Christopher Lee, a former Reebok creative director, just opened a shop in a converted warehouse in the Islington section of London. Called Microzine, the idea is to "dose consumer fatigue with the tonic of quirky but well-chosen goods." Says Christopher: "Everyone's got the same product, and consumers are fed up. They want something exciting and they want it edited down." He says he understand this because he, himself, hates to shop!
Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore psych professor and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, says Christopher represents growing numbers of consumers who "have begun defecting from the culture of shopping, surfeited with information and alienated by what increasingly seems like the mere illusion of choice." He explains the problem this way: "You've got an economy that is 90 percent driven by consumers and reliant on convincing people to keep buying stuff ... You also have a culture in which people are saturated, looking for ways to simplify their lives and to reduce time spent trying to figure out what to buy." Or, as Christopher Lee puts it: "If you buy a stereo, you don't want to see 400 stereos."
Times like this, it's tough to be a marketer. When our product is one of too many choices and it doesn't have a significant, meaningful point of difference, we've got a tough row to hoe. I'm glad to see this consumer trend of "Enough!" because it sends a strong message to management teams in every industry: focus and innovate, or die. Instead of coming up with the 400th model of TV, create Tivo. Instead of producing the nation's 400th coffee brand, launch Starbuck's. Instead of operating the 400th grocery store, Whole Foods.
I was musing on how marketers could earn their spot at the executive table to have more influence on core business decisions, break down silos, and impact internal stakeholders. I think the two primary ways are: measurable results and customer-driven innovation ideas (I'll deal with measurable results in a later post). Marketers have their fingers on the pulse of their customers. Marketers are driving customer research and have the ability to act as the voice of the customer in their organizations. When the marketing department chooses to drive customer-focused innovation (proactive) instead of simply selling whatever comes out of product development (reactive), that's when we come into our full power.
This power for too long has been held by sales and distribution channels -- especially in the B2B world -- who cry to management, "We need more options in our bag! We need lower prices!" And too often, management concedes... because sales is "closest to the customer, so they must know what customers want," when in fact sales just can't sell what they've got. Either the existing products don't really fit customer needs, or they're too similar to competitive products. The answer isn't to give customers more options, but less. The answer isn't to lower prices so customers will buy, but to come up with a simple, innovative solution to meet their needs... and customers won't hesitate to pull out their checkbooks.
It's time for marketers to recognize when prospective customers are oversaturated with choices. It's up to us to say "Enough!" before our customers do it for us. We are the bridge between customers and corporate decisions, and it's up to us to stop the madness.