by: Jennifer Rice

John Winsor wrote  over on BrandShift 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?

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