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Eddie Yoon on how to transform the insights of your most passionate consumers into a sustainable growth strategy

Any business can profitably grow. This may seem like a silly thing to believe when you look at the tombstones of businesses such as Circuit City and Motorola, the latter of which had the hottest mobile phone on the market just over a decade ago, but my faith comes from superconsumers like Sally.

Unlike heavy users (i.e., a product’s highest-volume buyers who are defined simply by the quantity of their purchases), superconsumers are characterized by their attitude as well: they are passionate about and highly engaged with—and maybe even a little obsessive about—a category (say, golf equipment, in the case of my dad). They are the sneaker-heads who own dozens of pairs of sneakers. They are the sports fans who own replica jerseys and hang signed memorabilia in their finished basements. They are bacon, chops, and carnitas-loving consumers who call themselves “pork dorks.”

Superconsumers aren’t random oddballs who buy in bulk. They’re emotional buyers who base their purchase decisions on their life aspirations. A superconsumer of Gatorade, for example, doesn’t just buy its products because he loves how they taste; he chooses the brand because it represents hard work, and Gatorade’s drinks, chews, and protein bars allow him to recover quicker during marathon training. He’s “hiring” Gatorade for a job, to help him improve his performance—an allegiance that also ties into a broader life quest, to train for a marathon. He’s deeply invested. He wants to “be like Mike.” The secret is realizing that for superconsumers, every category has “Gatorade-level” aspirations that can be tapped into.

The same goes for other superconsumers as well. A superconsumer of American Girl dolls sees the products as a way to connect with her grandchildren and spend more time with her family, and a private-label superconsumer sees value-priced groceries as a way to save money for a house while still feeding his family high-quality food.

Superconsumers can be an eclectic bunch who are hard to pin down. But thanks to our parent company, Nielsen, my colleagues and I at the Cambridge Group have access to an enormous amount of data about what people watch and buy. Specifically, we have mined Nielsen’s US Homescan database, which consists of approximately one hundred thousand US households that have agreed to have all of their purchases measured across all channels (down to the UPC level). With this information, we created a data set of over 125 consumer-goods categories that represented more than $400 billion in sales. We analyzed the purchase behavior of consumers across demographics and interviewed selected participants about the depth of their feelings about a particular category and why they valued it so much. Thanks to Jeff Eastman, the leader of the Homescan business at Nielsen, we have hundreds of statements from the households about the benefits sought, the emotions felt, and the aspirations held for all these categories.

Because of Nielsen’s data set (which is unique in its combination of emotion and economics), we’ve become superconsumer whisperers, in a sense. We know what makes these people tick and what makes them so beneficial to businesses of all kinds—not just office-supply manufacturers and consumer-goods companies. The biggest benefit of superconsumers comes down to simple math. Although superconsumers are few in number—usually about 10 percent of consumers for a particular product or category—they can drive between 30 percent and 70 percent of sales, an even greater share of category profit, and usually close to 100 percent of the insights

This is an extract from Eddie Yoon's Superconsumers published by the Harvard Business Review Press

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