Monday, May 24, 2021

Do you know how much your customers needs have changed?

 I'm writing a (probably too soon) series of posts on what I've learned as we all return from the COVID epidemic.  Previously, I wrote that companies will need to focus on business model and process innovation over product innovation.  You can read that post here.

Today, I'm focusing on customer insight and why it will be so important now and in the short term (next 6-9 months).  The good news about the economic rebound is that everyone is going back to work, and the economy is picking up.  The slightly more interesting news is that consumer expectations and demands have changed during the pandemic, and you cannot expect that consumers have all the same wants and needs, or that they place the same emphasis or priority on the needs they had in the past.

An Emerson quote

It helps as a writer to acknowledge the great thinking and helpful quips from previous generations.  Emerson is helpful in this context.  He wrote that "A mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions."  I've used this quote in other blog posts, but it has never been as relevant as it is right now.

COVID didn't just stretch us, it pummeled us, isolated us, contained us, and in many ways changed us.  For some, it taught self-reliance.  For others, it taught them to learn to slow down.  For others, it taught them what they can do without.  For others, it changed focus and priority.  No matter what, everyone in the US, and for that matter, around the world, has been through some significant change.

The question we have, then, is:  will consumers come back and acquire and consume products and services in the same quantities, and at the same rate, as they did before the pandemic?  Anyone who creates products and services and simply forecasts that the market and consumers will return to the same level and type of consumption are kidding themselves.

Take me, for example

What COVID taught me is that I don't need as much stuff as I thought I did.  As a result, I'm trying to acquire less, and be more thoughtful when I acquire a new product or service.  I look at a closet full of clothes that I'm not wearing and think - why buy more?  I look at the foods available to me in a grocery store and think - why not cook rather than go out to eat?

Staying at home and avoiding crowds has made me think about appreciating and spending time with friends and building tighter bonds.  My spending habits, my acquisitions, my wants and needs have changed.

While I may be an unusual case, I'm not the only person whose habits, spending and behavior will be changed, for some period of time or perhaps forever, by COVID.

What do we need to learn or know?

If this one simple example tells you anything, it should tell you that companies that produce products and services need to gain a new understanding of their customers.  How have their behaviors changed through COVID?  Will they return to their "normal" behavior, or do they have new priorities and values?  What are the new, emerging wants and needs?  How do we create products and services and experiences that align to new expectations?

This all means that doing deep customer research is vital, and by this I don't mean asking a few people haphazardly or conducting a few surveys.  My sense is that people's behavior, values, relationships with each other, with money, with "stuff" has all changed.  It's going to take a lot more empathetic inquiry to know what has changed, how much things have changed, and how permanent these changes are.

Ethnography/Empathy/Appreciative Inquiry/Design Thinking

Doesn't really matter what you call it - you need to go out and get this done.  I think we'll see a real opportunity for companies, large and small, that can suss out what people really want and need now, and who can shift their creative energies into creating new products and services and experiences.

Any company assuming that everything and everyone is simply going "back to normal" is missing a major shift in the environment, and will miss substantial new opportunities and markets. 

How urgent is the need to understand how the market and consumers have shifted?  How much time are you spending on new attitudes and behaviors, new consumption models and patterns in your customer base?  I think there's a very high need for a lot of good market research now.


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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:16 AM


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