When you’re running a business, you need to recognise the most important factor in your plans is your customers. You have to structure your sales, marketing and inventory around your customers, rather than expecting them to adapt to you: they’re far more likely to simply go to a competitor who makes life easier for them.
This means investing in market research: you need to know what people shopping in your industry want to spend their money on – possibly better than they do. If you can anticipate what your market wants before they know they want it, you can be ready to serve that need. If you fail to see the next big trend coming, you could lose customers to competitors who were ready.
One useful example to look at it is your new product development process. If you don’t situate customers at the centre of this then you run the risk of not grounding your brand’s evolving offer in the realities of the market. You’ll be launching products customers can’t afford, don’t want or don’t even understand the use of it. Losing touch with your customers can be the worst mistake you make.
The answer is to make sure your research and development process has a heavy emphasis on research. Don’t use research to prove that your ideas are good or bad, use research to generate the ideas themselves. If you find out what problems your customers have, you can design products to solve those problems, rather than guess at what their priorities are going to be and hope you’re right.
That’s not the end of your research programme. As you develop concepts for new products based on the research you’ve done about what customers want, you need to subject those concepts to testing with consumers.
Do they see the value them in? Do they grasp how this particular solution is a good fit for their problem, and how much would they pay for it?
If they can’t see how the concept could evolve into a product they’d happily pay for and use – whether it’s a kitchen cleaner or a financial instrument – then it’s unlikely that your idea will find an enthusiastic audience!
As you create prototypes of your new products, be they physical items or mock ups of the digital tool your developers, you need to let customers use them. What they say about them is less important than what they do: watch how they use the prototype. What do they find challenging? What’s intuitive? Feed the results back into your design process and you can create a new, better prototype. After several iterations you will be ready to launch a product that’s optimised to your customers needs!