In order to give consumers what they want and need you must listen to them. You cannot just wait for them to tell you what they want because, most likely, you'll only hear from them when something you've given them doesn't work for them or you've not made important information clear. Generally consumers are not going to call you up and say I need this thing or that service and I'd be delighted if you gave it to me this way and at that price.
Which all means that you must do some market research. And you can't always just ask people because humans often don't know or can't articulate what they need and want. So how do you discover what consumers want and need? One way is to do some free research and pay attention to what consumers are telling you even when they don't know they're saying a thing.
The New York Times has a terrific feature called "Most Popular" where you can see which of their articles have been most blogged about or emailed in the past day, week, or month. Because of the "Times Select" archive firewall, the most popular items in the last 24 hours were mostly current pieces that hadn't yet moved to the pay-per-view archives. However, The Times recently made an option available to create permalinks that remain free to view. (To access this option look for the "share" option in the top right, expand the collapsed menu and choose "permalink" from the options which include Digg, Facebook and Newsvine.)
Much of the attention focused on this new feature has been on the fact that bloggers will now include links to NYT articles more often because the links will not expire. There is another bright side to this development, however. Since the links have opened up, much older articles are popping back up on the most emailed list. As I write this, an article from June which compares successful animal training to maintaining a happy marriage has risen, once again, to the top spot. Several other older articles are in the top 25, as well.
This is a fabulous opportunity to do a bit of free research into the zeitgeist of NYT readers. It is important to think about what the demographics of these readers are and to interpret the zeitgeist accordingly, but keep in mind that these readers are not just New Yorkers as I read this paper and check this feature daily from 3,000 miles away through the wonder of RSS feeds.
So what does the resurgent prominence of this article, which also rode the top of the charts at the time it was originally published, offer in the way of consumer research? Looking at it I might also notice that the third most popular article is about questions couples should ask themselves about marriage before tying the knot. The fourth most popular article is about the growing use of cooking classes for corporate team-building. To me, it seems, that there is a hunger amongst Times readers for finding ways in which to build connections and relationships that function, succeed and last. Interestingly, in sharp contrast, the most blogged about articles are virtually all about politics and a smattering of technology pieces not directly about personal connections and relationships.
What can you do with that information? Figure out how you can communicate ways in which your product or service and brand facilitates, supports or brings about those connections, those relationships. Can you offer something new that moves your brand in that direction? Can you adjust your focus with this perspective in mind? Or, perhaps, you can just ask better questions when you do sit down to listen to consumers because now you've have an idea of what might be on their mind even when they aren't quite consciously aware of those feelings and concerns.
And, always keep in mind that lots of free research and insight is available when you look around you and pay attention to all consumers.
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