Marketing Arrogance vs. Customer Opinion

Marketing Arrogance vs. Customer Opinion

My favorite example of marketing arrogance comes from General Motors.

A number of years ago, GM introduced a totally redesigned model sedan. Personally, I thought it was exceptionally ugly; it reminded me of a hearse. And, apparently, I was not alone in that opinion. It was a dismal failure in the marketplace.

Marketplace failures abound, of course. But there is a back story:

GM’s marketing department ran a series of focus groups before the model was introduced. The respondents consistently and overwhelmingly panned it. But Marketing, in its wisdom, decided that the model was, in fact, so innovative that the focus group panelists couldn’t really see its charms. Marketing decided that as people got used to the look, they’d come to appreciate it – and buy it.

It didn’t happen.

The up-side to this story is that police departments across the country did buy them for their fleets. So, for the next several years, it was easy to spot unmarked police vehicles on the highway. The only ones driving these cars were the cops.

Practical Marketing Rule #9: In a dispute between marketing (or product development or the design team or finance or management) and the customer, bet on the customer every time. He’s the guy who decides market success.

8 thoughts on “Marketing Arrogance vs. Customer Opinion

    • Boyd took the words right out of my mouth. More often than not, engineering’s “certainty” masks a blindness to customer interaction. The best treatment of this problem I’ve seen is not via focus groups, but rather engagement of an incomplete (as opposed to ‘whole’) product with enthusiast customers who can see the gap between the product they’re evaluating and the ‘best imaginable’ type of implementation. I found that the Steven Blank book The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win to really be the definitive method of engaging customers for feedback. One of the more salient points the book makes is that it is not merely a marketing problem; the entire product team (or company) needs to be involved.

  1. GM is rich with these stories. Another good failure nearly everyone knows of is GM’s brand proliferation. How could capital be approved at such an alarming rate at the executive-suite level? Nor was there any guidance from the board, as acquisition after acquisition (Saab, et. al) and new line, afte new line (Saturn, etc.) were invested, produced, and launched to compete with each other in common markets. GM had one of the most overlapping and confusing product portfolios in the automobile industry.

    Like GM, the systemic culture failures are deep in so many companies. GM was bailed out, and their board now has 12 new members – NOT ONE has a hands-dirty background in “marketing innovation.” They all come from finance, operations, science or engineering backgrounds.

    Coincidentally, I dig deeper into this culture of “internal efficiency focused” vs. “customer-centric innovation” leadership disparity in my blog post today at .

  2. Great post Emily! Also, I really like David’s citation of the Blank book – very relevant. Even when marketers do listen to customers, the engineers, finance people, etc. are often waiting in the wings, ready to discount data or observations because they “know the business best”. Everyone needs to be on board for well-defined and executed research to truly be meaningful to organizations; those who embrace it are rarely disappointed in the direction and insights it provides.

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