This article is the second in a series based on Rocket: Eight Lessons to Secure Infinite Growth, which tells the stories of 16 business leaders who created iconic brands. The book, by Michael Silverstein, Dylan Bolden, Rune Jacobsen, and Rohan Sajdeh, is available now.
The conventional view is that consumers are fickle and inconsistent, hard to understand and predict, and therefore unmanageable. We disagree. We think they are perfectly consistent, perfectly understandable, and quite predictable.
The secret is to ask the right questions. Too often, companies do not understand this. They commission the wrong kind of research. They ask the wrong questions. They base their conclusions on syndicated data—historical purchases by category reported by Nielsen, IRI, NPD, Crest, and others.
They do this because they think, as most people do, that demographic factors—age, gender, income—hold the key to knowing what consumers want. These do play a part, of course. But in client work and extensive research for our book, Rocket: Eight Lessons to Secure Infinite Growth, we have established that the biggest determinant of customer choice is the occasion of use—that is, where the consumer is and with whom he or she is when using the product—and his or her emotional and functional needs at the time.
Consumers use products in different ways, depending on when they use them and whether they are on their own, with their friends, or with their family. So you need to ask: When do customers use the product? Whom are they with at the time? How do they want to feel? Which needs are current suppliers failing to fully fulfill?
Do this, and you will start to understand what really drives consumer choice. You will be able to aim your products at consumers such as these:
- Mary, the 15-year-old schoolgirl who comes home at 3 p.m. and wants something to eat that won’t be very caloric but will fill her up til dinner
- Joe, the 45-year-old office worker who looks at the clock as it strikes 3 p.m. and reaches into his desk drawer for a healthy fruit bar
- Eleanor, the 38-year-old stressed mother of two whose kids have just walked through the door and who wants a snack that the babysitter can give them as she leaves to go shopping
Across the country, 3 p.m. is a witching hour. Viewed properly, it is made up of many different eating occasions. If you understand all the elements of the occasion of use (activity, place, emotion), you can start to create products and services that match consumers’ hopes and dreams. You can deliver what’s really on their wish list.
Our approach focuses on consumer needs and wants. It focuses on emotional connection. If you ask the right questions, you can create a map of different kinds of demands. We call these demand spaces.
A demand space is the intersection of context (the consumer’s demographic profile, where he or she is, at what time, and with whom) and the consumer’s emotional and functional needs, and each unique space has a unique set of demands. These spaces are usually expressed in everyday language, the kind of language used by apostle customers—those who love and recommend a brand passionately and unequivocally—when they advocate brands to their friends and family.
In this article, we look at how Hilton Worldwide reconnected with customers in an emotional way and breathed new life into one of the world’s first great apostle brands.