Product Companies and User Communities!

Got an email this morning from Virtual Server Virtuoso Dugie, pointing me to this post by RoudyBob about “Software Companies Don’t Get User Communities”.

It’s a good read, and got me thinking about the root of the statement “Software Companies Don’t Get User Communities”; I derived another statement from this, “Producers Want To Understand Consumers”.

See, Software companies, or in fact, any organisation that provides anything; whether it be a [product], [service], [promise of lifestyle], [whatever…], wants to know as much about the entity who [needs], [wants], [consumes], [whatever…] their thing. Why? Because producing anything is generally the result of seeing a need. And if someone or something consumes your product, then you want to know why. The why is the need.

For example, I was talking to Franky this morning about this very concept, and I told him the reason why I bought my favourite Royal Elastics shoes was because the grip was good for riding my trials bike.
Franky said the reason he was going to buy a pair was because I bought a pair! (I don’t think Franky will buy a pair, and if he does, it most likely will be because of the same reason I did :)).
I’m sure somewhere at Royal Elastics, there is a person (for our purpose, lets name them Sam) who is thinking, I wander who buys this shoe, and I wander why they bought it. And if I understand why they bought this shoe, and I understand who they hang out with, or psychologically align with, then perhaps I can sell them the same shoe.
And if I do that, then I can make money, so I can make more shoes, and also pay for my next holiday. So then Sam starts to look for these groups of people…why? Well, if Sam can understand the group dynamic, and identify “need patterns” that are common to the group as a collective, and/or to the group members as individuals that might influence the way they buy shoes, then Sam could well design and manufacture shoes that meet their needs to a T. In addition, Sam could gather feedback about the groups and individuals sentiment towards the product and the producers brand. This feedback could help the company as a whole change their approach to be in-line with their consumers.

But there are challenges with people in groups; and if you want to get an awesome perspective on this, read Critical Mass by Philip Ball. Essentially, people choose a product based on either:

a) a need: I need A jumper to keep me warm
b) a desire: I need THAT jumper because it looks great (and can keep me warm), or because it differentiates me from the rest of the sheep
c) a force: I need to wear THIS jumper because my boss/company requires that I do
d) a recommendation: I need THAT jumper because my friend has one and I like their one

Also, people in groups either move towards a point through their own collective energy (that may be led by a small sub-group of influencers), or are pushed towards a point by an external force (also generally a small sub-group of influencers); hence the realisation of internal and external influencers.

So now, the group doesn’t seem so opaque; maybe they are all together because they have a jumper, but how they got the jumper, and why they got the jumper could be very different. And what they want in their next jumper could also be very different; and whether the people who produced the jumper in the first place really understand them could be a huge factor in them buying their next jumper from them, or might not matter at all.

Suddenly, Sam (or Sam-like people) are forced with the conundrum of “Who are these people? Why are they collecting either on-line or off-line? And should I really try and connect with them?”. Or does Sam just accept that the collection of these people is due to factors that do not directly relate to the product or the company (for instance, maybe they just like hanging out with each other), and that any involvement by the company will just generate interference or ambivalence?

Anyway, I suppose the idea of “getting” a group of people is not as easy as reading a book (or many books), or even trying to become “one” with the group (because no matter how bona fide you are, you’re either on the left side or right side of the “producer || consumer” equation). Alas, perhaps the answer we seek is lost in the question we ask! (No idea what that means, but I had to finish with something dramatic, as I’m running late for lunch!)

‘Ave a good weekend! :)