Another classic marketing lesson from the Apprentice

A product may need to appeal to both the consumer and the customer. Here the customer is advised of the lower fat content whilst the consumer is reassured by 'the same great taste'

A product may need to appeal to both the consumer and the customer. Here the customer is advised of the lower fat content whilst the consumer is reassured by ‘the same great taste’

Regular readers will know that I frequently find inspiration for these blog posts in the Apprentice and the latest episode is no exception. The task was to create and brand a ready meal product and then to pitch it to three leading supermarket chains. The team that lost appeared to have the better product, so why did they lose? They lost because they made the classic mistake of confusing their consumer with their customer!

The customer and the consumer may not be the same person; we need to appeal to both.

Alex’s team decided that they wanted to make a healthy ready meal for children. Nothing wrong with that as an idea, where it went wrong was that they focused their branding entirely in appealing to children. They called their brand ‘Deadly Dinners’, described it as ‘Horrible Healthy Food’ and offered it in black packaging typical of a Hallowe’en product complete with a skull and a ‘bloody’ font! The focus group of primary age children loved it. But…

Who is the customer?

Who buys food for the kids in the supermarket? That’s right, it’s Mum. What mother is going to buy a ‘Deadly Dinner’ for her precious offsprings? I can’t be the only mother who has struggled to get her children to eat healthy food so I’m certainly not going to buy a brand that re-enforces my children’s perception that healthy food is horrible. The supermarkets know that too so they are not going to give shelf space to a brand that mothers won’t buy.

What’s the difference between a customer and a consumer?

The customer will make the buying decision but may not necessarily be the user of the product or service, that is the role of the consumer. So when your customer and consumer are the same person life is straight forward, it gets more tricky when your customer and consumer have significantly different interests.

This is often the case with products for children which are usually bought by parents or grandparents whose primary concerns are going to be around health, safety and education. A child, on the other hand, is going to be most interested in fun and entertainment and is it cool.

But products for kids aren’t the only ones that are affected by a difference between the customer and the consumer. How many husbands have bought their wives sexy underwear only to see it exchanged for something more ‘sensible’? How many purchasing departments have made decisions based on value for money only to have the purchase spurned by the users because it doesn’t do the job properly?

Appealing to both consumer and customer 

To return to the Apprentice for a minute. Alex’s group snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Alex had had an idea for a product that taught geography by introducing food from around the world. That idea could have been made to work for both the consumer and the customer. Parents would have liked the educational element and if the packaging had been made fun, perhaps by borrowing ideas from Innocent Smoothies, the kids might have liked it too. That’s the win-win of appealing to both consumer and customer.

‘So who do you need to appeal to?

Are you appealing to both the consumer and the customer? Do your marketing materials appeal to both consumer and customer? Would your sales increase if you adapted your pitch to address the interests of both groups?


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