Halloween is scary enough for us ordinary souls as we open our front doors to a horde of sugar-filled, trick-or-treater kids. It can be a fretful time of year as well for fancy dress firms as they try and rack up sales of skeleton suits in their peak period of the year.
Not so many frights, though, for Edinburgh-based Morphcostumes, which has seen soaring demand for its costumes driven by Halloween as well as festivals and stag do’s since launching in 2009.
According to co-founder Gregor Lawson the key to success for their ‘beating heart zombie suit’ and ‘jaw dropper clown’ was understanding what their customers most desire.
Consumer is boss
“I was trained in business at Procter & Gamble where the corporate mantra was that the ‘consumer is boss’. That has stuck with me as I’ve seen how powerful it can be,” he says. “For a small business we invest heavily in understanding our consumer, from post-purchase questionnaires to testing new ideas on Facebook before we start production. We also organise flashmobs where we welcome feedback on what we do well and not so well.”
Getting this feedback and steer from their customers results in making ‘tweaks’ to existing products as well as creating new designs. “It could be that they want to make a bigger impact when they arrive at a party, want greater comfort in a particular suit or want a lower retail price by removing unnecessary features. This is made possible by our solid understanding of what consumers want,” Lawson explains.
Gareth Loudon, director of the Centre for Creativity and a former Apple Research and Ericsson Research worker designing and developing new software and computer embedded products, agrees that customer research is crucial for any business.
“Classically, when start-ups go to funders they get told to look for gaps in a market. They are told to do their research to see what competition is out there for their product or service,” he says. “But they don’t do the customer research. They may well find a gap but that may not be enough if you don’t know whether customers are going to like what you are offering or not.”
He mentions classic market research practices such as customer focus groups as a way of understanding a customer’s explicit needs. However, even this falls short of truly understanding your customer.
What they say they want or need may not be what they, deep down, actually want.
Under the skin
“You need to discover your customers explicit and implicit needs,” he explains. “What are their motivations? What drives their behaviour? You need to get under their skin because some companies have lost out to competitors because they followed exactly what their customers said and failed to be innovative or creative.”
There is a science behind this, called ethnography, which is loosely described as an analysis of a culture through participant observation.
“It’s about visiting your customers where they work and live. Spending time talking to them, observing them and the products they use and their reactions to them,” Loudon explains. “Look at their lifestyles and build some qualitative research. Find out stuff about them that they are not fully aware of themselves. An example of how this helps would be a focus group where a mum says that she feeds her children a healthy breakfast every day. If you went to her home one morning and you saw her struggling to get the kids to school and giving them a chocolate bar instead then you see the reality and understand them more.”
He says a growing company could find an hour in their day to do this or could ask a third-party research group to carry out the work for them. “Add this qualitative information to quantitative data from their social media behaviour,” he adds.
This form of research also gives a company the opportunity to do an Apple and create a product like the iPhone to surprise their customers. To give them something special they never knew they were missing.
“It helps you to think ahead. An explicit need in the old days may have been a sales person who needed a faster horse. Well, you could take that as the notion that they wanted a faster form of transport and this leads to the creation of the car,” Loudon says. “The customer keeping you on your toes could be the piece in the jigsaw you needed to create something special.”
The opinions expressed by third parties are their own are not necessarily shared by St. James’s Place Wealth Management.