Understanding Your Customers, Brazil and Senior Citizen Edition

Proctor & Gamble wasn't selling enough diapers in Brazil. So they took a closer look at the cultural dynamics of the market:

In America, when parents buy nappies they often demand fussy add-ons (think nappy flaps, subtle scents, biodegradable material and so on). But in Brazil, babies often sleep with their parents, and many families are poor. Thus what consumers really care about is keeping the baby (and parents) dry all night. So Procter & Gamble eventually launched a cheap, ultra water-tight nappy in Brazil, without fussy details – and sales soared. Many parents are happier now, they are getting more sleep,” one industry leader observed with a chuckle, at a recent debate at the World Economic Forum

Other cultural mistakes of western companies entering international markets:

…western multinational companies have repeatedly tried and failed to sell breakfast cereal in India; apparently this is because local families want hot breakfasts, and most western cereal cannot survive contact with hot milk. Similarly, I also heard a story about how a US car company tried to sell a cut-price version of its bestselling car to India – and removed the rear-seat electric window controls to save costs. That also flopped since the Americans had failed to notice that while the rear seat is low-status in the west (since that is where kids sit) it is high status in India (since wealthy families have chauffeurs).

Makes sense.

Understanding your customers also matters when selling to a demographic in your own country that may have unique needs. GE's industrial design team emphasizes "empathy" when its engineers try to design products for the booming Baby Boomers segment:

We hold empathy sessions to help our designers understand what the aging population goes through every day — we tape their knuckles to represent arthritic hands, put kernels of popcorn in their shoes to create imbalances, and weigh down pans to simulate putting food into ovens. We have a moving-parts kitchen that helps us build products like our wall oven, which is at a height where people don't have to stoop down or stretch awkwardly over the stove to take that turkey out of the oven.

Literally putting yourself in the shoes (and clothes and environment) of your customer. I love it.

3 Responses to Understanding Your Customers, Brazil and Senior Citizen Edition

  1. Andrew Lynch says:

    Good example with Proctor and Gamble – they’re one of the best comapnies in the world at understanding their customers and what they really want from a product. They have a program called Living It where their employees will live with consumers for several days to truly understand their needs. They also have a program called Working It where employees can work in a small shop to gain an appreciation of why consumers buy certain products.

    Ben, if you haven’t already, you should read The Game Changer by Lafley and Charan. It’s a fascinating, in-depth look at P&G and how they create a culture of innovation in their business.

  2. Jose says:

    Howdy Ben, quick edit, it’s ProctER & Gamble. No test proctors at the company…at least none that I’m aware of. Darn spell check. Cheers.

  3. I plead guilty to being one of those over-50 types that the big companies are so eager to empathize with. And sell to.

    So, okay Big Companies that want to empathize with me, here’s a suggestion: How about designing a cell phone that just makes phone calls? That’s it, just boring old phone calls. I can wait for my Internet until I get home, thank you very much.

    And, while you’re at it, how ’bout a phone that us hard-of-hearing folks can actually hear? (I’m talking to you, iPhone and Blackberry. That flat block design is an ergonomic nightmare for people like me.)

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot more young ‘uns to bother, so I’ll just move along…

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