Mining for consumer gold

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ShopperThe Sandton City shopping complex recently hosted a Japan week that showcased a range of consumer products. Products ranged from musical instruments, motorcycles, motor vehicles and stationery to exquisitely designed gel nails.

Looking at the array of products, you can’t help thinking about how much investment must go into designing products that will be desirable for consumers. Take the Yamaha compact sound system, for instance, which comes in a range of exciting colours and incorporates modern technology such as Bluetooth, USB input and a docking station for smart phones. This compact sound system under the respected brand name of Yamaha is so desirable that you want to buy the product on the spot. Same goes for the Clavinova made by Yamaha which was played by an international musician with digital sound almost exactly like the original instruments such as the violin, drums and piano.

Some deep research into consumer desire has involved focus groups where consumers listen to relaxing music and get into a state that takes them back to early childhood memories where deep psychological imprinting has taken place. Such research has guided the development of new food products and even motor cars.

One of the latest consumer qualitative research methods that examine the beliefs and unconscious biases that people have about things in life ranging from modernity, masculinity, domesticity and even death, according to an insightful article in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek feature. Research company Red Associates has about 70 consultants from graduate programs in sociology, philosophy, political science, history and anthropology which conduct where they bury themselves in the lives of consumers. They then interview people and itemise the contents of their kitchens and homes while photographing and videotaping and even watching them as they prepare meals, commute to work or get dressed for a night out. They then sift the information and find connections and “tell-tale behaviours”.

These deeps insights into consumer beliefs and behaviour have resulted in finding better ways to market existing products, come up with new products and find new consumer gold mines. For example, the research led to Lego coming up with more difficult Lego sets and refocusing that has strengthened its position in the toy industry. It is also helped Adidas expand its market and identified teenagers as an important demographic for the company.

The researchers also lead to interesting insights such as about the purchase of TVs where, for example, women seethe TV as “furniture” and have considerations such as how it would fit into the living room and match existing furniture. This insight that TV is furniture and not electronics guided Samsung move towards more subtle lightning and more tactile finishes that helped make televisions blend in rather than stick out.

While such deep qualitative research into consumer beliefs and behaviour may seem far off for the small business owner or startup entrepreneur wanting to come up with a new take on an existing product, such insights as Red comes up with could also be done on a smaller scale by paying more attention to what your consumers or customers believe, think and enjoy when using your products or services in their homes, at work or at play. Even on a micro scale it pays to keep up with your customers rather than lose touch with what they are really looking for. Businesses who don’t, miss opportunities when customers go find what they want elsewhere.

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