At Open we identify and examine customer issues. At DNA we deliver on that thinking.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein

New ways of buying

How open are we to new ways of buying?

Grenville Main December 2009

We’ve all seen great examples of whole new sectors morphing out of latent needs. We’ve seen businesses adapting to and leveraging changing consumer patterns and behaviours.  Innovation abounds, as new businesses appear and old ones evolve to survive. Often, ideas that looked odd (or even crazy) before their time, seem beautifully obvious when they take hold - yeah, read iPod if you must. But also think fast food, ballpoint pens, mobile phones, wine coolers, internet banking or budget air travel. Once things are adopted and in use, how they are packaged, sold and used can evolve – sometimes radically.

Of course, seeing the future or at least navigating your way into it confidently requires a true understanding of consumer drivers, an ability to identify latent consumer needs, or at least taking a decent gamble. Admittedly this can be pretty difficult. But having an ability to dispassionately evaluate what you do and have a forward view on where your products and services need to go is vital for any customer-facing organisation.

Every sector has examples where new things have been tried and failed, and where they’ve succeeded. Both are rich with learnings. When businesses evolve, reshape or challenge conventions (to reduce cost, increase value and/or improve customer experience or usability) understanding or predicting customer needs is often the difference between success and failure.


Do you understand or predict your customers' needs?

A great example of evolving businesses is the Kindle from Amazon. OK, so the jury may still be out on the Kindle, but the appetite for buying content when and where you want, and storing and re-reading what you love has found a delivery mechanism for sure.

Examples of pure innovation aside, packaging ‘old stuff in new ways’ is also happening more and more. The drivers are cost, integration, changing markets and the basic requirement that brands attract consumers with energy and dynamism. As always, brands need to be different and stand out, but just as importantly they must meet the needs and desires of consumers. This should not be confused with growing markets or stretching the bounds or appeal of your sector. A great example here in New Zealand is McDonald's adding pure Angus beef burgers to their menu - it really broadens their appeal, smacks of quality and is a great thing to shout about -but it's still fast food, and needs to deliver to the traditional parameters of the market.

What could work for your business?

Selling in new ways can be as diverse as going online (if you never have), selling direct if that makes you seem more value based, adopting a transactional sales approach (as some legal publishers have). Maybe even consider the old drive in notion if it suits what you do. For alongside putting banking products in a box, providing resealable bags for soup and buying cheaper rates if you can predict your power usage, there are examples aplenty where customer needs have inspired new competitive opportunities.

As we see it there’s a customer revolution going on out there and it’s taking hold in many sectors. Essentially it’s where evolving customer needs are resulting in changes to traditional buying patterns and their satisfaction for ‘brand as usual’. Add to this the impact of social media and consumers are now effectively leading businesses to evolve what they do and how they do it.

In this landscape, it’s important to evolve by focusing on what’s really driving consumers. You need to unpick the behaviours and motivation effecting change. It leads to the age-old question, what are consumers really after when they’re buying? And when you’re selling, how much does what the consumer’s ‘really’ need ‘really’ motivate you? The rules of thumb that guide consumer perceptions on the value of a product, the value of the purchase experience, and the benefits of the product or service in action are critical.

All too often the customer’s ROI (the return on their time, interest and attention) is overlooked because it’s too costly or just too hard to consider. But examples abound - banks are moving from a sole reliance on face-to-face transactions and the start of many air travel journeys is completely internet- and kiosk-based. And if you sell bikes, shoes or music, in-store entertainment and ‘sense of community’ can have a major impact on sales.

What do we really know about our customers?

For us it always comes back to this core question - what do we ‘really’ know about our customers? For insights unlock opportunities and options. How much more consumer appeal could you have if you looked more relevant and valuable, let alone more responsible and sustainable? What if you could be available any time of the day or night? What if you could allow consumers more control over how they use you and your products? What if you could lower your cost and increase your customers' access of your products and services?

These are some of the drivers for businesses in a rapidly changing world where technology is changing interactions, shortening timeframes and opening possibilities. We live in a world where globalisation is creating accessibility and aspiration. And one where the recession has well and truly made its mark. Nowadays there is a need to balance what you ‘see’ while running a business with what you ‘must see’ from your customer’s perspective. Businesses that understand this have the edge.

People out there are doing interesting things across a range of sectors. Their challenges are varied. Their ideas and thinking are a mixture of innovation, evolution, common sense and a return to traditional methods. These things are what seem to connect with consumers. However anything that even smells like change for change's sake doesn’t have a great pedigree (remember ‘new Coke'), but people will always be trying.

Lastly, the best argument for why your customers will embrace change, and look to choose you over your competitors is a simple as - if it’s better for them and it fits their life and world better - why wouldn't they?


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