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.