Incorporating pain-point analysis into product development and merchandising

Jul 01, 2011 9:30 PM  By

When it comes to merchandising and product development, feeling your customers’ pain is a good thing. Viewing your products and overall brand experience through their lens enables you to solve their problems, earn their gratitude and enhance brand loyalty.

Is probing the pain points within your brand experience built in to your product development team’s discussion agenda? Have you identified the weaknesses or “splinters” in your products — and your competitors products’? Do you really understand your customers’ frustrations and know what items are on their “if only” lists?

Let’s look at some key questions involved in incorporating pain-point analysis into product development and merchandising, and examples of this process in action.

How can we push our product development efforts to address “ancillary” issues?

Solving a core problem for consumers is the basis of product success, but continual improvement keeps a winner ahead of the pack.

Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos and his “one click and you’re done” team hit the ball out of the park with the Kindle. It’s been the company’s best-selling, most highly rated and most popular gift item for two years running.

Why? Because the Kindle provides passionate readers with a compact, effortless way to access their entire libraries wherever they go.

Amazon could have stopped there, but it didn’t. The online general merchandise giant continued to delve deeper into the overall experience and add solutions that address pain points and needs beyond the perennial problem of lugging around print books. Enhancements include:

  • Free access to first chapters, which makes buying decisions easier
  • “Whispersync” technology that saves and synchronizes last-page-read, bookmarks and notes, and highlights across the customer’s devices
  • Text-size adjustment that makes reading more comfortable

Are our merchandisers spending ample time learning about customers’ problems and wish lists? Are we “hearing” their subtle, less overt needs?

Starting in 1999, SmartPak Equine built a successful business on its SmartPak supplement feeding system, which makes it easy for horse owners and barn managers to ensure that the animals receive the correct dosages of supplements and medications.

But the company didn’t rest on its laurels. Like Bezos, SmartPak CEO Paal Gisholt understands that problem-solving businesses succeed through motivated customers’ word-of-mouth. “Pay attention to the problems you experience as a rider or a trainer,” she advises. “What frustrates you? If there is a way to fix it, there may be a business there. If people feel pain, they will take a chance on your product.”

For instance, female riders may not be eager to fret publicly about the problem of unsightly “bumps and bulges” when they’re wearing tight-fitting riding breeches. But SmartPak’s vice president of merchandising Melissa Hamlet, a competitive rider, is keenly attuned to such needs.

Her solution: SmartSlim, a comfortable, “completely invisible” under-breeches shapewear solution for women that not only provides a svelte appearance, but keeps riders cool via its moisture-wicking fabric.

Are we adapting and expanding our offerings as our brand’s customer base evolves? Can we attract or better serve new segments without undermining the core brand mission?

Despite its quintessentially macho image, Harley-Davidson has a significant female contingent among its passionate brand lovers. And its strategic focus on addressing the pain points of women is a key factor in the brand’s growth and success.

In a Bloomberg Businessweek piece, “Harley Shows Its Feminine Side,” Harley CEO Keith Wandell confirmed that the company developed the SuperLow in response to women’s pleas for a bike designed for their needs. The $8,000 bike is 150 lbs. lighter than a typical Harley, and has the lowest seat in Harley’s 32-bike lineup, Wandell says.

Results? New sales to existing female brand loyalists and an important platform for bringing new consumers into the franchise — customers likely to buy all kinds of branded gear and, in some cases, graduate to larger, more expensive bikes, as well.

Brands must be careful not to stray too far from their missions and dilute their appeal to core customers. But reaching out to consumers who share or aspire to a brand’s attributes is critical to growth and relevance. Can your brand expand its offerings to remove some of those “if onlys” and enable these consumers to “join the club”?

Does our marketing powerfully convey that we “get” our customers’ needs? Great products that solve customers’ problems deserve great marketing.

The Gap uses its website to make sure that its petite customers know that the retailer takes their needs very seriously — that these are clothes that they can count on. The site articulates nine ways that the Gap has sized its clothes for smaller frames.

MiB (Making it Big) specializes in quality and stylish plus-size women’s clothing in sizes 22-48 (1X – 8X). The merchant’s website uses clear, powerful copy to convey its understanding of and dedication to the needs of these consumers:

“Our designs celebrate your curves! Our clothing is of the highest quality, constructed from the finest fabrics with stylish designs. Along with offering beautiful and stylish plus-size women’s clothing, we are a socially responsible and environmentally friendly company.”

Make your customers’ pain your own — and let them know you are the source for pain relief — and they will beat a path to your door.

Andrea Syverson (asyverson@ierpartners.com) is president of the consultancy IER Partners and author of BrandAbout: A Seriously Playful Playbook for Passionate Brand-Builders and Merchants.