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4 Levers to Change Consumer Thinking

November 9, 2015

Consumer decisions are impacted not only when a company creates a solution, but more importantly, when they successfully identify a problem and let their consumers know about it.

Gone are the days of carpet-bombing the benefits of a product to the masses.

Today, some big brands can do that successfully, but we are seeing less and less of it. In fact, even mass-customization is becoming outdated. Consumers are more skeptical, more cynical, and more reluctant to buy a product unless it has authentic personalization and can truly make a difference in their life.

Good companies know the ground rules of marketing and product development in a traditional sense. But great companies know it's not just about what makes a "good product", it's about being able to make shoppers believe a product is "great".

That's what this post is all about. And if you've read other posts I've previously written, you may be thinking about how innovation is going to play into this since it's a common thread weaved throughout our content.

So often we hear about innovation in the sense of technology --- but innovation reaches far beyond that. Although advancements of hi-tech gadgets can (and certainly have) changed the way we do things, there's another side of the story that manufacturers can overlook.

We hear less about innovation in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry than anywhere else. Why is that? It makes up a significant percentage of the U.S. economy, the equivalent of nearly $2 trillion, and it touches every aspect of our lives, influencing how we think, what we wear, and increasingly, reflecting what we believe about life and how we want to live it.

So, let's cut to the chase.

In a career that oversees, directs and advises in the industry of product development, I am constantly researching what turns "best practices" into "next practices". Working with some of the biggest, brightest and most innovative companies in North America, I have an opportunity to see a lot of products that either "make it" or "break it".

Because of this I am able to tackle a tough subject that means something different to so many companies fighting for space at retail. I want to take an opportunity with company executives, such as yourself, and express what I see as a guiding light for companies seeking to avoid costly mistakes.

Many companies who are looking to carve a path to retail, and get on the shelf, need to know the factors that can school their internal teams to achieve higher success rates.

These are the four things I believe enable brands to achieve the transformative changes they are looking for. Throughout the entire product development lifecycle, if a supplier can answer "yes" to any two of these questions, you can be confident that the thinking of your consumer will have been impacted. If a product can provide a "yes" to all four... well, that's where the true TNT really lies.

  • Does it make my day?
  • Does it change my life?
  • Does it help me look good?
  • Does it keep me connected?

Using these four levers, marketers and manufacturers have an incredible opportunity to positively shape the lives of consumers and have an impact on the rest of the world.

But can brands do it all? Some can. A lot depends on the type of product that is being sold and the need it fulfills.

In addition, each of these success variables for products have their own sub-factors. For example, we as consumers, are increasingly expecting to do things that involve all our senses.  Consumers have an ever-increasing desire for multiplicity and hyper-efficiency.When will smart-phones become smartest-phones? The intensity of speed and power in products that consumers have come to expect is moving faster than some companies can keep up with. The leapfrog effect of brands jumping over each other is taking place every day. Some consumers are becoming so "brand-confused" by the rate of speed shown in the marketplace, that loyalty is a thing of the past. It's now, and only, all about the four levers listed above.

Some manufacturers have set up expectations of speedy innovation within their consumer base, so much so, that they are now finding the effects of speed working against their internal resources. Scalability is the new problem of the future.

There's no place to go but go faster. Brands moving at warp speed have made it nearly impossible for their competitors to create their own consumer "wow" response.

Innovation is now an everyday item. It's no longer just for "science geeks".

The power of the technological revolution is permeating every category of the CPG industry. Since the revolution started about 10 years ago, our global culture is facing a generation of changed consumer expectations. Forever.

You see, each of the four levers to change consumer thinking are deeply personal. Consumers want every aspect of their life to be rich and full. People want experiences that are wholesome and intense.

The marketing playbook is fundamentally being rewritten. Information and research regarding the "new consumer" is increasingly more challenging to get a hold of because of the pace at which the industry is moving and the "noise" that accompanies it. 

There is no 100% effective way to gauge consumer reaction to major changes.

However, there are some basic principles that haven't gone away -- consumers tend to be locked into what they are used to and believe in. That alone, makes them less receptive to very different concepts and more receptive to small improvements. That is unless at least two of the four levers are clearly noticeable in a product.

Based on these four levers, and their principles, the marketplace is continuing to see small and nimble companies gain ground and generate traction with consumers that were otherwise deeply brand loyal. Instead of trying to offer abetter solution, many companies today are offering a different solution, and winning as a result.

The shift of focus to "being different" doesn't mean the end of market research, rather a fresh outlook on what the consumer expects. Predictions today are based less on a five-year outlook, and more on smaller bite-sized research gained through topic specific focus groups. I expect that future market research will be conducted even more by consumer decisions as they occur, and less on long-term preference forecasting. Instead of measuring systematic expectations, and satisfaction and loyalty, manufacturers must be readily available, open-minded and forward-thinking in their use of user forums, social media and public feedback.

This leads us to the big question. How well do you know your consumer?

If you've been putting product on retail shelves for years, be sure to fight complacency. The simple truth is that consumers are changing their habits rapidly. Preconceived notions become outdated faster than ever. By using the four levers of changing consumer thinking, product developers can become product innovators. Once a company begins on that path, they will realize that innovation is more than just making a product different --- it's all about reflecting how consumers think.