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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Don’t Mess With…the Customer Perspective

A deep understanding of your target audience is the only way to create ideas that resonate and break through the noise of modern life. Being able to connect authentically and directly to a buyer persona’s culture is an effort in alignment. Alignment is not just for vehicles–it is critical to business success! When people begin to see your product or service as a part of their identity, then you have built a connection with stickiness to it!

Keep America Beautiful launched a campaign years ago aimed at deterring littering. In it, an actor made to look like an Indian cries when he sees trash detracting from an otherwise majestic scene. While an emotional memory was built through the public service announcement, a cultural connection was not formed and very few behaviors were changed. Littering is still a problem today. (In fact, one of the things that irks many are cigarette butts all over the ground, thrown out car windows, and piled up at entrances to office buildings.) Why smokers can’t keep their butts to themselves is a mystery! 

A market research project in Texas sought to understand who litters. What they found in terms of demographics were that 70 percent of “litterbugs” were males, who also usually had the following characteristics:

  • they are young
  • they drive trucks
  • they drink beer
  • they have a “king of the world” attitude

The research project led to a marketing campaign recommendation to engage culturally with these young males. Ever heard the slogan, “Don’t Mess With Texas?”  In the mid 1980s, actors and athletes were recruited as spokespeople for a new breed of PSA in which the stars shouted out the now famous slogan. For instance, two burly defensive football players from the Dallas Cowboys team during that era are depicted roadside, picking up trash and vowing that they want to give litterers a personal message!

Megastars like Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Love Hewitt, George Foreman, Owen Wilson, Chamillionaire, and Chuck Norris all did cameo endorsements for the campaign. YouTube videos show that it went viral. When a leading research organization suggested that a 10% reduction in littering would be good and 15% stellar, its team had no idea what a campaign that truly connected could do. In the first five years after the slogan was launched, litter in Texas was reduced by 72%!!!

Something else that really connected was Cadillac’s launch of is Escalade SUV. Escalades became iconic in hip hop culture, appearing in music videos, lyrics, and becoming the ride of choice for many to demonstrate status. John Manoogian, who oversaw external design at Cadillac, was asked why it became the bestselling full sized SUV for a number of years.  Rather than attributing success to something like product placement, he admitted that Cadillac missed its target audience with the Escalade. It was intended for  older affluent males. When it didn’t sell as planned, he visited a dangerous neighborhood in Detroit to see who else might be in the market for the luxury SUV. While the “business” that the owners of Escalades appeared to be in was not what bigwigs at headquarters may have wanted, he realized they had a winner. From there, it was a matter of building a strong marketing approach to reach the target audience and tweak the product based on feedback–just like any other niche!

What can be learned from these two “case studies?” Simply that we must not try to educate people into taking another perspective that is conducive to our personal or corporate success. Instead, we should find out what is important to the target and meet them culturally with an offering that resonates with their environment, way of living, and motivations.