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Let’s Face It: Customers Are Strange

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Why is it customers never act the way we want them to? We have good products and great service yet they will go across the street and buy inferior products from rude uncaring salespeople for the same price. Sometimes it’s not really their fault. Sometimes they are mesmerized by the market, advertising hype and media direction.

For example, most people in the know thought Beta was a better video recording platform than VHS, yet most people bought the inferior system. When Coke tried to change their formula in the 1980’s they conducted 250,000 taste tests that proved people preferred New Coke instead of Classic Coke. The only problem was, even though people liked New Coke better, no one would buy it.

Hits and Misses

No Fortune 500 Company leads the way like McDonald’s when it comes to guessing what their customers don’t like. Here are just a few McDonalds failures.

  • McHula Burger: A slice of pineapple instead of meat designed for the Catholic market whose religious beliefs did not permit eating meat products on Fridays. They eventually borrowed the Filet-of-Fish from a competitor.
  • The McDLT: The hot meat and cold lettuce were kept apart until the customer combined them. Way too much work for the average customer it turned out.
  • McLobster: This $5.99 delicacy looked like someone threw up on the bun and it made a hasty retreat off the menu at McDonald’s locations in Maine. McCaviar next?
  • MacAfrica Burger: This was a PR nightmare for the fast food chain. Introduced during a famine in Africa it looked like McDonald’s was trying to capitalize on starvation.

Features vs. Benefits

So why do so-called experts guess so wrong and inferior products out sell superior products? The answer is simple, well not that simple. Why did VHS defeat Beta that was regarded by most experts as the superior product?

Beta was superior in quality but it was inferior in benefits to the customer. Beta could record two hours, VHS six. Beta had a twelve-hour clock for future recordings while VHS had a twenty-four hour clock. Beta could record four events, VHS eight.

The total benefits of convenience features of the VHS overwhelmed the quality issue of the Beta.

Sony kept the licensing all to themselves, while JVC, the owners of the VHS system licensed their process to anyone who paid for it. There were at least 20 well known brands selling VHS compared to Sony being the only source for the Betamax.

Apple made this same mistake. When John Scully took over Apple in the early 1980’s he refused to license the Apple Macintosh to anyone. At the same time, the IBM personal computer histstore shelves with 20 or more brands, and the race was on.

Some Final Thoughts

Customers buy products on how that product makes them feel. It has nothing whatsoever to do with logic. They will make an emotional decision and create a logical argument to support that decision. Does the “Pet Rock” seem logical to you? If you don’t believe selling is emotional, try watching the Home Shopping Network for five minutes.

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