thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Creating Customer Mindshare

By on December 17, 2008

Thinking like a customer is unselfish. Barlean's CIO, Jade Beutler, describes his organization's efforts as "making things intuitive for consumers." But unselfish acts also pay off in ways that benefit us, as we all know.

Barlean's is a Ferndale, Washington-based seller of organic nutritional products, such as fish oils and flax seed. They were founded in 1989 to sell Omega-3 oils, although the family's farm and fishing enterprise has supplied fresh fish to community residents since 1972. The company was driven by the realization that 8 out of 10 Americans are deficient in essential fats and that this deficiency can lead to a variety of diseases and health problems. Their efforts for their customers are "a pleasure, not a chore." As part of their commitment to offering the freshest products, for example, they proactively began stamping a 6-month freshness date on labels, compared with a one-year allowance used by the competition, resulting in Barlean's delivering a fresher product. Internally, they refer to this as "The Dating Game." As they state, "When it comes to health, fresh is best."

I first became familiar with Barlean's as one of their customers. As a casual purchaser of their products I did not notice anything special until I encountered a new label on their Forti-Flax product. The label-on-label was an original idea that they had developed. As their label designs evolved, they decided on an improved version which showcased the key points of differentiation as well as the key points of parity, while providing the customer with a ‘clean' look. The goal was to contemporize the label just a bit so that shoppers would not encounter a "wall of product that looked alike" when they were ready to purchase.

In making the transition to this newer label, however, they created a version of the older label, with a corner indicating "To Reveal Barlean's New Look...Peel". When I experienced this label-on-label idea, I knew that I was buying from a truly innovative, customer-caring company. Jade observed, "Shopping becomes unconscious after you've chosen your brand". Customers tend to quickly pick up the item they want, and then they move on to the next aisle. He persuaded Barlean's not to "assume that everyone thinks about our product like we do." In order to capture that customer mindshare, they developed the old label with the "peel" corner to go over the new, better looking label. The consumer got to pick up what he/she was familiar with, then to enjoy peeling it off to reveal the new label (like opening a present). The customer was able to put the newly recognizable label on their shelves and use the product with a now-recognizable label which would be waiting for them at the store on their next purchase.

Omega Swirl, another innovative product from Barlean's, makes their fish and flax oil supplements more desirable by using a mulsifying compound to combine oil and water and get rid of the oily texture. It was developed by addressing the rather undesirable taste of fish oil from the standpoint of the customers want and need to make the highly healthy product more enticing. It has the texture and taste (strawberry banana and lemon zest) of a fruit smoothie. It won Better Nutrition Magazine's award for best new supplement product in 2008.

Unselfish concern for customers is part of their culture. They chose to use a more expensive label, because, as Jade believes, that is "the only thing I know consumers will see, unlike advertising, that they may not see." But Jade did the research, convinced the owners, made sure the plant personnel knew what was going on, and "gave really good directions to a lot of folks." Their Customer Service Director, Scott North, has the philosophy of "How are we going to delight our customer?" Barlean's has no minimum order quantity and a no-questions-asked return policy. Their approach is that their competition is not their enemy and, therefore, they want to build the organic food products as a category. However, with the outstanding staff and an unadulterated approach to thinking like a customer, Barlean's is sure to succeed by continuing to differentiate itself.

Barlean's could have easily just replaced the older label, but chose to creatively help their customers get used to the newer design. They didn't have to do it. But they did it enthusiastically. And this type of decision-making is done in support of their customers. Very simply, they intrinsically understand that taking these customer-friendly actions will only create more loyalty and brand strength to continue their growth for the future. In the age of product sameness that we live in, thinking like a customer at every possible touch-point translates into capturing the mindshare of the customer.


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