Voice of the Customer and the Fat Smoker

“Discussing goals is stimulating, inspiring, and energizing. But it feels tough, awkward, annoying, frightening, and unpleasant to discuss the discipline needed to reach those goals.”
(From Strategy and the Fat Smoker, page 6) 1

Doing what’s obvious but not easy

You can’t lose weight or stop smoking by dabbling and chasing short-term goals. It’s the same with strategy in the front end of concept development. You can’t distinguish your concept from competitors’ products and services by accepting “it’s good enough” information on prospective customers’ needs.

To start Voice of the Customer discipline, you need to build what your competitors usually don’t have — a unique knowledge of prospective customers’ latent and emerging needs.

“Lack of market research, moving directly from an idea into a full-fledged development effort, and a failure to spend time and money on the up-front steps are familiar themes in product failures.” 2

Voice of the Customer’s discipline calls for at least thirty interviews with knowledgeable respondents. Skilled interviewers elicit previously unarticulated latent and emerging needs for a concept. 3

Don’t underestimate how much effort you need for significant improvement

Your business unit’s internal barriers to change

“There’s no problem”     “Paralysis by analysis”

“Market research stifles development creativity”

It’s about a permanent change in tracking, and measuring market research work.

In the same way a successful dieter tracks and measures calories and exercise,

In the same way a former smoker watches temptations to dabble, short-term, with old habits,

“To cease smoking is the easiest thing I ever did. I ought to know because I’ve done it a thousand times.”
- Mark Twain

Voice of the Customer helps balance short- and long-term development strategy

Develops measurements that settle whether a concept opportunity is worth chasing

Has discipline to avoid good concepts that don’t fit your business unit’s long-term strategy

It takes courage to tell the unit’s best current customer you’re turning away possible business and not investing development assets in their good (but half-baked) concept.

Decides on the suitable combination of qualitative and quantitative market research tools that will track, record, and measure prospective customers’ unmet latent and emerging needs

Ranks needs into qualities the fully developed concept must have to distinguish it, in the eyes of its prospective customers, from its competitors’ products and services.

Effective practitioners of the Voice of the Customer discipline do not meet their strategic goals through rigidity. Quite the opposite, they approach their work with suppleness and adaptability. Some tools for doing Voice of the Customer in this way are described in earlier posts on this blog and in the menus.

1. Strategy and the Fat Smoker, Masters, D. (The Sprangle Press, 2008)

2. Winning at New Products: Accelerating the Process from Idea to Launch, 2nd Edition Cooper, R. G., Page 80,
Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, MA (1993)

3. “Voice of the Customer” Marketing Science Griffin, A. and Hauser, J., 12: pages 1-27 (1993)