Consumer-centricity

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Jared Meisel, Management Director, Shopper Marketing at DraftFCB.  Jared is an old friend who I worked closely with while on P&G’s Walmart Customer Team and one of the biggest proponent’s of putting the consumer first.

Earlier this month, Brian Reich spoke at the New York Media Information Exchange Group and argued that ad agencies needed to disappear. (A three-minute clip of his speech is available here). Brian’s point was that media companies (experts in connection) and product companies (experts in products) no longer need a middle man (ad agencies) to reach consumers. They can partner and develop advertising programs by combining their knowledge of products and media.

In principle, this seems to be a sound argument. We all want to eliminate the middle man—for cost savings, simplicity and efficiency. It is certainly true that product companies know the most about their products, and media companies about media. I would even agree that the old ad agency model is no longer relevant—if an agency is not bringing its clients creative ways to reach consumers, the agency is not doing its job.

Brian claimed that a media-centric and product-centric approach would reach consumers. But as I thought about this, a question stuck in my head: Who represents the consumer? There is plenty of new media available, and yet most is not effective in reaching consumers. There are plenty of new products being launched in the market, and yet many are not successfully resonating with consumers.

Media-centric and product-centric approaches are no longer effective. Marketers must take a more consumer-centric approach. Here are three specific ways in which we as marketers are failing to represent the consumer in our approach to marketing:

  1. We are not clearly defining the true business issues or problems: Of course we want to increase sales, build awareness, and drive trial. But why isn’t that currently working?  What about the product, target, or marketplace (competition, retailers, etc.) is keeping us from delivering the results we need? We all agree that it is important to define the business issue, and yet it is amazing to me just how little time is actually put toward this. Looking at the data, knowing the product, and understanding the target can enable marketers to take a very creative approach to framing up a business challenge. This will not only help us and our partners think differently about the issue, but it will also result in a creative approach to solving the problem. Be warned—to do this right, you need to take an honest, consumer-centric look at your product. More on that point later.
  2. We are incrementalizing on the incremental: In an effort to continue delivering new products and product news, companies have begun to drive in the well worn ruts of the incrementialized road. This happens with products and it happens with marketing. By simply applying the Logic of More—one is good, two is better and three is best—we have created an environment in which we are handcuffed into force-feeding more and more products into the market, creating more noise for consumers to ignore. And not so ironically, the percentage of new products that succeed continues to decline.
  3. We take the wrong approach to delivering products: Said another way, we are letting the tail wag the dog. Forgive the pun, but if success for all products ultimately means getting it into consumers’ hands, how do we not let those who use and buy our products drive our plans? Said another way, why do we take such an R&D (or existing technology-centric) approach to developing new products instead of letting the need or consumer drive our approach?  The answer is a complicated one, filled with corporate structure and departments, but then again, how many times must we fail before we start to question the approaches that lead us to creating the wrong products?

So, who will be bold enough to take a more consumer-centric approach to do this?  It is a challenge to us as marketers to be more creative—not just in our output, but in our input and in our approach.

Disclaimer:  This posting reflects my own thoughts and opinions and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of my employer or its clients.

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