Unless You Are Steve Jobs . . . .

You are better off not trying to “figure out” what customers want.  Jobs was a master at it for sure.  Blessed with tremendous intuition and savvy, along with some sort of internal mechanism that allowed him to gaze into the future.  He would then come back and join the rest of us to build then things that we would wait in line overnight to be the first ones to buy.  Genius, visionary, all of the superlatives have been worn out.

Steve Jobs

Enough about Steve, lets get back to you and me.  For us to be effective marketers we have to do a few things (in addition to conceding that we do not have what Steve had).  We, along with almost all other humans on the planet, have to rely on good old fashioned marketing research.  Darn!!!

So how can we “figure out” what people are looking for?  Conventional wisdom is to ask them.  Sounds good doesn’t it?  However it does not generally work so well.  Often people try to anticipate what you want to hear, and try to answer along those lines.  There is a common misconception in certain circles that focus groups are “high end” marketing research.  Unfortunately most people are nice and like to please others, unintentionally subverting the purpose of our research.  So, we aren’t Steve Jobs, and we cant trust people to help us decide what they want to buy.  What are we supposed to do?

The answer is OBSERVE.  Actions speak louder than words.  People often think they do one thing when in reality they do something completely different.  If at all possible, seek out actual users of your product and watch them using the product in a natural setting.  I realize this is easier said than done, but challenge yourself to find creative ways to see your product being used.  You can do it yourself, or you can hire an ethnologist to help you out.

It is definitely a lot more work, but you will get a lot more valuable information using this approach.