What Should A Product Manager Do When The Wrong Customer Buys Your Product?

by drjim on March 24, 2014

What should you do when the wrong customers buy your product?

What should you do when the wrong customers buy your product?
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As product managers we spend a lot of time trying to segment our market as a part of our product development definition. Once we get that taken care of, we then create marketing programs and product messages so that we can reach our target market and convince them to buy our product. However, sometimes things don’t work out the way that they should. What should a product manager do when the wrong customers start to buy your product?

The Problem With Kia’s Soul Car

A few years ago, the Kia car company’s product managers decided that they wanted to create a car that would allow them to capture more of the prized customer segment that is in their 20’s and 30’s. The reason that they wanted to do this was because this demographic is huge: it could turn out to be as big as the enormous baby boomer segment. Sure seems like something that if done correctly could have gone onto their product manager resume.

In order to go after this market segment, Kia created a new line of cars that they called “Soul”. You may have seen some of the TV commercials that Kia purchased where break dancing hamsters danced and drove Souls. Features in the car were targeted to this market segment and included speakers that had light rings that pulsed to the music that was currently being played. Sounds like a winner, eh?

Well, things didn’t turn out exactly as the Kia product managers had planned. The Kia Soul is one of the top 10 cars that are being bought by the baby boomer segment. There are a number of reasons why this has happened, but buyers cite the fact that the Soul is easy for them to get into and out of as being a key driver of their purchase decisions.

What Kia Is Doing To Solve Their Wrong Customer Problem

I feel a little bad for the Kia product managers – they sorta missed the mark with their Soul line. However, they are generating sales for their product and at the end of the day, that’s what being a product manager is all about. So what’s a product manager to do when the wrong customers start to buy your product?

Over at Kia the product managers have decided to take a two track approach to promoting their Soul lines of cars. They continue to purchase TV ads that will appeal to younger buyers. At the same time they have started to purchase newspaper ads that list out the Soul features that they believe will most appeal to older buyers.

The Kia product managers have to be careful here. They want to grow the youth market for their product (they’ll be around for a long time to buy more products), but at the same time they need to treat the people who are actually buying their product right now with respect. 40% of all car sales were to baby boomers last year so it would appear as though the Kia product manager’s strategy is probably the right decision.

What All Of This Means For You

It’s a sad fact of life that product managers don’t run the world. Instead, we can try very hard to make things happen, but it won’t always work out the way that we want it to no matter what our product manager job description tell us that we have to do..

The product managers at Kia, the auto maker, have run into this problem with the Soul line of cars. These cars were designed to allow Kia to capture the youthful millennial segment of the car buying market. However, older people currently make up the largest segment of Soul buyers. This has forced Kia to introduce two parallel advertising campaigns.

Product managers will create plans for who should buy their products, but they need to carefully look at what the data is telling them. If different segments start to purchase the product, then the product managers need to respond quickly. The customer is always right and product managers need to learn to listen to them, no matter who they turn out to be.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: If you get surprised by which segment is buying your product, should you switch your marketing efforts?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

In order for your product to be successful, you are going to have to have to have a good understanding of your market. I wish that I could tell you that there was some sort of pill or potion that you could take that would magically provide you with the information that you need. Sorry, such a quick solution does not currently exist. Instead, you’re going to have to do some business research on your market. Do you know how to go about doing that?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott @ Kawntent March 24, 2014 at 7:20 am

I think if that happened to me, I’d do what Kia’s did. At least by then, you’d increase your market. No need to turn away customers if you can accommodate all.

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drjim March 25, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Scott: Very good point. I mean, hey — somebody is buying your product, right? Maybe the correct next step is to create yet another product that will do a better job of appealing to your target audience…

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Sean May 19, 2014 at 1:51 am

This can be a problem. While any sales are good sales, consider the goal of Kia, which is to grow a long lasting and profitable brand. If the Kia brand, particularly the soul product, becomes associated with boomers, than it risks losing the brand appeal to millennials. Boomers have a limited viability as consumers, with a decade or two remaining as a dominating segment. Think of the campaign, “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile” and what they were trying to defeat or look at the very recent demographic challenges of Red Lobster.

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drjim May 23, 2014 at 9:52 am

Sean: you bring up a good point. In order to not lose the sales that they are getting, perhaps Kia needs to create yet another new brand that they’ll once again use to go after the young folks and let the boomers have the Soul brand…

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