February 18, 2013

Did Steve Jobs Get Market Research Wrong?

Mary MahoneyBY Mary Mahoney

J. Robinson Group Blog
English: Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone...
English: Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worldwide Developers Conference Español: Presentación del iPhone 4 por Steve Jobs en la Worldwide Developers Conference del año 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When asked what market research went into the iPad, digital visionary Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Inc., replied: “None. It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

Jobs always appeared totally tuned into consumer needs despite his penchant for eschewing market research, such as surveys or focus groups. His product decisions seemed to be informed by his personal grasp of customer desires, technology trends and popular culture.

According to the New York Times, Jobs said great products are triumphs of “taste.” And taste, he said, is a byproduct of study, observation and being steeped in the culture of the past and present, of “trying to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then bring those things into what you are doing.”

Ultimately, Apple products reflected Jobs’ personality. The question Apple fans and investors have been asking is, “will Apple be the same company post-Steve?” Time will tell.

While Jobs relied on his instincts and intuition, the rest of the world depends on market research. For those who lack Jobs’ extraordinary and uncanny ability to see into the future and instinctively see what people want, market research is indispensible.

Market Research World defines market research as “a systematic, objective collection and analysis of data about a particular target market, competition and/or environment.” Market research can define your target market and offer concrete feedback about your product or service. Essentially, it is the process of gathering as much information as possible about your customers and how they view your company and products. With enough good intelligence, you can determine the best marketing strategy for your business.

While a lot of market research is conducted via surveys and focus groups, many marketers turn to the Web, where consumers are expressing themselves in a myriad of ways including in videos, images, forums, blogs and various social media channels. Market research benefits from this customer engagement, which serves as a real-time monitor of what customers like and don’t.

Your customers’ experiences represent invaluable information that can help you gauge how well you currently meet their expectations but also can tell where you are getting things wrong. If there is disconnect between what your market wants and what you are providing them, you can use the Internet and social media to get back on track by asking questions and showing that you care.

To elevate social media monitoring from the tactical to the strategic, it is critical to gather input from as many sources as possible. This will ensure your data is stable and representative. So, monitoring Twitter, Facebook, blogs or message boards should be part of your overall market research mix.

Nike, the athletic footwear and apparel giant, is famous for development and market research, as depicted by their wide range of new products and designs. Nike lures millions of customers with a marketing strategy centered on a brand image characterized by distinctive “swoosh” logo.  Its 1988 slogan “Just do it” was chosen by Advertising Age as one of the top five ad slogans of the 20th century.

When companies like Nike want to penetrate a new market, they may opt to hire a market research firm familiar with that market to study the buying habits of consumers and determine what factors motivate their athletic footwear and apparel purchases.

Sometimes there is no market gap to fill. In the 90s, PepsiCo tried to launch Crystal Pepsi, thinking consumers wanted a clear, caffeine-free cola in the spirit of purity. The product failed to meet expectations and left many customers — who found it difficult to think of cola as a clear liquid — confused. Unlike other colorless soft drinks, which may have a lemon-lime flavor, the taste was not as identifiable.

Pepsi later started work on a new clear formula, branded simply as Crystal, which fared even worse than its predecessor due to negative associations. Pepsi eventually scrapped the whole concept of clear cola and eventually found much greater success in the growing bottled water market with its Aquafina product.

Steve Jobs’ overall career is marked by his genius, but he was not immune from blunders. The Apple Lisa computer, named for Jobs’ daughter, generally was considered to be vastly underpowered and only lasted on the market just three years, from 1983-1986. Although Apple spent an incredible amount of time and money developing the Lisa, it turned out to be an unpopular system, due to its high price and few available software applications. The Newton, Apple’s first tablet released in 1993, failed to meet market expectations for a small, inexpensive “personal digital assistant,” or PDA.

While Steve Jobs may have dismissed market research, it is difficult to dismiss the value of good intelligence. If you are toying with a new idea, want to boost sales or launch a new product, the importance of market research can lead to sound decision-making and valuable insights into potential profitability in a given market at a given time.

J. Robinson Group can design and implement market research programs specific to your company’s needs.  Just contact us by clicking HERE.

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