Customers In the Driver’s Seat: the Power of Consumer-Driven Design

Mar 17 2017

Customers In the Driver’s Seat: the Power of Consumer-Driven Design

There’s something special about the concept of “mine”. When we have ownership over something, or when we feel we’ve been able to contribute to the results of a project, a game, or even a product, there is a special attachment we feel to it that we may not feel otherwise: I own part of this. I did this. This is mine…and it’s special to me.


As technology continues to progress, we see this form of creation and contribution taking over society in a much more prevalent way. Suddenly, we can customize far more than just our coffee orders: our computers, our cars, our newsfeeds, and our cosmetics. When the products we own and use feel, quite literally, built for us, with us in mind, because we had a hand in ideating or creating them, we feel a special bond or attachment to those products. Some experts are calling this trend “Generation C”, wherein consumers have more and better access to hardware, software, and online methods of distribution, allowing them to create their own content and products, suited uniquely for them.


While retailers have long been in the driver’s seat when it comes to product design, things are rapidly changing. More and more often, the consumer wants a say in how the products they’re purchasing are made. Even when they may not want 100% ownership of the products they’re buying–they want their favorite soda recipe to stay the same, or their favorite detergent to continue to do what it has always done for them–surveys show that they’re interested to peek under the hood and make a contribution to the products they buy. Recent data suggests that, while only 10% of consumers have taken advantage of product customization opportunities, up to 30% are interested in sitting behind the wheel, if only for a moment.


Brand managers and product teams know that packaging design is critical when it comes to wooing new consumers–over 60% of consumers will buy products simply because they liked how the packaging looked, and over 40% of consumers overall will continue to buy a product expressly because of that design. Your consumers are your stakeholders: they are the ones buying the products that keep your brand thriving. But all too often, packaging is designed based on what brand teams think the consumer wants, and not necessarily based on what the consumer actually wants.


How can you prevent your brand falling into that trap? Here are a couple of ways to make sure you are consistently putting your customer front and center in the design process, ensuring increased sales and repeat purchases:


  1. Get your customer involved in the design process earlier. While it’s been proven that package redesigns can increase return by over 700% when done successfully, the vast majority of redesigns don’t provide any ROI at all. Why? Experts posit that brands are waiting too late to get their customer’s eyes on the design. Instead of relying on “pre-design opportunity analysis,” most brands are used to bringing customers in on the tail end, through focus groups, engaging only in “post-design validation.” A brand has already given the customer one or a few options in a focus group…but what if the customer doesn’t like any of the options in front of them at all?


Brands implementing pre-design research successfully often watch consumers in their natural environment: when they are actually shopping, as opposed to focus groups or simulated environments. They survey what the customers buy, they may even ask the customers why they bought a particular product. By doing this research before the design process begins, brand teams can best see how their customers are interacting with products in real time, enabling them to bring that data to the drawing board the first time.


  1. Provide customization opportunities for your customers. Customization expert B. Joseph Pine told the Harvard Business Review in a recent interview that “every customer is multiple markets.” So what does that mean? Your customer may want different things at different times of day or different times in their lives, depending on how they are feeling. When brands allow opportunities for consumers to customize products, they’re giving that consumer the opportunity to create what they want, based on how they feel, right now. With the right customization interface and simple survey questions, brands can collect data from their consumers’ customization efforts and use them to provide new design, based on what their customers are really looking for. They can even use the data to provide hyper-customization opportunities: sell one product several ways, meeting your customers’ needs under several circumstances.


Customization opportunities also allow for A/B testing (with hyper-customization production), as well as for competitive research. Brands who provide customization options for their customers are getting–directly from their buyers–what the buyers want. This gives them better and more accurate data than the competition, still inside the focus group room, and allows them to improve their product line seasonally or over time by learning from the data customization provided.


Experts predict that, in the near future, over half of brands will offer some form of customization opportunity to their consumers. Mass customization, while an oxymoron long ago, is quickly becoming the future. When customers have stewardship in producing what they themselves buy, a few things happen: a) brand loyalty (“This brand let me make my own product!”), b) brand evangelism (“Look at the product I made through this brand!”), and c) increased sales and repeat customers.


Does your brand want to learn more about how to put your customer in the driver’s seat and make customization work for you?


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