Better meet customer needs by focusing on the demand-side

Demand-side versus Supply-side

How focusing on the demand-side will better meet consumer needs, potentially creating new markets or disrupting existing ones.

Bastian Moritz
Mar 2024

Focusing on the demand side for innovation involves deeply understanding consumer needs and motivations, often revealing opportunities that supply-side approaches might overlook.

Analyzing the demand side can lead to the creation of more innovative products and services that not only meet consumer needs more effectively but also have the potential to create new markets or disrupt existing ones.

This is a lesson in looking beyond the capabilities and efficiencies of what can be supplied, to deeply understand what is desired on the demand side, thereby aligning innovation more closely with market needs.

Demand and Demand-side vs supply-side

The distinction between demand-side and supply-side perspectives in business strategy and product development is fundamental.

The supply-side approach focuses on improving the production and distribution efficiency, optimizing operations, and often competing on price or features. It's centered on what the company makes and how it can do so more efficiently or at a larger scale.

Conversely, the demand-side perspective prioritizes understanding and meeting the needs and desires of the consumer.

It involves identifying the problems consumers are trying to solve or the needs they are trying to satisfy and then designing products or services that meet those needs.

This approach aligns closely with Bob Moesta's Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) theory, as it emphasizes the importance of understanding the 'job' the consumer is hiring a product to do.

Moesta is a prominent figure in the field of innovation and marketing, known for his work on JTBD theory alongside Clayton Christensen. This framework focuses on understanding the consumer's motivations and the 'jobs' they 'hire' products or services to do, rather than merely looking at demographics or market segments.

Common Misunderstandings in Demand Analysis

For a customer-centric approach, it is imperative to understand these nuances of demand to tailor products and marketing strategies effectively. This involves continuous market research, consumer feedback loops, and agile adaptation to changing conditions, ensuring that strategies remain aligned with actual, as opposed to assumed, customer needs and behaviors.

Correctly interpreting and leveraging demand dynamics is crucial for developing effective customer-centric growth strategies. Misconceptions about demand lead to suboptimal growth decisions.

Static Demand Perception

Many strategists fail to recognize that demand is not static but dynamic. It changes with evolving market conditions, consumer preferences, and external economic factors. This oversight can lead to rigid strategies that don't adapt well to market shifts.

Businesses often err by not regularly revisiting their demand analysis to account for changes in market conditions, consumer preferences, or competitive landscapes.

Market Segmentation and Demand

A common oversight is treating the market as a monolith, ignoring the nuanced differences in demand across different segments.

Underestimating the heterogeneity of the market can lead to a misunderstanding of demand. Different segments may have dramatically different levels of price sensitivity, preferences, and purchasing power. Effective demand analysis requires recognizing and strategizing according to these segments.

Tailored strategies for each segment, recognizing these unique demand curves, are essential for maximizing penetration and satisfaction.

Confusing Demand with Desire

Demand in economic terms is not merely the desire to own a product but also includes the consumer's ability to purchase it. This distinction is vital, especially in pricing strategy and product positioning to match the market's purchasing power.

Single Variable Focus

Overemphasis on price as the sole driver of demand (single variable focus) overlooks other influential factors such as consumer income, substitute goods, and changes in consumer tastes and preferences. This narrow focus can lead to incomplete strategies that fail to capture the nuances of consumer behavior.

Ignoring Non-Price Competition

While competitive pricing is important, focusing solely on price competition neglects other aspects such as product quality, brand reputation, and customer service. These factors can significantly influence demand and competitive advantage.

Only if you have no empathy for your customers or no imagination at all you will compete on price

Even if you buy a commodity you will buy it because of brand, perceived quality, or customer service.

Phone carriers serve the same job-to-be-done: communication.

All phone carriers more or less use the same infrastructure to ge the job done.

Yet you can choose.

And you choose because you have better coverage, more customer service, or loyalty.

This has strategic implications for Customer-Centric Growth

  1. Demand Forecasting: Accurate demand forecasting allows for better resource allocation and strategic planning. Understanding the factors that drive demand helps you in predicting future trends and preparing for them effectively.
  2. Pricing Strategy: Integrating a comprehensive view of elasticity and consumer psychology can optimize pricing strategies to maximize both your revenue and customer satisfaction.
  3. Product Development: Insight into demand shifts and consumer preferences guide innovation and product development, ensuring that new products meet existing and emerging customer needs; innovation tied to real jobs.
  4. Marketing and Promotion: Tailoring marketing efforts to address the specific tastes and preferences of different consumer segments can enhance the effectiveness of promotional campaigns and increase overall demand.
  5. Customer Relationship Management (CRM): By understanding the determinants of demand, you can better manage customer relationships through personalized services and offers that accurately meet consumer desires and increase loyalty.

In summary, a nuanced understanding of demand is foundational for developing effective customer-centric growth strategies. It enables you to be

  • more adaptive,
  • strategically aware, and
  • competitively positioned in the market.

How Demand-side Leads to Identification of Unmet Needs

Each of these examples illustrates how a demand-side focus led to the identification of unmet or poorly met needs in the market.

By innovating to meet these needs, companies were able to create new markets or disrupt existing ones, demonstrating the power of aligning product development and business strategies with deep insights into consumer demand.

1. Digital Music Streaming

Demand-side insight: Before the advent of digital music streaming, consumers experienced frustration with purchasing entire albums for only one or two desired songs, managing extensive physical collections, and the inability to easily share music.

Innovation: Digital music streaming services like Spotify emerged, focusing on these consumer pain points. They offered access to vast libraries of music for a monthly subscription, allowing users to listen to any song, anytime, and anywhere, without having to purchase entire albums.

Outcome: This demand-side focus disrupted the music industry, shifting revenue from album sales to streaming subscriptions and transforming how people consume music.

2. Ride-Sharing Services

Demand-side insight: Traditional taxi services were often criticized for poor customer service, lack of availability, and transparency in pricing.

Innovation: Ride-sharing platforms like Uber and Lyft emerged, concentrating on these consumer demands. They provided a user-friendly app that allowed consumers to hail a ride from anywhere, see the cost upfront, and rate their experience.

Outcome: This approach disrupted the traditional taxi service industry, expanded the market for personal transportation, and introduced a new business model of gig economy jobs.

3. Smartphones

Demand-side insight: Before smartphones, mobile phones were primarily used for calling and texting. Consumers carried multiple devices for different needs, like cameras for photos, PDAs for schedules, and MP3 players for music.

Innovation: The introduction of the smartphone, exemplified by the iPhone, addressed these fragmented consumer needs by combining all these functionalities into one device. It focused on the demand for convenience, ease of use, and the integration of internet connectivity.

Outcome: Smartphones revolutionized not just the mobile phone market but also created new industries (app development, mobile advertising) and disrupted others (camera, GPS devices).

4. Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Brands

Demand-side insight: Consumers were increasingly looking for personalized, convenient shopping experiences and were frustrated with the markups and limitations of traditional retail.

Innovation: DTC brands like Warby Parker (eyewear) and Casper (mattresses) emerged, focusing on these needs by offering high-quality products directly to consumers online, cutting out the middleman, and providing exceptional customer service.

Outcome: These brands have disrupted traditional retail in their respective categories by focusing on the consumer experience and preferences, often leading to higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.

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