You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them.
That bit of advice comes from Steve Jobs, one of the most successful makers of consumer products ever. Often it gets shorted down to simply “customers don’t know what they want”.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from this approach to business is the idea of Connected Marketing. One of the classic examples used to describe the power of Connected Marketing is the Post-it Note.
The Story goes that 3M had been trying to design a super sticky new type of glue. Their research failed and instead they came up with glue that wouldn’t permanently stick to anything. Someone had the idea that bits of paper with weak glue on would make good bookmarks. This was tried out but proved not to be popular with customers. Just as the whole project was about to be scrapped the decision was made to send out a box of Post-it Notes to senior secretaries in major American companies. Along with their box of Post-it Notes the secretaries got a letter asking for their help. In particular they were asked to come up with uses for these little bits of paper with weak glue on them. Within a very short time Post-it Notes had become a must have office accessory and turned into a multi-million dollar product.
So I should design a product which fails?
The lesson which supporters of Connected Marketing take from the Post-it Note story is not the bit about the glue failing. Instead they prefer to focus on the bit about the secretaries. The idea is that because they were senior secretaries they were ‘influencers’ in their network. In other words people listened to them and trusted them. Because they had been asked for their opinion the secretaries felt flattered. More than feeling flattered they felt a connection to the product and became ‘brand advocates’. They began to tell all of their friends and colleagues about the Post-It Note trial and all the uses they had found for them. Their position as influencers meant that they were also in a position within the company to place an order for more Post-it Notes when they ran out. Very soon all the secretaries in a company would be using Post-its.
How does this help me to run my business?
Some companies go down the Connected Marketing route wholesale and develop all of their products jointly with their customers. This is the extreme. A more popular tactic is one used by people like Google. They will release a new product to select group of influential bloggers and journalists on an invitation only basis for them to test. The people who have been invited feel flattered so they have a positive outlook on the new product. They then write positive articles about it and, because Google picks influential people to start with, ordinary consumers trust them and want to use the product as well.
Another popular, and low tech, solution is to perform targeted customer surveys. For instance if you are opening a new fishing shop you could survey the members of a local fishing club and ask them what times they would like the shop to open. Similarly if you are a butcher you could do a tasting session for your new sausages and then ask your customers what to call them. Alternatively a women’s fashion boutique could invite their most stylish customers to a private viewing of the new season’s clothes and ask them what they ought to stock. These people will then, in theory, go and tell all of their friends and co-workers about how great your dresses, sausages or fishing rods are. They become your unpaid sales team.
Key points for action
If you want to give connected marketing a try there a few key points to remember
- The customers or potential customers you pick need to be key influencers in their field.
- You need to be genuine about asking for their help.
- Show that you are listening and that you are putting their advice into action
- Don’t ask them to go out and influence their friends. If you make a good impression they will do it anyway.