Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

On the importance of gathering marketing insight from unexpected demographic directions

Posted in startups, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 7, 2012

I write this posting thinking about a set of perhaps seemingly unrelated issues that I would attempt to tie together as fitting a single larger pattern.

• Customer-facing employees and their managers often seem to fall into the trap of focusing their attention and efforts on the demographic and on potential customers who they see belonging to it, that they assume up-front will most likely buy. This can and does mean losing sight of and contact with other potential customers who in fact might be looking for an opportunity to do business and make purchases. And their initial a priori assumptions as to who will buy can become a needlessly limiting self-fulfilling prophesy.
• One of the greatest challenges a business can face when developing a really disruptively novel new product or service and bringing it to market, is that they do not know who their best target audience for this will be, and the more novel, and the less precedent-based it is as it is brought to market the more likely their initial assumptions will be wrong.

As an example of the first, I find myself thinking back to an experience my wife and I had going into a large box sporting equipment and clothing store once. We both needed new gym shoes and we were prepared to buy. But the store music was so loud it literally hurt our ears – like stepping into a running jet engine. And everything in the selection of that music and the layout of the store – and in the attitude and focus of the people working at that store said they were only looking and thinking in terms of a teen market. So they effectively drove everyone else away. Not surprisingly, the store went into reorganization and was reopened under new management. And the teen music jet engine was toned down and shut off and they began successfully selling to a wider audience.

As an example of the second, I could cite any of a number of startups and early stage businesses that I have worked with that found their true niche and marketplace in an unexpected direction. That happens, and I add it is more likely to happen when a startup or early stage business is developing a product or service that holds potential for creating a true blue ocean strategy opportunity, than if they are simply coming up with a next generation refinement of an existing marketplace entry – unless their new and different is in some way only applicable to some very specific target market audience.

For both, the problem faced involves failure to see where real and significant marketplace opportunities are. And for my sporting goods store example I have to add that while the younger potential buyers they were catering to did go to the store, when I was there at least they were a lot busier socializing and enjoying the ambiance than buying anything. This store was near a large high school. The students there did have money and teens of their demographic can have a lot of discretionary spending money. But they were by all appearance simply going there after school because their friends did and not to buy. So the store manager and their sales staff were confusing warm bodies in the isles with completed sales.

• Never simply assume that you know who your best possible marketplace customers are. Always keep open eyes and an open mind as communities change and evolve, and so do products services, and consumer needs and expectations and preferences.
• For a retail business this means always rethinking inventory and marketing.
• For a manufacturer this means reconsidering products and their features offered, design and usability, and business to business marketing, as well as business to consumer factors. And even a strictly business to business provider needs to think through that next step and consider what they offer and how, from their customer business’ perspective. What they offer has to provide their customers value and from their perspective.

I offer this short posting as a thought piece, and simply add that this represents an area that I will continue to think about in identifying and reaching out to that changing target – the marketplace. You can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 2 (and also see Business Strategy and Operations.)

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