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Oct 17, 2005


Jeff Jarvis

Well then why the hell do companies spend untold fortunes on focus groups, surveys, market research, product testing, and all that? To hear what customers want. When customer go to the effort of tellling you, why not listen? If it's easier for them to tell you, why not help them? If they have good ideas, why not embrace them? If they show you what's wrong with your ideas, why not learn? It's that simple. If you think that's crap, fine. I think that's smart business.


focus groups are used to test concepts, validate ideas/products, and refine products. Listening to what customers want and turning over your product design to them are two entirely different ideas in my book. Furthermore, good - great - companies are always careful to not get locked into a reactive product design cycle where whatever is front-and-center in the customers head is what you build, it takes an experienced ear to discern between what customers say they want and what they ulimately want. If you think that's crap, fine. I think that's smart product management.


As far as I know, focus groups are selected to represent a certain customer segment. (whether they succeed in it or not, is another question...) The customers who go out and tells you what they want is a rather narrow segment as I see. Of course you can build a business on that - a new business. But if you are a corporate with a large customer base (and a large cost base that's also called your employees, who you're also kinda' responsible for) you need more than just the opinion of the pro-active few.


In Moore's classic Crossing the Chasm vernacular, this trap is specifically referenced to as locking into the early adopter segment and being unable to get out.

laurence haughton

I don't mean to jump down your throat but have you looked into the theory of utility?

"To begin with, Jeremy Bentham's philosophy reflects what he calls at different times 'the greatest happiness principle' or 'the principle of utility'--a term which he borrows from Hume. He was not referring to just the usefulness of things or actions, but to the extent to which these things or actions promote the general happiness.

Bentham writes, "By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness."

I think "utility" in economic theory includes room for Hermes handbags.


Thanks Laurence,
I think Bentham is really extending what the Greeks (Epicurus? no, I think it was Aristotle) defined as the primary good of life, the pursuit of happiness, a life well lived as opposed to a simple emotional response.

Obviously, I used Hermes to underscore the point, but I do think that Apple is fair game as well as a company selling fashion/pleasure.

laurence haughton

I think you may be right about Epicurus.

Once a businessperson understands "utility" and "expected utility" a lot of irrational economic behavior becomes quite rational.

Or as a jeweler once said to me, "What I sell isn't diamonds. It's is a way back into the bedroom."



So true... the utility part as well :)



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Just thought i would point out that you spelled kumbaya wrong. You need a pocket dictionary, dammit.

In the end, it is really just this simple:

Customers are careless and lazy and generally speaking, categorically wrong -- I blame them. But it is a company's "job" to be a constitute of coveted desire and to define happiness....

not to listen to what customers want,
not to push the principles of utility,
not to tout conversations, or brands, or fairness, or transparency.

Think Tryptamine. And Alice in Wonderland.


P.S. The rest of it is all Hoo-Hah.

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