Insight for Innovation ®

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March 19, 2011

Fresh KMG Cartoon! VOC – When to Stop Listening

I know…this would never happen at your company.  But it could–if you let it.

Consumers are eager to tell you all the ways they struggle with your package, and what new features would compel them to buy and cement their loyalty forever.  They will blackmail you with expectations for over-the-top functionality that will make the world safe again for on-the-go snacking.  Or bathroom cleaning.  Or…

So how do you reconcile consumer “requirements” with the real-life constraints you live with in R&D?  Here are some questions to ask yourself when faced with numerous stated consumer expectations you can’t possibly fulfill.

  • Forget about features.  What are the perceptual and functional attributes consumers care about most?  Can you define and rank them?  It’s not enough to say “maintain freshness” is a critical attribute.  How should you execute on that?  Should you do so at all given the usage dynamics of the product?  Perhaps perceptual cues that signal freshness would do the job, given that true freshness is likely sufficient.
  • What’s the key consumer promise your product makes?  What’s the role of packaging in delivering it?  Are there gaps?  If your product is all about the foaming action that lifts dirt, what can the package do better to bring that to life, both perceptually and functionally?  The point is to look beyond the utility of packaging alone, and consider the integrated, singular product/package promise consumers will understand and value.  Ignore consumer “requirements” that don’t support that promise unless your package is leaving some critical, category-standard utility on the table.
  • What incremental utility will your consumer ultimately pay for?  This is the age-old question without many good answers.  But with the right approach, it’s one reasonable way to decode what’s mission critical and what’s just dip on the chip.  How might you approach this?  I use some “relative value” and “asset allocation” tools that don’t ask consumers to pick an absolute price, and can help tremendously.  Feel free to ask me about them.
  • Are you taking consumer requirements too literally?  Just because consumers say they need a better grip on your drink bottle doesn’t mean they should get one.  Assuming this attribute is high-ranking, there are various ways to deliver on it without adding tangible gripping features.  Maybe its about stability.  Or spilling.  Or proportion.  Or more likely, as suggested above, your consumer is laundry-listing “expectations” since you asked them, and she doesn’t really care.

As we all know, the voice of the customer can be loud and relentless, if not grating at times.  Your job is to bring a rational, thoughtful and analytical perspective to their demands.  And maybe even some ear plugs.

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