Do you know how new products get onto the retail store shelves?
It's pretty simple. A company creates a product, decides whether or not to put it under an existing or a new brand, and then creates the packaging. The company sales rep then takes the "finished" product to the headquarters of the retail chain where they meet with a "buyer", who specializes on the category of products in which this new product fits. The buyer either likes the product as is with no changes (happened once in 1340 AD, in a Roman market), suggests changes (happens sometimes) or rejects the product for an unknown reason (this is the norm).
Retail buyers have all of the power, and they like to remind you of this on a regular basis. They will throw out words and phrases like "partnership", and "we need to work together", but the fact is, the buyers make all of the decisions, and they determine what products ever see the light of day, and eve get on the shelf.
In an interesting experiment, Asda, which is what Wal-Mart is called in the U.K., is turning over some of the buying decisions to its customers. Asda will start to email to a group of 18,000 customers, which it has termed its "Pulse of the Nation" group. The emails will contain images and descriptions of new products sourced from the Far East, and the Pulse group will have the option of providing a positive or negative response as to whether or not they think it is a product that should be carried in the stores. Asda sees it as a way to engage more effectively with its customers through the use of the digital channel.
Not only does this take more power away from the manufacturers and brand owners, it also takes the power away from the buyer, and turns it over to the customer. This can make for a very interesting dynamic, if it works, and it will be interesting to see how the product mix might change that exists on the store shelves.
In essence, it becomes a "Focus Group on Steroids", and puts the power of brand decisions into the hands of the end-user. Think about how this might work for your business or service. Can your business develop a Pulse group, and can you use it to help plan your next product launches? Letting customers choose your next products helps build in initial sales as soon as the products are launched, because the engaged customer now has some skin in the game.
All the more reason why it is so important to continue to build the long-term relationships with your customers, and work towards making them an integral part of your business decisions. As we always say, when all is said and done, the Customer Owns Your Brand, not you!