Consumer Behavior: Creating The Future

User Experience design has been a hot topic over recent years, but it has an Achilles Heal that many overlook. Are you paying attention to the behaviour of lead consumers? In Clayton Christensen's The Innovators Dilemma, this is a basic flaw of incumbents. Successful mainstream organizations have an established customer bases, most of whom are reasonably satisfied with the current product or service. Unfortunately, however, customers for firms serving the mass market, the offerings has 'crossed the chasm' and have largely of middle-of-the-road needs(Crossing The Chasm, Geoffrey Moore). These markets are not 'lead users' or early adopters, users who today want new solutions to leading-edge needs beyond the mainstream products or services on offer. These 'lead users' are often Over the past decade we've seen multiple incumbents fall victim to living in naivety, as disruptive players transform entire markets in short periods of time. Incumbent displacement has happened so often that established firms are well aware of the potential for disruption. But it is hard to advise precisely what to do about it. Or is it?

Incumbents traditionally engage in an audience of validation, allowing them to prove they are right. While most of the modern disruptors look to invalidate assumptions amongst early adopter markets, thus quickly ruling out adoption risks. This gives disruptors a clear advantage, as they gain greater clarity on the future mainstream behaviours, preferences and choices of consumers. Such analysis and testing is done using one of Kotler's tools, the Black Box Model. A “black box” is a construct in psychology used to explain the unexplained. We can observe certain aspects of the process, but not the actual thought process and how it leads to action.

The parts that we can observe are what happens outside the mind. We can observe the outside forces acting upon a person and how the person responds as a result. The step in between is the “black box” of Consumer Behavior.

Consumer behavior is a fairly broad marketing term that essentially seeks to answer the question of why consumers act the way they do. If we can study and understand what makes people tick, we can better tailor our marketing messages to their wants and needs, even predict where they shift.

The Black Box Model (Kotler, 2004) is related to the black box theory of behaviourism, where the focusis not set on the processes inside a consumer, but the relation between the stimuliand the response of the consumer. Even Eric Ries' Lean Startup has strong elements of Black Box models, as it aims to test the unknown, unseen, focusing on the early adopter market to find a appropriate customer, problem and solution fit. By engaging this audience to invalid assumptions, innovators can fairly efficiently 'create the future.'

So why is such a testing approach not more common? The answer lies in the decision framework of incumbents, which aims to only justify an assumed solution, usually lead by numbers sourced from existing mainstream markets. A weak place to find trends of future behaviours.

"If you want to create the future of a market, look to the consumer behavior of early adopters."

If you want to create the future of a market, look to the early adopters.  They are usually the individuals that play around with stuff even if it’s not very good, giving you valuable feedback into the viability of your product or service. Enabling the accelerated maturity, and eventual user traction and growth. Essentially, you’re looking for the minimum set of features needed to learn from your early adopters because you want to learn early what users want and don’t want. Limiting time and energy spent on products that no one really wants.