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The Hidden Customer

October 3, 2005 - by Robert E. Stevens, GENESIS II(The Second Beginning) E-Mail: views@aol.com

I was under the impression that all Marketers and Developers of new products were aware of the Hidden Customer. This special customer lurks in the shadows of reality, waiting to gobble up new brands before they even hit store shelves. He pounces on them and viciously devours them. While new products are usually developed as a result of identifying an unfulfilled consumer need or desire, articulated or unarticulated, the Hidden Customer is usually ignored until it is too late. The massacre has already started before the victim, the sponsor of the new product, is aware of the danger. Much like a pride of lionesses, these customers band together to kill the idea. In many cases it is a show of power that aids in the feeding frenzy.

Sponsors of new ideas are usually well trained to study the Consumer (the first customer), to determine their needs and desires. Most are also well aware of the need to involve the Trade, which I call the second customer, in their planning. It is the Third Customer, the Hidden Customer, where the real danger resides. To ignore this beast is folly. I have seen little evidence of a reference to this customer, unfortunately, in our MMR or MBA programs. Students are not trained to deal with this breed of animal.

Who are these beastly opponents to new products? You meet them every day. They are firmly implanted in your organization, and usually found in management. They are the dinosaurs. They are the ones so comfortable in the status quo that they fight change at every point. They fear change. It is an area of discomfort, unsafe, unpredictable. Change requires new thinking, a new way of doing things, new ways of evaluating the value of brands. It is about a disruption in the norm, which is painful for the dinosaurs among us.

How do you tame these beasts? I was never that good at it but I have seen the experts in action. The bottom line to conversion is to position the change in the beastís self-interest. Remove their work in moving the idea forward, make it easy for them, minimize the risk and sprinkle credit their way. Treat this customer as a consumer. Understand what makes them tick. Understand their needs. Remember to position your new idea/plan in their self-interest.

While all this sounds cynical, it is reality. It is a venture into gamesmanship. Just as product categories have different types of consumers, there are different beasts inside our world of new product development. To be successful, we need to study this Third level customer. Know them, cultivate your various methods for dealing with them and eliminate this danger to your career.

Through the years, I worked alongside some real artisans in this area. They could motivate the dinosaur to re-channel their aggressive effort so that it would become a supportive one. The art is not for everyone, it was not for me but if you have it, you will be blessed with success. If you are not in possession of this art, find someone who is and form a team effort. Never just ignore that Hidden Customer.




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