Do you like Gatorade?
Sure, maybe you like to drink Gatorade after a big workout, or you give Gatorade to your daughter after she’s finished soccer practice.
But do you like Gatorade so much that you buy not only the drinks, but the chews and protein bars? Are you so devoted to the brand that you believe consuming it will make you perform better and improve your time in your next marathon? Do you feel so strongly about the brand that you are willing to continue using the product even if the prices go up?
If so, you might be what Eddie Yoon refers to as a “superconsumer.”
Such consumers are much more than fans of a product. They don’t just buy the product because they love how it tastes – they are so emotionally connected to the product that they buy a lot of it, all the time. They love talking about it, writing about it and encouraging others to use it. They are dependable consumers of the product, and keep coming back for more.
Yoon, author of “Superconsumers: A Simple, Speedy and Sustainable Path to Superior Growth,” says that superconsumers – although only about 10% of consumers -- can drive 30% to 70% of sales.
That’s important to consider when looking at how the number of products is making consumer loyalty even more challenging. For example, data shows the U.S. population grew 1.1% per year from 1975 to 2008, while consumer spending grew 3.6% per year during that time. But the total number of items in grocery stores soared 5.2% per year for that same time period.
While superconsumers can help companies continue to sell during in an increasingly competitive marketplace, these consumers also continue to provide benefits far beyond that, Yoon says. Specifically, these consumers are so devoted to a product that they are a willing test audience, providing feedback and insight that takes “much of the risk out of innovation and allow businesses to experiment more and take more chances,” says Yoon, a principal with The Cambridge Group, a growth-strategy firm that is part of Nielsen.
Reaching diverse customers
Thanks to Nielsen’s vast trove of data, Yoon says he and his colleagues were able to pin down the “eclectic bunch” known as superconsumers. Creating a data set of more than 125 consumer-goods categories that represented more than $400 billion in sales, they analyzed purchasing behavior across demographics. They did interviews with consumers, looking at the “depth of their feelings about a particular category and why they valued it so much,” he says.
Yoon says the data shows why companies can’t afford to ignore superconsumers.
“Considering how fragmented the consumer landscape is, how diverse – ethnically, economically and emotionally – consumers are, and how quickly things change, the stability of superconsumers is increasingly important,” he says.
Further, superconsumers are dependable. Market forecasts can miss much of the time, but superconsumers provide a stability that makes it easier for companies to forecast how much they should produce of a product in the coming years. Superconsumers not only love the current product, but are interested in new uses and variations, which can be helpful when businesses want to boost development efforts, he says.
“I don’t think companies have their heads in the sand when it comes to understanding their customers, but it’s just tougher to get a handle on them,” Yoon says. “Just as there’s a divide in society, there’s a divide in customers. They’re very diverse.”
Of course, one of the big challenges is developing that “emotional connection” with a consumer that turns the person into a superconsumer, especially when so many transactions are now conducted online.
“I think online purchasing has its pluses and minuses. Yes, you have people who just buy the product online and don’t care about it. But you also have those people who post online reviews about a product and talk about it on social media. So, this makes it much easier for a superconsumer to influence others – it’s a way to make passion scalable,” he says.
It’s that ability for online dialogue about a product to “inflame passions” through a YouTube video, for example, that makes this such an exciting possibility for companies, Yoon says. If consumers are creating online content about your product – and showing that emotional connection – it’s a sign you’re looking at a potential superconsumer.
“Overall, I think online interactions are a good thing in general. You can get more free insights than ever before. They (superconsumers) can even think up new ways to market products or sell them,” he says.
One concern is that focusing on this small segment of customers – superconsumers – may distract a company so much that it fails to see that the competition is gaining or a new product from another business could drain away customers.
“I do think companies have to be ready to adapt quickly, but they don’t have to outrun the bear – just the slowest guy,” Yoon says, laughing. “Keep in mind that if you’re being disrupted, so are others. Try to look at it as an opportunity.”
While focusing on superconsumers, Yoon contends that managers will be forced to stay focused and not be distracted by things like analyzing big data or re-formatting procedures.
“For me, I think this is one of the most important things about superconsumers. As companies get bigger, they can become more bureaucratic, which can slow them down and lock them in place. But staying focused on superconsumers means that is less likely to happen,” he says.
An important part of not succumbing to bureaucratic inertia is ensuring that employees are empowered to take action when they deal with superconsumers. Workers who can come up with their own solutions to deal with an issue spotted by a superconsumer or further develop a service based on insights from these consumers will help a company remain agile and competitive, he says.
For example, it was Netflix employees who loved to binge watch shows they might not want others to know about it who were the most empathetic to viewers who liked to do the same.
“When streaming came, all of us working at Netflix realized that it opened up a new category of movies and TV shows. This was ‘junk food’ TV and movies that we all secretly enjoyed watching, but didn’t necessarily want it publicly displayed on our desks. We often had fun kidding each other about that,” Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, told Yoon.
This connection to consumers by employees can be especially critical at a time when Yoon says that many business leaders have “contempt” for consumers.
“I know there are business leaders who would violently protest that, especially those that have a vision statement saying something like, “I will surprise and delight my customers,’” he says. “But this contempt isn’t always clear – there can be shades of grey.”
For example, ignoring superconsumers means you don’t really understand these devotees, “and if you don’t understand them, then you don’t have empathy for them,” he says. “If you don’t have empathy for them, then you don’t listen to them and that means you’re listening more to the voice in your own head to tell you what’s best for consumers.”
Leaders who fall into this habit won’t be able to compete with companies who are listening to their customers and learning what they want, and it soon becomes a “slippery slope” for leaders who begin cutting corners. For example, such leaders may decide they know best, and begin invest less in R&D, or deciding to let certain product features lapse, even though superconsumers desire them.
“You may not know that you’ve messed up until it’s too late,” Yoon says. “You can’t get away with that kind of behavior anymore because people are willing to publish their experiences online. And then it’s there forever.”
Yoon also says that companies must ensure that they offer rewards to loyal superconsumers, since “stinginess as a growth strategy” never works in the long run. These superconsumers love being recognized for being such brand devotees, whether it’s always upgrading them at a hotel or charging no fees for extra bags when flying. They further like being tapped to help solve problems, or fixing “bugs” in current products.
“A lot of companies think they know who these superconsumers are, but that’s often the biggest misconception,” Yoon says. “It’s not just someone who buys a lot of your product. If they don’t have the emotional connection, it may be an imposter. You think you have a relationship with them, but you don’t.”
Simply holding a conversation with a consumer doesn’t mean the person is a superconsumer, or will stick with the product through good times and bad.
“There are companies that cannot afford to treat consumers the same way. The stakes are much higher than ever before as fewer dollars for even more products,” Yoon says. “This has got to be a wakeup call to find your superconsumers.”
Once you have honed your superconsumer strategy, make sure your processes and tools support long-term growth and engagement. Download the free Process Improvement Playbook: Overcoming the Hurdles of Manual Processes in the Workplace.