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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do I intervene?

Funny how the human brain works, isn't it. For some reason I just thought about an experience from just over a year ago.

I was trying a new restaurant with some friends. We lived out in a remote suburb, and it was exciting when something new opened that was not a franchise chain. The menu was quite eclectic, southwest fusion and gelato. Big rewards for creativity and focus on some of the hot food trends of the time. The woman helping us made mention of the owners having a meeting that night. There were six individuals at a table, having big ideas and discussions about marketing tactics.

I really could not help overhearing their discussion. It was a small dining room and they were pretty loud. As they discussed their ideas I just sat there nodding in disappointment. My friends could see what I was thinking, and said I needed to drop them my name and offer to help. I thought that would be a bit presumptuous of me to interject and try to tell them their ideas were money traps that would not make a difference in their business.

The meal was predictable. Not bad by any means, but didn't offer much of a compelling reason to come back. Within a few months they had gone out of business.

What would you have done? If you were a small business owner, do you want someone to politely interject and offer ideas?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Listen to your customers - but not that way

You need to be listening to your customers. Success is that simple, as long as you remember what to do once you have heard them. A business also needs to acknowledge what their purpose is, to provide for, solve, or otherwise make our consumer's life better. Why else would they part with their money if your business did not provide something of value to them? We need to listen to our customers, but if we are not the experts who solve the problem, rather simply facilitating the literal translation of what they asked for, why would they need us?

Henry Ford once said, "if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Asking a customer exactly what product they want will not yield the innovation that will make you the market leader. You need to listen to your customer's goals, desires, and aspirations to develop a product that they did not know they needed.

Focus groups and other consumer feedback help us understand what is important to people. However, as Ford learned with Edsel, consumers all loved the features of the car but that did not turn into an overwhelming success. In fact, despite the consumer feedback, Edsel is often referred to as a colossal failure. Where Ford went wrong was determining what was most important to the consumers, which was a more affordable car.

Coca-Cola made a similar mistake with a cola formula that was preferred in most taste tests. Despite the positive reaction they received in blind-tasting results, New Coke became a disaster for the company.

Conversely, Dietrich Mateschitz hired a market research firm to test his new soft-drink and received bad news. "People didn't believe the taste, the logo, the brand name." But he launched his drink anyway and Red Bull has been a tremendous success.

The lesson is, if you present product options to consumers, they will pick what they are familiar with. This is not because they are uncreative or resistant to change, but that they have to base their opinions on what they know. It's your job to introduce them to the next thing they will want.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Does the type matter?

Typophiles have been up in arms over a furniture retailer and its choice of typeface. If you're missing the controversy, type "verdana" into Google to see how much talk is circulating about Ikea's choice of fonts for their new catalog and in-store signs.

If you're not familiar with the typeface, Verdana is a font developed for easy on-screen reading at very small size. It's not an attractive typeface, and immediately drew massive criticism by designers, marketers, and type developers.

Ikea, please get rid of Verdana.

But according to Ikea spokesperson Camilla Meiby, "We're surprised. But I think it's mainly experts who have expressed their views, people who are interested in fonts. I don't think the broad public is that interested."

True, designers, typophiles, and marketing experts will know why they do not like this move, but just because the general public does not know what the typeface is does not mean their opinion does not matter. By the end of the week I began seeing comments on Twitter from people who visited Ikea and mentioned the signs in the store were unpleasant.

According to the AP, Ikea said that in order to reach many people in many different ways, it needed a font that works in both digital and print media. Read between the lines and we see the novice brand management mistake that nearly every marketing firm makes. The belief that design consistency is brand management. While it is important to have consistent elements to your brand design, it is your product (which includes customer experience) that matters most. Put another way, Ikea was more concerned with a consistent use of a typeface rather than asking their customers what they like.

Does typeface matter? Yes. Your printed materials need to be pleasant to the consumer. First & foremost, your customers need to be happy. There are elements of your design that should be consistent so that customers make the connection and feel the trust you have established with your brand. But getting wrapped up about the ease of website text and trying to make it consistent across all mediums is ignoring aesthetics.

Just because your customers are not graphic designers, does not mean their tastes don't matter. Never underestimate your customers.