17 Jul 2012
The introduction of mass production has not only lowered the prices of products, but has also reduced the bond with the customer. Where as in the old days the individual demand of the customer was central when a product was manufactured, since the industrial revolution other factors play a role. For instance, making more money, higher production and growing as quickly as possible. Bigger companies were in the lead for many years and the consumer could only choose between the taste of company A or the taste of company B. Smaller companies and local traders have always been more dependent on the demand and the contact with consumers. The bartender in my cafe on the other side of the street, for example, knows exactly in which glass I prefer to drink my beer. My hairdresser knows that I just came back from a holiday in Vietnam. Big companies, in contrast, send me semi-personalized mails, because they have found in a database that I have just moved.
In recent years there is a change taking place. The gap between the customer and large companies is diminishing. In marketing literature, at seminars and congresses, there are more frequent discussions about ‘ connecting with consumers ‘. Companies realize more and more that consumer demand is important in the struggle for the ever growing group of critical consumers. TV-programs such as ‘Kassa’ and ‘Radar’ help consumers with going after companies that deceived them. Negative experiences of consumers are easily posted to the internet and the effect of these reviews is only growing. As the influence of the consumer is growing, the more important it is as company to minimize the risk of a failure. Getting the customer involved in the decision-making process is the best way to reduce the risks. Fortunately, nowadays there are more and more ways to get into a dialogue with your customer.
It is not very complicated, nowadays, to get in touch with your customers, especially not when it comes to the Dutch market. Of all Dutch people 12 years and older more than 90% have internet access. Of the elderly group ages 65 to 75 years, 60% is online. Generally, the younger a person is, the higher their use of the internet (Source: CBS 2 may 2012).
These ‘internauts’ are very active when it comes to product orientation and sharing their experiences. Of this group 95% is online, 72% uses social media, 57% judges products, and 49% has given comments on a blog or internetforum. (Source: what’s Happening Online 2011 examination of Ruigrok | NetPanel).
Also the use of mobile internet is growing. As of spring 2011 there were already six million Dutch people between 12 and 75 years of age using mobile internet. This is half of all 12-year-olds to 75 year olds who used the internet in the three months prior (source: CBS 25 October 2011). This shows all the more clearly the power of the internet and the power of observation. Any company can find out on the internet what consumers think of their products and services.
‘Netnography’ is a technique that focuses directly on this. It observes the behaviour of your target group online. An advantage of this is that you see with what language the group is talking about your product. What are they talking about and what is important to them. You see more than just the complaints of the people that approach your customer service directly or the data that you get through questionnaires. A disadvantage of this is that you don’t get an immediate response to the questions that you have as a company, because the areas of interest of your target group is not always in line with what you are looking for as a company. Netnography provides very useful information, but it is re-active. If you really want to be in touch with your customer, you give him/her a role in the development of your product. The chance that he/she will judge the product as bad is reduced and it increases the chance that he/she will give a positive review, with a greater sympathy for your brand.
More and more companies are seeing the value of organizing the involvement of customers in the first phase of a new direction. This is due to the power of internet and social media. At the same time, companies see also that the involvement of customers in an early stage has a positive effect on the costs. After all, rather spend your money well, then have to spend extra afterwards in correcting your product.
Fortunately, nowadays there are different ways to get in touch with your consumers. Directly through internet or by market research. What is crucial is that you seek the dialogue. The big change with what we were seeing a few years ago is that market research nowadays is no longer one-way traffic. It is no longer the market researcher who asks questions and the consumer who answers these questions. It is a dialogue where the subject is determined by the market researcher, but where the customer can come up with other topics, input, and change direction of the dialogue. Flexibility of the marketer and its sponsor is pre conditional. From the dialogue it could be revealed that complicated mind boggling questions are totally not important to the customer but that seemingly irrelavant issues lead to heated debate.
I believe that when large companies, and preferably all companies, return to the reason of their existence namely ‘meet the demand of the customer’ everyone will be happier. Firstly, I myself as a consumer, because then I will no longer need to cross cities and the whole country to find very simple flat black shoes that are comfortable to walk on and still look neat. Secondly, companies who are not bothered by a mountain of black shoes with towering high heels and flat black running shoes that nobody wants to have. And finally my friend who will no longer have to listen to my complaints about this. That would be an ideal world. A world in which we have normal conversations.
Some methods to get in touch with consumers:
- Online research communities / customer panels
A company facilitates an internet environment where people can discuss their product or service. Both the company and the customer can provide topics, to which the rest of the community or the customer panel can respond. When discussions are taking longer, it is important to link back to consumers what is done with their input and ideas.
- Home visits or customer experience days, customer ‘safari’s’.
Marketers and product developers provide a visit to the customers home or they take them shopping for a day.
- Shop panels
Customer panels in the form of a group discussion on the store floor about the store itself.\
- Co-creation sessions
Very extensive group discussions where you share with the consumer the problems. The customer is involved in finding the solution, together with the marketer
- Facebook, Twitter and other social media
Create webpages or hashtags through which customers can indicate what they think of your company or brand. The company can send messages through Facebook pages or Twitter hashtags to ‘fans’, to which they can respond. The company can also respond to messages from customers that talk about the company on social media.
Other (new) methods for observation, but without having to get in contact with the consumer:
- Neuroscience: Measuring the unconscious. This can be done with an eyetracker, measuring reaction times or through an MRI scan.
- ‘Netnography’ observation of behavior and language of your target group on the internet.