Some managers, particularly in high-tech firms, question whether a strong focus on customer needs and wants is always a good thing. They argue that customers cannot always articulate their needs and wants, in part because they do not know what kinds of products or services are technically possible.
Others have pointed out that some very successful new products were developed with little or no market research. The laws of probability dictate that some new products will succeed and more will fail regardless of how much is spent on marketing research. But the critics of a strong customer focus argue that paying too much attention to customer needs and wants can stifle innovation and lead firms to produce nothing but marginal improvements or line extensions of products and services that already exist.
Although many consumers may lack the technical sophistication necessary to articulate their needs or wants for cutting-edge technical innovations, the same is not true for industrial purchasers. About half of all manufactured goods in most countries are sold to other organizations rather than individual consumers. Many high-tech industrial products are initiated at the urging of one or more major customers , developed with their cooperation and refined at customer beta sites.
As for consumer markets, one way to resolve the conflict between the views of technologists and marketers is to consider the two components of R&D. First there is basic research, and then there is development – the conversion of technical concepts into actual salable products or services. Most consumers have little knowledge of scientific advancements and emerging technologies. Therefore, they usually don’t play a role in influencing how firms allocate their basic research dollars.
However, a customer focus is critical to development. Someone within the organization must have either the insight and market experience or the substantial customer input necessary to decide what product to develop from a new technology, what benefits it will offer to customers, and whether customers will value those benefits sufficiently to make the product a commercial success.
Often, a new technology must be developed into a concrete product concept before consumers can react to it and its commercial potential can be assessed. In other cases consumers can express their needs or wants for specific benefits even though they do not know what is technically feasible. They can tell you what problems they are having with current products and services and what additional benefits they would like from new ones. For instance, before Apple introduced the iPod, few consumers would have asked for such a product because they were unfamiliar with the possibilities of digitization and miniaturization in the electronics industry. But if a market research had asked whether they would buy a product smaller than a Sony Walkman that could store and play thousands of songs they could download from their computer without messing with cassette tapes or CDs, many probably would have said, “Certainly!”.
A strong customer focus is not inconsistent with the development of technically innovative products, nor does it condemn a firm to concentrate on satisfying only current, articulated customer wants. More important, although firms can sometimes succeed in the short run even though they ignore customer desires, a strong customer focus usually pays big dividends in terms of market share and profit over the long haul.
Source: Walker O. C. and Mullins, J.W., Marketing Strategy: A decision-Focused Approach, McGraw-Hill