In the On-Demand Era, Customer Feedback Must Be Modernized

Imagine the best outcome for your brand’s new product release. The product launches and everyone loves it—new and existing customers alike. Employees pop bottles of champagne as live feeds of the launch unfold throughout the office. Turns out, your product is the perfect solution to a problem that your target consumer has been struggling with and now they couldn’t imagine living without it.

But in reality, this is rarely the case. While everyone strives for this perfect scenario, many businesses miss that the key to reaching this outcome is to move beyond traditional customer feedback.

Most brands know the importance of gathering customer insights during the new-product-development process. Many companies, for example, use a focus group during the concept testing phase. While focus groups can certainly be effective, they’re tedious and time-consuming to implement in an era when almost everything else seems to be available on-demand.

The immediacy of today’s culture means that consumers can quickly get their needs fulfilled elsewhere if your product isn’t living up to expectations. So brands really can’t afford to release a subpar product. Unfortunately, the risk of new-product failure is high. In the U.S., 74 percent of new products miss their profit targets.

The outlook for the consumer packaged goods industry is perhaps the bleakest. According to Nielsen’s U.S. Breakthrough Innovation Report 2016, a staggering 85 percent of new CPG products fail within two years. With those odds, releasing a new product can seem incredibly daunting for most brands. A failed or even underperforming product can lead to losses in time, resources, customers, and more.

The brands that do manage to succeed cite a customer-centric approach as the source of their success. The J.M Smucker Company behind Milk-Bone Brushing Chews, one of Nielsen’s 2016 Breakthrough Innovation Winners, spent four years conducting painstaking research to pinpoint their consumer need.

In an interview with Forbes, Covahne Michaels, director of Pet Snacks Innovation at the J.M. Smucker Company, said a mediocre version of their product was ready in just two years. In the CPG industry, beating your competition to market is generally the first priority, but the Milk-Bone Brushing Chews team decided not to release their product until they felt it fully solved their consumer need.

On the other end of the spectrum, products that aren’t developed with a customer-centric approach generally tend to fail. The Amazon Fire Phone, for example, never took off and was discontinued after just one year. Amazon missed the mark by failing to recognize their audience’s real motivations.  

Amazon had successfully entered the tablet market with the Kindle Fire, largely because it was a low-cost alternative to the iPad. With the Fire Phone, however, Amazon attempted to compete at the same level as Apple, with similar pricing options to iPhones. Additionally, one of the Fire Phone’s biggest selling points, 3-D graphics, didn’t impress customers, who viewed it as more of a party trick than a truly useful feature.

Instead of capitalizing on the Kindle’s success with a low-cost, utilitarian alternative to the iPhone, Amazon tried to beat Apple—and failed miserably. Put simply, a product that does not solve a particular consumer need is destined to fail. Solving that need requires putting the customer at the heart of every decision within the product development process, not just the focus group phase. By the time focus groups are conducted and the data is analyzed, most of the customer insights are already outdated. The solution then is to create a framework that allows continuous brand/customer interaction.  

By establishing spaces across platforms where consumers can not only easily share their feedback, but also be prompted to frequently express their opinions, brands can open up a two-way dialogue with their consumers. These spaces can take the form of branded apps, online communities, chatbots, and/or social media pages.

Social media and digital apps are no longer just a trend; they’re the standard mode of communication. Brands need to embrace similar digital strategies to connect with their consumers and better understand what drives them in real time. Not only are traditional focus groups costly and outdated, they’re also incredibly time-consuming. Digital spaces allow brands to connect with consumers instantly, make adjustments rapidly and bring a better product to market.

Rick Kelly is the vice president of product at FUEL CYCLE, where he leads product initiatives for the SaaS-based customer insights solution. Having spent most of his career in the market research industry, Kelly works closely with clients and the operations team to ensure clients are getting the most out of their online customer communities. Follow and engage with Kelly on Twitter @_rickkelly.

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