Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Don't focus on the customer/patron (?!)

A fascinating article ("Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure" from the Harvard Business Review) was discussed in Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge recently and it is definitely worth a read! The author, Professor Theodore Levitt, [CORRECTION: The authors of the excerpted HBR article are Professor Clayton M. Christensen, Scott Cook and Taddy Hall. The authors were inspired by Prof. Levitt's statement, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!", which prompted them to write this article. My apologies for any confusion.] challenges the intuitive assumption marketers make that they should focus on market segments and the consumers that they consist of when devising or revising new products and services. As user-centered librarians, this seems like common sense. Of course, we want to know all about what makes our patrons tick so that we can serve them better. Well, Levitt the authors tell us to refocus our attention from consumers themselves to the jobs they want to get done. In other words, according to Levitt's their logic, we shouldn't be designing services to fit the 18-24 year-old, male, commuter student demographic, but rather to fit what people who walk through our doors and use our stuff want to get done at the library.

The article cites an example of one researcher who studied what "jobs" customers wanted to get done by purchasing milk shakes. He came up with two results: 1. Customers wanted to keep themselves entertained and full on their drive into work and 2. Customers wanted to appease their children. Knowing this, the restaurant could make product changes to accommodate the jobs milk shakes are "hired" to do. For job #1, the restaurant can make getting shakes on the go easier and make the shakes more entertaining by thickening them and adding fruit (if this makes no sense, read the article for a full explanation). Furthermore, making these changes requires that marketers understand the social, functional and emotional dimensions the job is meant to fulfill.

This idea has important implications as we think about marketing libraries. Of course, we do some of this already without necessarily thinking about patrons' needs in terms of "jobs," but we do tend to go along with the traditional marketing techniques of dividing up our target populations into segments instead of jobs sought. If you go along with this idea (and I think it has merit), then it would entail examining what patrons are trying to accomplish by using the library instead of who our patrons are. for thought! Also, Levitt the authors note, that this approach results in broader markets than those defined by product-categories. Just think of all the jobs patrons seek at the library that we can reasonably imagine (socializing, quiet reflection, doing homework, educating children, learning new skills...) and you can see the large number of service implications this approach entails. I'll have to pull the full article and give this some more thought, but if you have ideas to share, I'd love to hear them!


Jana said...

I really like this approach. Focus on what the user is trying to accomplish, rather than who the user is demographically.

Ms. OPL said...

This is a very important article. We have focused on the customer, not on what the customer needs.

The customer comes to us with a problem, for which he or she needs a solution or answer. That is where we need to focus our attention.

The problem can be anything from "I have a few minutes to kill, where are the magazines?" to "Where are the restrooms?" to a very complex research project. No matter how "trivial," if it's a problem for the customer, it is a problem for us to solve--or at least move the customer toward the solution.

I would like to see library reference desks re-labeled as "Answer Desk" or "Problems Solved Here." After all, that's what we really do--answer, solve problems, not "refer" people elsewhere. (Or at least that's what we supposed to be doing!)