Beyond the consumer’s perspective

KARTHIK SRINIVASAN S RAMESH KUMAR | Updated on August 21, 2014 Published on August 21, 2014

Captive audience Mobile shoppers need to be shown only enough and relevant information so that they can make swift purchase decisions

Digital technology widens the scope of a product’s utility. Marketers should exploit this opportunity

Changing environment, lifestyles, fragmentation of markets and the digital impact on consumerism has created several opportunities for branding and product management. These opportunities may not be readily discernible (in terms of managerial perspectives).

Traditional product management brought in consumer perspective to design and execute a product. While it is equally significant in the digital domain, it is important to understand that the consumer may not realise the best alternative to his needs given the diversity of needs and the infinite ways to digitally satisfy them.

Product Management

Fitness, for example, is a ritual that can have several contexts and segments. Apps for this domain require not just consumer inputs; they require insights that are triggered by the marketing team and “innovatively” implemented by the product management team. Innovation here is quickness and extrapolation of the trigger associated with the consumer.

Customer inputs to a fitness app may only include things like “I want to track the number of kilometres I ran” / “I want to know the number of calories I burnt.” But a mobile app that connects to the internet can get a lot more details from the context of usage – current weather conditions, knowing where the customer is (in a gymnasium or outdoors on a trek), points of interest (like a shop that sells nutritional drinks) around the location, interacting with other fitness products such as wrist bands, running shoes, and so on.

Depending on the availability of these external inputs, the app’s behaviour and output should be enhanced. This will require the user experience design, product management, engineering and marketing teams to come together and brainstorm its potential.

In the years to come, these approaches are likely to spread to every product category. Kindle readers, iTunes and video streaming for entertainments (like Netflix) are examples of how digitalisation is taking over books and conventional modes of entertainment.

Services such as Uber and OlaCabs are taking this to a very mundane taxi booking service through their mobile apps with location capabilities, dynamic demand-based pricing, secure credit card linkages and such.

Marketing and product teams work together to identify a product opportunity and the segments the product is meant for. Product managers then work with user experience designers and engineers to create a product that is valuable (product manager’s responsibility), feasible (engineer’s responsibility) and usable (designer’s responsibility).

Consumer behaviour

While designing a mobile app for an ecommerce portal, the product team should consider research evidence from Marketing Science Institute which shows that train commuters in emerging markets concentrate intently on their mobile devices during their commute.

To capture such captive consumer segments, an ecommerce portal’s mobile app needs to draw up an exclusive set of images for the commuter segment that reflects such behaviour. Though the portal carries various categories and brands, it needs to show categories and brands about which purchase decisions can be made during the travel time.

The dynamic nature of the context makes it imperative for the product management team to speedily react to the context. The same website (or the app) could show a different set of products/pages when the user is not commuting.

Consumers’ self-image and social image also have to be kept in mind for product design. For example, a digital product could contain interface support in multiple languages. A consumer might prefer to use the interface in his native language when he is alone if he thinks his English comprehension is not good. When he is with his friends, he may feel self-conscious about using his native language and want to use English.

A digital product should be able to understand the context and change languages appropriately or at least have an easy option for the user to quickly change the language of the interface.

Need for tight control

With revenue models of several digital products built on advertisements, product managers need to control the number of advertisements that appear in the product. For example, a search engine with more advertisements (even relevant ones) than real search results will be perceived as inferior by consumers.

Similarly, a social network with more advertisements than original posts shared by their friends will quickly jump to another network. Therefore, digital product managers employ various research methodologies to arrive at the right mix of advertisements so as not to put off consumers.

A digital product can consider the motive to use (if it is used with a ‘promotion’ focus or with a ‘prevention’ focus) and change its interface appropriately.

For example, a product that shows the status of utility consumption (say, 3G data usage of a mobile service) may be used by two sets of consumers – (a) Who are worried about their current usage and need reassurance that they are well within their allowed limits (‘prevention focus’) or (b) Who do not worry about their limits and like to know about more services to consume (‘promotion focus’). In both these cases, the consumer will use the product to know the status of their current consumption but what to display to them is entirely different.

In the former case, there could simply be an indicator (in green/amber/red) with the balance highlighted. In the latter case, the indicator could be very small and more services can be shown to drive consumption.

Consumer behaviour and product management together can open up new avenues in an era of convergence of technologies and real time applications.

Karthik Srinivasan is Senior Manager with a telecommunications company, Dr S Ramesh Kumar is Professor of Marketing, IIMBangalore

Published on August 21, 2014
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