You are not your consumer

Any idea what the ‘Facebook Phone’, the ‘Microsoft Band’ and ‘Apple’s butterfly keyboard’ have in common? No, it has nothing to do with technology; all three products failed, with ‘a misfit with the market’ as most cited reason. Apparently, consumers weren’t dying for a full-on Facebook experience on their phone; they criticized Microsoft’s wearable for its uncomfortable design; and they disliked how food and other debris got stuck too easily under Apple’s butterfly-shaped keys. And this type of misfit is not limited to tech devices only. Overall, product failure rates lie between 40% and 95%. But why is it so hard for brands to adopt a consumer-centric mindset? And develop a product that people want and care about?

“We live in this weird bubble called marketing; and we don’t step outside and behave like a normal member of the public. It’s bizarre. Marketing people are living in a constant bubble.”

Sir John Hegarty, advertising executive

You are not your consumer

As rightly pointed out by Hegarty, many marketers and company stakeholders – despite what they think – are not like the consumers they serve. Our natural tendency is to connect with others that are similar. We do so in our marriage, in peer groups and in neighborhoods, but also at our workplace. And this also goes for marketers, that tend to live in their own ‘bubble’ of like-minded people. The sociological term for this phenomenon is ‘homophily’ – similarity breeds affection – but its implications are not always positive. Just think about the marketers at Facebook, Microsoft and Apple; they were convinced that their phone, wearable or keyboard was what the world needed.

Next to this issue of homophily, several significant cognitive biases can make it hard for marketers and brand owners to truly understand what customers are asking for.

Confirmation bias

There’s a tendency to interpret new evidence as a confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories, or the confirmation bias. In business, this bias might make marketers reject results that conflict with their personal views and overplay those in line with their beliefs. It’s the little voice in their head that says, “No need for A/B testing, I already know which one will perform best.” Or they only focus on positive test results, ignoring data that conflicts with their views.

Empathy gap

Another troubling bias is the fact that people tend to rely too heavily on their own perception rather than reality. This might lead to an empathy gap, as people struggle to understand the perspective of someone with a different opinion.

In February 2020, Coca-Cola tried to visualize this empathy gap in its ‘Could I be wrong?‘ campaign. The core idea of the brand’s TV commercial is that if we don’t listen, talk and try to understand each other, we will never ask ourselves: “Could I be wrong? Should I see things from another perspective?”. And it’s exactly this lack of empathy and understanding which is hampering many marketers.

Sunk fallacy cost

This natural bias links to people’s inclination to follow through on something if they have already invested time, effort or money into it, whether or not the costs outweigh the benefits. Think about marketers that have invested heavily in their ‘pet projects’ and do not intend to change course, despite warning signals from the market.

Immersing in the lives of everyday consumers is crucial to reprogram these biases and overcome the disconnect between consumers and marketers. It’s precisely through connecting and collaborating with consumers that marketers can extract the valuable insights they need to make their brand thrive in the market.

For Nike Hong Kong, for example, we immersed the brand’s stakeholders in the everyday life of 30 young fashionistas and sneakerheads, via the Square, our proprietary consumer insight platform. This immersion helped Nike to spark fresh conversations about sneakers, reigniting the local sneaker culture in Hong Kong. Connecting with consumers helps brands to understand the needs, frictions and aspirations of everyday people; and this is vital to stay relevant in a fast-changing environment.

Unlocking the power of consumers

Unlocking the power of consumers

Different people come with a different set of unique skills and competences. Research has shown that out of every 100 people, 90 merely consume content, 9 will like, share or react to what is created, and only 1 will actually create something. And this is no different for consumers.

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