I originally published today’s post on Forbes. It appeared on their site on May 2, 2022.

I recently came across an article in the Wall Street Journal about David Novak, the former CEO of Yum Brands. In the article, he talks about his epic fail: Crystal Pepsi, the clear version of Pepsi that he developed in 1992 when he was Pepsi’s Executive Vice President of Marketing and Sales. The thinking behind creating Crystal Pepsi was that, at the time, colas were losing market share to clear drinks, so let’s develop a clear drink to compete. Hey, why not?

Yea, why not develop a clear version of the original Pepsi? Well, distributors said it didn’t taste like Pepsi, while customers said it tasted too much like Pepsi (and they expected something different based on expectations set through marketing and advertising messages). In the end, it was pulled from shelves by 1994, and Time magazine said it was one of the ten worst product fails of all time. As they noted, “Companies often launch new products in response to a competitor’s successful idea. But such products fail if they cannot measure up to the competition or capture consumers’ attention.”

And therein lies the rub: capturing your customers’ attention.

How do you capture their attention? Well, it’s not done by simply having a wild idea and then implementing it. It’s great to have wild ideas, but unless you’ve done the research; unless you’ve vetted them with customers; unless you’ve taken the time to understand customers, their pain points, their needs and expectations, and the problems they are trying to solve before you execute on the idea, you’ll likely either never get their attention or you’ll lose it shortly thereafter if they’re early or curious adopters.

What I just described there is at the heart of customer understanding, at the heart of the concept of “putting the ‘customer’ in customer experience,” which also happens to be my mission.

And yet, money is being spent by businesses every day to design and build products without factoring in the needs and perspectives of the customer. Why do they think this is OK? How does that work? Not so well.

Listen. Building a successful business is all about putting the customer at the heart of all you do. It’s all about the customer. It’s why you’re in business – for and about the customer. If you’re designing a product without thinking about the customer—without understanding her needs, her pain points, her problems to solve, and jobs to be done—forget it. The product will die. Maybe not tomorrow, but it will die eventually. Just like Crystal Pepsi did. (And the business might, too.)

If you make decisions, define strategies, develop products or services, design websites, etc., and you don’t include the customer and her voice in any of that work, you will fail. Customers have choices. They will go elsewhere. They will buy from companies who find products for them. They prefer that over companies who find customers for their products. As Seth Godin has said, “Don’t find customers for your products; find products for your customers.” Think about that. It’s an important distinction.

I’ve been a startup advisor to several tech companies, but I’m also frequently contacted by tech startups because they want to show me their products, pick my brain, and get my thoughts about their products, business model, etc. It always amazes me when I ask them this question: “What problem are you solving for your customers?” They can’t answer the question. They haven’t done the research. They haven’t talked to customers.

I’ve also worked for a couple of startups, where the CEOs or founders insisted they needed to add features or develop the products the way they saw fit. It made my work painful, as I was trying to help my clients navigate the products so that they could develop better experiences for their customers. A couple of those companies are now defunct or have been acquired for parts and pieces of what they previously offered, only to be converted into better and more-customer-friendly products.

If you’re a startup (or any business developing a new product, for that matter), do the research. Talk to potential customers. Understand how you can help them improve their lives or solve some problem. It sounds like a lot of work, and maybe you feel like it distracts you or takes too much time. But trust me. You will not regret taking the time to do that. Especially when you capture (and keep) your customers’ attention.

The key to learning is an awareness of where you lack understanding. ~ James Pierce

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is now available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.

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