The vocal minority

IMG_0512.jpgTell me if this has ever happened to you …

You’re sitting in a review meeting for Product X. Someone questions why a certain feature was included or why another one was excluded. Engineering/Product Design responds exactly how they’re supposed to, with “That’s what the requirements document said.” And then someone in marketing jumps in the clarify:

“The Customers want it that way!”

A hush falls over the room as the Marketing Manager basks in the glow created by invocation of The Almighty Customer. Moments pass as people look thoughtfully around the room at each other, nodding and scribbling in their notebooks.

From the back of the room someone squeaks meekly:

“Does the customer research say anything about how they’re trying to solve their particular problem? Could a different feature do a better job?”

And that’s when the wheels start coming off the proverbial tricycle.

Marketing Manager: “Well, we didn’t do huge amount of customer research. But we talked to customers!!”

Questioner: “Oh, I get it. So you talked to customers … how many customers?”

MM: “We talked to our best customers, of course!! Customer A and Customer B!!”

There’s a fine line between talking to customers and only talking to a few customers. Sometimes its all too easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the vocal minority, those few customers that you talk to the most, whether it be because of geographic proximity, how much they buy, or your own personal relationships. And with marketing budgets being what they are these days, it might be easier to talk to a few, easily accessible customers than to lobby for the funds necessary to do the segmentation and targeting work on a larger scale.

But ask yourself this: Would the iPhone be as wildly popular had Apple listened only to the uber-geeks? Would Google Mail be more appealing if Google had listened to someone _other_ than the uber-geeks? Would your PC be less frustrating if Microsoft had listened to someone other than the Old School Corporate IT Departments?

And so its marketing’s responsibility to keep asking those questions, to keep pushing for better segmentation, better targeting, and a better understanding of where we’re getting our information, what we’re doing with it, and what outcome we’re trying to achieve.

Because it might just mean the difference between making a product that two people like versus one that two hundred million people like.

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