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Saturday, Jan. 21, 2006 at 5:52 pm

Does your product solve my problem?

By Howard Kaplan
January 21st, 2006

Reading last week on Working Knowledge @ Harvard I came across a gem of an article from quite a collection of minds- the uber-smart author of the Innovator’s Dilemma, the co-founder of Intuit, and the Chief Strategy Officer of the Advertising Research Federation.  What drew me in was this editor’s note:

Marketers have lost the forest for the trees, focusing too much on creating products for narrow demographic segments rather than satisfying needs.

Naturally, this being a Harvard pub, the editor referenced the legendary HBS marketing mind credited with popularizing the notion that people don’t want to buy drills, they want to make holes.  Anyone who’s heard us speak can attest to how much we agree, and how often we’ve used his metaphor.  But I was still stuck on the note, and as I continued the article, my disagreement with their collective contention grew.  While I would never question their academic (and corporate) intellect, I have to challenge a few assumptions.

Are marketers responsible for creating products?

Is polling demographic subsets of a customer base the same as understanding one’s customers?

The article ultimately leads to a conclusion I’d agree with emphatically (although I find the metaphor of problem/solution more effective than their choice of job/employee)- to sell more products, marketers must better understand the needs of their customers, and how their products resolve these needs

But the notion that understanding the customer is secondary to understanding the product is fallible- understanding the product is understanding the customer.  Putting together groups of "target demographics" has no value toward understanding the customer.  Considering the "typical customer" provides no insights into who the real customers are.

A marketer’s job is not to re-create and re-design the product; that’s Product Development and Engineering’s responsibility.  A marketer’s first job is to:

  • understand the customers whose problems are solved by their product, not those whose could be 
  • to consider all the various angles of approach these potential customers can take toward the product, and all the various handles of information they can use to consider their purchase 
  • to allow the potential customer to control the experience, and plan the communication that answers their questions, empathizes with their situation (their context), and demonstrates how their needs are met

To understand the product is to understand the needs of the customer.

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Comments (1)

  1. Again thanks for a nice article.

    Still in today’s marketplace company’s continue to create product without first identifying segment or need. As a consultant I find this especially true within the IT industry as they continue to superimpose their outstanding business wisdom on the businesses of the world. The wisdom was a tongue in cheek thing if you didn’t guess. Look at the continuing dot com failures incase you need help or that of CRM, ERP and others.

    In any case that’s another whole story. Point is that there is a significant amount of businesses that along with their marketing partners ignore need for the sake of product. Customer centric is still a bitter pill for much of the industry to swallow and they are reluctant to let loose of the idea that marketing and branding dictate the position and relevance of need.

    I’m glad to see you are of different mind. That is partially why you are on my blog roll.

    Even at that product and need are separate. Product may be designed to fit a need but it never fits all the need and rarely fills perception of the product offered by the marketing team.

    Each is unique and it is the marketing team that helps the customer to understand the value of the product. Product design should be accomplished through research and need analysis but rarely fills the same void as need. Overlap at times yes and this is the beauty behind someone who cares about the customer first, unless it is by accident of course.

    http://www.customerdevelopmentcenter.com

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