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Jennifer Rice Jennifer Rice
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Andy Lark Andy Lark
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Johnnie Moore is a marketing consultant and facilitator based in London. As well as 20 years of marketing experience he's trained in psychotherapy, NLP and Improv. Find out more at his blog.

Andrew Lark's more than 18 years experience of all facets of marketing, branding, sales and communications spans technology, Internet, telecommunications and consumer sectors. There he has led award-winning programs and teams for brands such as Dell, Sony, SBC, IDSoftware, Nortel, Microsoft and Sun. He is a thought leader and innovator on the convergence of brands, communications and social networking technologies. Find out more at his blog.

Jennifer Rice is a strategist and evangelist for relationship-centric brands. She brings 15 years experience in brand strategy, customer insight and marketing communications, and has worked with companies such as Microsoft, Verizon, Alcatel and Corning. Her current passion is exploring how brands are being impacted by blogs and other social technologies. Her company blog is What's Your Brand Mantra?

John Winsor is the author of Beyond the Brand: Why Listening to the Right Customers is Essential to Winning in Business and the Founder/CEO of Radar Communications, a consumer-centric consultancy. You can find out more about him at Beyond the Brand.

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« You, Called the Brand | Main | Create More Satisfied Non-Customers »

October 17, 2005


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Posted by Jennifer Rice

John Winsor wrote a post here a couple weeks ago titled "Ignore the Consumer?". He quotes a recent Ad Age article:

Companies spend billions on market research to divine the needs and wants of consumers and businesses. Yet the new-product failure rate remains high. And we’re not coming up with better product concepts by listening to the voice of the customer. Why? Maybe the customer isn’t worth listening to.

John comments:

Innovation can spring from any part of the company-customer community, but ONLY if the support and encouragement for this environment exists at every level of the business.... When involving customers, be sure to think about inspiration and not reliance.

My personal philosophy on customer involvement is this: Find out what they want. Then figure out how to deliver it. Customers should be involved in "need identification"... or as John puts it, they should serve as the inspiration. But it's the company's job to figure out the best, most cost-effective solution to that need.

I was thinking about innovation this morning when making my breakfast burritos. I'd purchased Mission brand tortillas... ugh. I'll never buy them again. Not because the tortillas taste bad, but because they didn't put plastic sheets in between each tortilla so they wouldn't stick to each other. You can just picture the brand manager's scratching his or her head, trying to find out why they're losing market share... doing taste tests and evaluating product placement. And all the while, it's because of some silly little plastic sheets that make customers' lives easier.

Two insights from my Mission tortilla fiasco this morning:
- Brands that aren't in touch with their customers miss out on small but critical innovation opportunities.
- Brands that seek customer insight only along predetermined lines of thinking (like taste tests) can easily miss out on the real opportunities (like plastic sheets).

Have you connected with your customers lately? Have you allowed yourself to be surprised by a need you hadn't foreseen?

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Co-creation


1. jennifer rice on October 17, 2005 04:56 PM writes...

OK, this is very funny (or sad)... a reader pointed out this statement on Mission Foods web site: "In an industry battling negative trends, Mission Foods has cracked the code, gained valuable insight into consumer desires and applied that insight to the marketplace with much success." Hmmm... ok...

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2. Max Leibman on October 24, 2005 10:33 PM writes...

I think something else to explain why listening to customers results in failed products is that, well, customers aren't very good at articulating wants or solving their own problems. If they were in a position to do so, they wouldn't be problems any more.

Focus groups and satisfaction surveys routinely praise crap and kill great ideas. Guy Kawasaki tells a great story about a focus group where everybody verbally affirmed a brightly-colored design for a portable CD players over a more classic black design; as a thank-you for participating, each person was allowed to take one home. To a one, they all chose the black on their way out.

So it is with problems, too; the customer may be able to identify their pain, but they often can't articulate how to solve it best for them (and can't predict, any better than the engineers, what new pain will come with the cure for the old).

I'd say the solution lies in listening to the customers, and listening hard, but understanding that they aren't going to tell you how to win them over; many a company has focus-grouped and test-marketed a New Coke in their day, only to have the public in general pan it.

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3. Chris Lawer on October 31, 2005 03:03 PM writes...

Whilst slavishly listening and responding to every dissatisfaction and whim of the customer may indeed limit a firm’s innovation potential, the “Ignore the Customer” school of thought tends to miss the point. To co-create with customers requires a deep ability to see past their sometimes short-sighted and superficial inputs. It means asking them different questions, devising new assumptions and finding alternative ways to continuously learn about their problems and unmet needs. Critics of customer input often fail to recognise the difference between asking customers to identify problems and expecting them to come up with solutions. It is true that 15 years ago, most customers were not demanding books over the internet, downloadable music or in-car navigation systems. Yet there were ongoing problems and limitations to be solved, as well as deep-seated, latent needs to be uncovered and satisfied – otherwise these innovations would not be as successful as they are.

OK, it may be true that not all customers are a blessed with the brains (or the motivation) in the innovation department. Yet it is true that every company will have some customers that possess a deep understanding of their products, and maybe even those of their competitors - as shown by Jennifer's burrito experience. And nearly all customers will have some opinion on a recent experience they have had, whether good or bad. In fact, every day, customers are trying to tell firms how to serve them better. Through the questions they raise and the problems they report, companies are already sitting on a potential goldmine of proprietary, customer intelligence. To tap into effectively demands a new mindset and attitude to customer learning. Unfortunately, most CRM systems are not designed with such knowledge capture and use in mind. But that's another story..

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4. Martin Silcock on December 10, 2005 12:15 PM writes...

Have a look at white papers at There is a very compelling and reasoned critique by Anthony Ulwick about "voice-of-the-customer"

Mainly this revolves around not having the right kinds of information for the innovation process.

He offers an antidote in the form of "outcome-driven" innovation.

This systematic approach has implications for segmentation as well.

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5. Chris Lawer on January 29, 2006 03:01 PM writes...

Following up Martin's comments, thought I should mention that my company, The OMC Group, is providing Strategyn's outcome-driven innovation in the UK and Ireland.

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6. Rob Marchant on May 4, 2006 03:53 PM writes...

It's interesting that most of this discussion about innovation focuses on developing relationships with known/established stakeholders, such as your customers. Yet all the evidence points to the greatest innovations being generated from the most unlikley places. Sure, it's important to develop/maintain relationships with customers, clients and the like....but the most disruptive innovations are more likley to arise from developing relationships with those on the extreme periphery of the organisation - the fringe stakeholders - that you don't know and who don't know you. The big challenge is how do you go about developing relationships with people you don't even know you want to develop relationships with! Outcoem driven innovation has its place but the innovation process is already restricted by the perceived outcomes.

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