Assessment of Cultural Shifts is key Consumer Understanding & Intelligent Evolution

4210The Middle East is traditionally a culturally, socially diverse environment, with a vibrant socio-economic atmosphere driven by a highly transient population. This has never been more the case than in recent times, with a veritable explosion in expatriates from all corners of the globe now calling the region home. While this is undoubtedly positive for the local economies, it can pose a problem to vendors, particularly those specialising in fast moving consumer goods (FMCG). Appealing to a mass audience with such widely varied needs is no easy feat, and requires an approach driven by innovation and intelligent evolution, based on a deeper customer understanding than has ever been required.

Delivering a winning product to any market can only be achieved when there is a thorough understanding of consumer needs and wants. This is especially important in a vastly diverse market, as every one of the social strata have different requirements of their products; there is even a difference in what people from different cultural backgrounds and nationalities want. In a market such as the Middle East, where the population is possibly one of the most diverse in the world, everyone expects their products to serve their needs in different ways. If that wasn’t complex enough of a situation, these expectations constantly evolve as the consumers’ world changes around them, effecting everything from buying behaviour to product usage.

In situations such as the region presents, constant assessment of consumer needs and wants is paramount to delivering products that will satisfy their requirements. At P&G, we believe that the ‘Consumer is Boss’, and have a dedicated division within our company – the Consumer and Market Knowledge, or CMK division – that is committed simply to gaining a deeper understanding of consumer desires. The research conducted by CMK gives us an unprecedented insight into every aspect of the consumer relationship, from reasons for buying to ways of using a product. This allows us to cut through assumptions about our consumers, to tailor the experience throughout the customer relationship, thereby delivering successful products to any market.

Why are these products successful? Because they are solutions to the issues that consumers face, and they deliver results that go beyond expectations; they satisfy needs, but they also satisfy the customer’s wants. What any consumer wants, above all, is a product that they know will resolve whatever problem they currently face – not just the solution that the manufacturer assumes they need.

Take, for example, a situation P&G faced in the Middle East. Our CMK studies showed that the women in the region love to wear their hair long – it’s considered a symbol of femininity, and it’s especially important that their hair be in good condition. However, with the harsh climate conditions, plus the styling that women in the region enjoy regularly, their hair was suffering from intense damage, which led to breakage, dull hair, unmanageable hair and so on. Our Pantene scientists spent close to a decade in creating a solution that allows the women of the Middle East to wear their how however they want, that would fit easily into their daily routine.

By having this deep of an understanding of consumer needs (to have long, feminine hair) and wants (to have long hair that is undamaged), we were able to innovate accordingly. The Oil Replacement Technology in the Pantene ranges was designed especially for the MENAP region, with ingredients to provide protection against sun, heat and salt water – three major damage-causing factor that are unavoidable in the region.

A similar innovation approach was taken in Lanzhou, China, where our CMK studies showed that maintaining long hair was impractical as lathering shampoo was not viable due to water shortages. The assumption was that women would cut their hair shorter to be able to maintain it better, but through our research we came to understand that our consumers believed that women should have long hair. Cutting it was therefore not an option – consumers would rather use laundry detergent than have short hair. With this attitude and needs in mind, Rejoice created a leave-in conditioner solution that gave them the soft, clean, long hair they desired, while cutting back on water consumption.

Gillette in India is one additional example of consumer understanding driving innovation – not just in terms of product, but in terms of marketing and changing attitudes, too. Despite being successful in markets elsewhere, Gillette’s Mach3 triple-blade system did not take off when launched in Indian in 2004. Attitudes towards shaving in India were different, so Gillette developed creative marketing campaigns to alter the perception of shaving to accompany the launch of the newest Mach3 in 2009. These included the ‘India Votes… to shave or not’ debate platform, which raised controversial questions about shaving – whether clean-shaven men were more successful, whether clean-shaved celebrities were preferred, and whether women prefer clean-shaven men. The campaign also included the creation of the Women Against Lazy Stubble (WALS) association, which capitalised on women’s role as influencers of men.

These campaigns proved successful, but there was the realisation that low-income Indian customers were unable to afford Gillette’s premium-priced razors. Research showed that there were approximately 400 million customers who were unhappy with existing shaving devices. Hours of further research brought Gillette to the conclusion that a new shaving system was needed to meet the needs of India’s customers, who lacked running water, had to manage longer facial hair, and who often sat on the floor while shaving. Safety was a main consideration too. To satisfy these needs, Gillette created the first product exclusively for the Indian market – Gillette Guard. It cost Rs15 at launch, with refill cartridges at just Rs5, and featured a single, easy to clean blade in a much simpler designed razor with a lightweight, ribbed handle. A safety comb helped to reduce the issue of cuts, especially for men who deal with longer hair, and a hang hole was incorporated into the design to allow for easy drying and storage. A marketing campaign featured traditional advertisements with Bollywood actors, and, when combined with the earlier attitude shift Gillette inspired, Gillette Guard took off in the market to become one of the most significant launches in the brand’s history.

This is where smart innovation, and the intelligent evolution of products, should take us. Every manufacturer must proactively take the time to delve more deeply into their consumers’ lives. In the Middle East, where the cultural and ethnic diversity is so widely ranged, there is the need to not only understand the immediate needs of consumers, but the needs of consumers in their home countries, too, as ingrained cultural habits will certainly impact the ways in which they interact with a brand.

While it is possible to influence the wants of consumers, there is no way to change the factors that make them who they are – their social status, economic status, cultural norms and so on. Diversity, and all of the variables that come with it, must therefore be accepted as a challenge to overcome through knowledge, understanding, which will lead to intelligent innovation. Conquering this challenge is by no means impossible, but a manufacturer must be committed to understanding his consumer if he is to succeed.

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