Tell customers what they want to know!

In her first Thursday Night Insight contribution, Senior Researcher Julia Cupman discusses meeting customers’ needs, and finds that while this seems like a simple task, achieving this goal is actually fraught with difficulty.

In my spare time I play in a string quartet, and the players and I have come to learn over the years that the public most likes the music that it knows – that is, music that the vast majority of people recognise, as opposed to high-brow classical pieces which are only known to the select few. I believe there is an element of truth to this in marketing too, and I will use an example from a project I conducted recently on seafood to illustrate my point.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 70% of the world’s fish stocks are now fully fished, over-fished or depleted. In the North Sea, for example, many once common species such as cod, skate and plaice are now overfished and, in the case of cod, stocks are on the verge of commercial collapse, whilst common skate is believed to be virtually extinct.

“Consumer awareness”, “ethical consumerism” and “The Green Revolution” are terms that are ever more frequently bandied about as consumers are encouraged to play a role in saving fish stocks. Industry is playing its part by communicating messages regarding sustainable seafood to customers and consumers. The tuna fish cakes I found in my fridge earlier, for example, had “sustainably sourced” written clearly on the front of the packaging.

Cod is one of the most popular fish eaten in Europe, but it is under pressure of being overfished. In 2006, Birds Eye caught around 17,000 tonnes of cod – around a quarter of the North Sea cod population. However, the company announced last year that it would launch new fish fingers made of Alaskan Pollock from a sustainable fishery in order to help cut its cod catch by 4,000 tonnes a year. Birds Eye tried to promote its new Pollock fish fingers to consumers from the sustainable fish angle, but failed. It then changed its message, dropping the sustainability aspect to focus on Omega 3 instead – a wise move given that fish is perceived as a healthy option by the vast majority of consumers that buy it.

It became clear to Birds Eye that consumers were not in the know or were not concerned enough about sustainability for this message to influence their purchasing. Birds Eye instead realised that it had to tell consumers what they wanted to know – that fish is good for them.

This may appear simplistic, yet it is surprising just how many companies (not just Birds Eye) are unable to take the customers’ perspective. This points to the fact that identifying customers’ needs may actually be a far more difficult endeavour than first seems.

And it is also why disciplined, in-depth research is so invaluable when launching a new product, since this kind of intelligence is invariably the difference between success and failure.

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