April 23-29 has been designated as National Consumers Week - a time for a nationwide focus on needs and concerns of consumers. This year's theme is "Consumers Open Markets," to emphasize the "powerful role consumers play in our domestic and international economy," says Bonnie Jansen, associate director of the Division of Information for the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs. "Through their spending, saving and investing dollars, consumers can open - and close - markets of every size and for every imaginable product and service."
Consumer research and input is an important part of our marketing system. Companies spend billions of dollars just to find out what consumers like and don't like, will buy and won't buy.Even so, an average of seven out of 10 new products don't survive.
Companies get consumer input from a variety of sources: polling firms and focus groups, test marketing and comment cards, government-sponsored studies, census data on income levels and spending habits.
But one of the most important sources of information is the purchase. Every time consumers choose to buy - or not to buy - a product or service - or select an item from among competing products - they are registering a vote in the marketplace.
Consider the Pyrex measuring cup, for example. A consumer favorite for years, imitators of Corning's famous glass container with red markings were popping up all over, and making a considerable dent in Corning's market share. Corning heard the consumers who were not buying its product loud and clear. They determined to find out why consumers were choosing competing products. They surveyed former buyers, and used what they learned to redesign the cup so that it was deeper (so contents wouldn't boil over when heated in the microwave) and stackable. Sales are brisk once again.
Successful companies listen to consumers. The idea for snap-top closures on boxes of Tide laundry detergent came from consumers calling in on Proctor & Gamble's 800 line. After hearing from mothers whose children were awakened by the end-of-cycle signal on General Electric dryers, G.E. installed a manual override so parents could turn off the signal while their children slept.
In their book, "A Passion for Excellence," Tom Peters and Nancy Austin claim that 80 percent of new product ideas originate with consumers.
THE MARKETING APPROACH
Consumers are sometimes a little suspicious of marketers, says Duane Hill, president of Duane Hill Marketing Concepts - just the way fish are suspicious of fisherman. "And marketers are basically just fishermen - casting out lines, hoping that consumers might grab the bait, take the hook, and buy what we have to sell."
Proper research, he says, indicates what type of consumers might be in our consumer pool and determines the bait necessary to tempt certain customers into trying products. "We've refined marketing to such a degree that it comes close to being a science, where cause and effect are readily observed." Hill, recently named as an Advertising Professional of the Year by the American Advertising Federation, spoke at a National Consumer Week luncheon sponsored by the League of Utah Consumers, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection and the Better Business Bureau.
Marketing is selling. It is trying to ascertain every conceivable advantage of ownership for a particular product and then communicating those advantages to likely buyers. Marketing is advertising, it is research, it is packaging, it is ephemeral - it is nearly everything that could sell a product. And it's not new. But it has received increased attention in recent years.
If the '70s were the Me Decade, says Hill, the '80s have become the Marketing Decade. "Everyone markets these days - and they're marketing with a vengeance."
In the old day, you could just invent a better mousetrap, and the world would beat a path to your door. "Nowadays, what's a better mousetrap? How does a person decide among so many? How about one based on an older design in new designer colors? Marketing is a way to ensure that people know about your mousetrap - and understand what it is and does. And these days it's not easy."
Each American consumer is subjected to about $400 dollars worth of advertising each year. (In other parts of the world per capita spending for advertising amounts to about $20.) But look at that figure another way: If a company spends a million dollars to advertise something nationally, it breaks down to about a half-cent per person.
Consider that when Pepsi spent $5 million to sign Madonna for its "Like a Prayer" commercial, it cost them about 2 1/2 cents apiece to reach and perhaps offend every American.
The important thing to remember, says Hill, is that marketers and consumers both have an important role.
"Marketing won't save a product that doesn't meet the needs of the consumer. And by the same token, it's quite difficult to market a product that doesn't meet the expectations of consumers. Advertisers do not have the final say about the merit of any product - consumers do."
Advertisers, he says, should not be viewed as Svengali-like manipulators of the buying public. "Rather, we are participants in an exchange of goods and ideas. In a world where products are getting increasingly difficult to tell apart, we have to give the consumer good reasons for buying a product. Competition and buyer knowledge creates an incredible impetus for honest and responsibility among marketers."
WHAT MARKETERS KNOW ABOUT CONSUMERS
Here are some of the little things marketers know about consumers:
1. Consumers like prices that end in 5 or 9. It may be just that we are more used to this system, or there might be a perception that a $6.95 or $6.99 product costs a lot less than a $7 one. But studies show we are comfortable with prices that end in odd numbers.
2. Consumers like to add ingredients. It would be possible to formulate cake mixes that don't require the addition of eggs, for example. But cake-makers feel more like they are cooking from scratch and think they will have a better product if they add their own eggs.
3. Consumers don't like obnoxious commercials but tend to buy the products. Sometimes people get so caught up in the ad, they forget what company is advertising it. On the other hand, the product name sticks in the mind from some of the most obnoxious commercials.
4. Consumers don't pay a great deal of attention to product labels. Consumers say they want nutritional information on labels, but only a small percentage of them really use the information.
Then there's the famous Sunlight case. Free samples of the dishwashing liquid were given to consumers in Maryland. But because it smelled like lemons, contained 10 percent lemon juice and had pictures of lemons on the label, a number mistook it for Minute Maid Lemon juice. More than 30 adults and 45 children became ill after consuming the detergent.
And labels and shapes of private brands are often similar to national-brand products because retailers hope consumers will think that there are hardly any differences between the products.
5. Consumers generally like celebrity endorsements. Celebrities attract more attention to the ad than models - even for products where the connections are pretty thin. Successful examples of celebrity use include Karl Malden for American Express and Joe Namath for Brut. One celebrity endorsement that backfired, however, was Pepsi's use of Madonna.
6. Consumers don't usually complain about a bad experience. In one test, 26 out of 27 customers who had a bad experience failed to report it. However, the average person who has been burned tells at least nine people about it; and 13 percent tell more than 20 people about their experience.