It's hard -- perhaps impossible -- for consumers to tell you in so
many words what they really want in a new product. It's all too abstract.
Vague. Overwhelming. But, critics that we all inherently are, it's
far less difficult to identify what's right, wrong and different about
any brand we're even reasonably familiar with. With the right technique
and a little nudging, consumers can benchmark competitive brands and recognize
need gaps by identifying perceived deficiencies in the existing technology
and physical attributes of competitive options.
Pushed further, end-users can even help concept teams spot opportunities
to create new needs -- or "invisible gaps" -- by revealing ways
to heighten the importance of lower priority needs currently perceived
to be adequately satisfied.
Presuming consumers use a linear, rational / economic process to analyze
a cognitive purchase decision and evaluate a pragmatic product performance,
the concept development team can discover and quantify the importance
of product attributes and brand values. Similarly the extent of satisfaction
with each attribute or brand value can also be quantified and the relationship
between importance and satisfaction can be mapped. Exploration of perceived
product differentiation between benchmarked brands adds a third dimension
to the perceptual mapping process and further defines opportunity parameters.
Working with paradigms modeling perceived deficiencies in current product
attributes and / or brand image, the concept development team looks for
"fill-the-gap" ways to build a variety of better mousetraps. In
the final step it's up to rodent-besieged homemakers to choose --
on a scale of 1-5 -- the mousetrap they'd be willing to spend their
The tool uses a Repertory Grid technique -- similar to the first phase
of Voice of the Consumer -- to isolate the important product attributes,
functions, benefits and brand imagery encompassed by key brands within
the defined product category. Participants are shown three brands and
asked in what way two are similar and the third different. The comparative
benchmarking generates an extensive list of brand characteristics.
Ultimately a multi-dimensional scaling technique is used to plot the importance
of the most frequently identified characteristics as well as perceived
degree of satisfaction and exclusivity relative to the respondent's
brand-bought-most often. The resulting grids map existing need gaps and
suggest opportunities to create yet unrecognized need gaps.
The tool has been used to identify shortcomings women perceive in alcoholic
beverages and identified the concept for the first varietal wine designed
and positioned to appeal to women: Heublein's Blossom Hill. It produced
Purina entries into premium and price sectors -- Prime and Complete --
and validated the potential for O.N.E. and Pro-Plan.
The process has obvious application in technology, durables and OTC. It
could have identified the breakthrough "big idea" for Chrysler's
Minivan. Motorola's Tango Two-Way Pager. J&J's Tylenol Extended
Care. Arm&Hammer's PeroxiCare. The commonality? Success was driven
by the consumers rational analysis of his / her pragmatic needs and an
objective appraisal of the technological limitations of existing competitive
options available within the marketplace.
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