To stay afloat today, businesses must keep up with customer desires and consumer trends. How do consumers decide what to buy? They use both internal and external information searches. An internal search involves the customer searching their own memory and experiences with products. This can include exposure to advertisements and commercials. An external search involves actively seeking out information, opinions and reviews from friends, websites and the like.
How do you determine what it is consumers are looking for? Is it convenience or functionality? Reputation or cost? Green alternatives or great customer service? Today’s consumers are members of “The Expectation Economy.” They’re well-informed, accustomed to having their expectations met, and can easily search out the best and latest on the Internet. Word of mouth recommendations travel as fast as lightning on the Web and product innovations are occurring at a similar speed.
To identify trends in consumer expectations it’s useful to look beyond your own industry. This helps you identify the underlying characteristic or saleable aspect of products that are selling well. In addition, many consumer expectations are set outside your industry: Apple’s excellence in design and usability or Starbuck’s emphasis on indulgence and rituals are examples of this.
Customer insight is invaluable. With it, you can see how it is a company finds a new way to satisfy a basic need in a way that is most appreciated. Keep an open mind when tracking trends so that your personal bias doesn’t interfere with our ability to see value in other innovations. Find out what’s selling and ask yourself why.
Go to trendwatching websites, ask your friends and family, look at magazines and social networking sites to determine what’s being talked about, what’s being said, what’s selling and why.
Do you have a website? If so, are you giving customers value and engaging them? Most companies don’t realize that the customers that give them feedback on a business website are already loyal customers. Their insights may not help you attract new customers or help you determine how to improve your product in order to increase your sales.
The IBM Institute for Business Value discovered that while 80 percent of consumers are members of at least one social networking site, only about five percent ever post content or respond to posted content. Casual participants, those that occasionally interact, make up three-quarters of these customers and Silent observers constitute 20 percent.
Consumers may share links to business websites but social networks offer value to members through a feeling of connectedness. When it comes to your company, consumers are unlikely to interact with you for community. They want value in a different way from companies. Your challenge is to discover what it is your customers care about and then figure out how to create an online experience that delivers in terms of that value.
So what customers do interact with business brands through social media? Those that want coupons or discounts, easy ways to purchase products or services, or reviews and rankings. How can you compel customers to engage with you in ways that give you the information you need to innovate?
Cold Stone Creamery has found a great way to engage customers. On their Facebook page, they offer customers a way to select e-gifts for friends, add personal messages and checkout securely. Recipients are notified through Facebook or an email and can print out a redemption code to avail themselves of the gift at any Cold Stone location. Cold Stone increased sales and can track consumer behavior patterns. They offered value in order to get engagement and information. Link your product to an emotional need and give your customers value. You’ll get innovation information in return.