Faster Horses

For businesses and marketers, in theory, it is easy.

Simply ask customers what they want from your products and services, build solutions around these “needs”, deliver them excellently and communicate them effectively. If only.

The problem with this approach is the first part. You can always find customers who are happy to share their views and opinions on what they say they want. This will typically be in some kind of customer research scenario such as questionnaires, conjoint analysis, focus groups or depth interviews.  Although these will be conducted by excellent, experienced research professionals, the bottom line is that customers find it difficult to express what they really want and marketers are not always very good at interpreting this in the right way.

This is never more so than when you are considering new things.There is still no better expression of this than Henry Ford’s comment when asked about inventing the motor car.  He was questioned as to why he did not ask customers what they wanted. His unforgettable response was that it was because they would have simply said that they wanted a faster horse.  And this sentiment holds today-probably even more so given how fast technology is giving us more and more ways to do things.  Customers find it really difficult to envisage and articulate what they might want in the future, especially in areas where there is a strong market conditioning.

So what does this mean for us as marketers? Should the invention and bringing to market of innovative and inspirational new solutions such as an iPod or Kindle be the sole preserve of the super visionaries such as Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos? Of course not. And there are at least two elements which are consistent with their approach which we can emulate.

Firstly, always start with the customer and keep trying to understand in detail what problems can be solved for them. One way to do this might be via formal research. However it is certainly and definitely not the only thing which should be done since it will not give you the answer.  What it is good for is providing additional data to complement your other efforts in understanding the customer, in order to form your own point of view.

Secondly, keep looking out for what other people are doing, the way things are being done in parallel markets and how technology and progress are making customers’ lives better. These are fertile sources for inspiration.

The above is no silver bullet.  It will not give us a fully formed answer and a business plan for our boss.  However, what it does do is give ourselves a fighting chance of developing great solutions for customers. By thinking widely and deeply about how to fit in with customers’ lives, we considerably increase our chances of spotting and seizing opportunities when they arise.

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which seeks to arrive at cut-through propositions and solutions for our clients.To do this we look beyond the familar towards the unordinary.

To find out more about what we do and if that might be of interest to you please visit our website

Or for more information on how we can help you, contact or, or call us on T: +44 (0)20 7490 9123.  And you can follow us on Twitter @consultingchris.

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