industries suffer from the slow and steady move to products and services that have largely become commoditized. Once your offering is viewed as a commodity, you are no longer competing on value; the playing field is reduced to price only (or at least as a primary decision criteria.)

One of the categories that suffered this fate about 15 to 20 years ago was televisions. Appliance stores (as opposed to the modern day consumer electronics big box specialty retailer or boutique provider) were where people shopped. When looking for a TV, most consumers would walk down the aisles of sets in their beautiful shades of grey or black. Sales staff may follow or approach and offer to explain or demonstrate features of a model you may have paused near. Most buyers, however, came in to the store armed with some knowledge about prices or consumer ratings and were planning to buy a certain model…until they came across a TV with a sticker that asked the simple question, “Ever lose your remote control?”

How did Magnavox determine that the Remote Locator function (in which pressing the power button causes the lost remote to beep several times) was a missing ingredient in the TV viewing experience of many viewers? Did they simply ask, “What problems do you have with your current TV?” No; instead, they asked penetrating questions about how the TV fit into the lives of consumers. They looked at family dynamics and how TV viewing paralleled relationships with other daily activities. What they discovered was that 80 percent of Americans admitted to losing the remote control; over half of the viewers lost their remote more than five times per week. Inanimate objects like sofas, pantries, and refrigerators swallowed up the devices when the owner wasn’t watching!

The typical consumer may never have offered up that losing the remote was a problem associated with TV viewing. The TV manufacturers were not responsible for the loss of the remote (though family members and friends were certainly thought to be culprits!) Yet, when asked if the loss of remote was a problem, most readily agreed that it was.

Note that the technology used in the Locator was not novel or cutting edge. But, Magnavox had created a temporary competitive advantage among buyers of TVs for whom keeping track of the remote control was now seen as a problem that technology could solve. While some may argue that the company was fortuitous in “stumbling upon” this idea, in fact, it was very deliberately planned.

Magnavox published survey data to validate the problem. Some of the key findings included:

  • 55 percent of respondents admitted losing the remote control 5+ times/week.
  • Of those who lost the remotes, 63% said that their average search to regain the device was about 5 minutes.
  • The remote was most likely to show up in/under a piece of furniture (38 percent), in the kitchen or bathroom (20 percent), or in the refrigerator (6%)

What was the process of discovery and meeting a previously unstated need?

  1. Magnavox tuned in to a problem that TV buyers really had.
  2. They created a product experience to solve it.
  3. They shared the powerful idea with the market. (Through survey results)
  4. They communicated to the market in ways the target audience wanted to hear.

Instead of taking a traditional, worn-out R&D approach, consider changing how your company develops and commercializes product ideas. Send team members out to collect data that can drive design, packaging, messaging and other aspects of product positioning. You will be better off for the new approach!

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