Blog: Consumer closeness

Catherine Sleep | 12 July 2006

A new industry term has caught my attention: Consumer Closeness. One of our loyal readers got in touch for a chat, and when I saw that he worked for the Consumer Closeness department of a major food manufacturer, I just had to probe him on it. It sounds kind of cosy and warm, doesn’t it?

And in a way, it is, although it also has a sound business basis. The department is a research & development team whose mission it is to translate consumers’ needs into specific product/pack attributes, i.e. creating the requirements of the product. For example, if consumers describe a product as ‘natural’, what do they actually mean by that, and how does it need to be represented in the product? Having defined the consumers’ need, the Consumer Closeness team then leads the project from an R&D perspective to ensure that when it is launched, it clearly represents the original needs as defined by the consumer.

Interesting, no? Anyone who takes up the challenge of trying to understand what consumers want (what they really, really want) has my admiration. I’m reminded of something my mother said when she last came to stay. She was kindly pegging out my washing for me and expressed heartfelt disdain for our clothes pegs (bear with me, people, there is a link here).

How could this be? They’re solid, larger-than-average pegs that therefore give a good grip. Ah, therein lay the problem. Mum didn’t like them because she couldn’t fit them in her mouth, where she habitually stores one or two to use as she works her way along the line. It may seem quirky, but it means she is lost as a potential consumer for oversized pegs, and I bet she’s not alone. Could a Consumer Closeness team have prevented it happening? Probably only via discreet ethnographic research as I’d put money on Mum not actually thinking to mention this requirement if asked to describe what she looks for in a clothes peg. Sometimes it’s only when you see how people actually use products that you get the full picture.


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