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Are you giving customers what they don’t know they want?

Henry Ford’s most famous creation – apart from mass-market cars – is arguably the quote: “If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. The fact Ford said no such thing is irrelevant – the argument around whether you give customers what they say they want, or what you reckon they really want, continues.

Traditional product development, say the disruptive innovators, revolves around taking a successful design and making it better. Real innovation occurs when only when you give the customer something they didn’t know they wanted. Like Apple does, for example.

Jonathan Briggs, co-founder of the Hyper Island digital masterclass concept, is firmly in the “give them what they don’t know they want” camp.

In New Zealand last week for a three-day workshop, Briggs says the digital era gives businesses opportunities to design online products that solve problems for customers in a new way.

Take Airbnb, the online marketplace which links up visitors looking for accommodation with locals with spare rooms. Love it or hate it (and the state of New York isn’t keen at all), in six years Airbnb has built up a network of 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and in April 2014, it raised $US450 million of new money.

“Instead of solving the problem of people looking for somewhere to stay by building another hotel chain, Airbnb solved it in a disruptive and innovative way,” Briggs says.

Airbnb is a good example of another marketing idea whose time has come, he says: replacing paid-for advertising with products that have the marketing ready-built in.

“Companies need to work out how they approach zero-paid; how they move from a situation where the dominant force is paid advertising to where the product itself sells. You need to build your marketing into your product.”

Airbnb, for example, is getting people to their site using stories, social media and reviews. Another example is Unilever’s YouTube channel All Things Hair, which provides video tutorials linked to common search terms – and at the same time promotes the multinational’s hair products.

“You may have to kick it off with traditional marketing, but you need to make a product where part of the experience of that product is sharing it with other people.”

Chief editor at Idealog, Nikki's a veteran in the journalism industry. A former lecturer at AUT University, she was the chief reporter at NZ weekly business publication The Independent and was deputy editor of Canadian publication Unlimited magazine.

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