We’ll discuss if Steve Jobs never did market research a bit later. First though, Michael Schrage has written a good book: Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? I’ve been sending everyone, even tangentially related to marketing, links to the book. It is thought-provoking, but after getting back a few emails about it, I realized the book is a bit misunderstood.

At first read (with the hope that this will be magic bullet that will drive sales to astronomical heights), the premise seems to be that businesses should decide what they want customers to be (the transformation), align sales, marketing, and operations departments, and the transactions will flow. The business will tell the customer what they need and the customer will eat it up.

Clearly that is not how it works.

What gets overlooked is that customer transformation can only happen if there is alignment with the customers desires. You can’t sell them something they don’t want or need at some level mentally. Customers will buy products or services that improve their lives in some way (real or imagined). Transforming a customer is really aligning what the customer wants to be, with solutions provided by a business.

Let’s look at some of the examples Schrage provides in the book. Disney had spent decades creating movies princess-type characters. Disney’s customers wanted to grow up to be princesses. Disney wanted their customers to be princesses. Disney packaged their existing movie characters as princesses, promoted them as princesses, and then sold princess-related products. Disney was offering them ways to be a princess. Alignment of business and customers. $$$$$$$$.

The key in transforming customer expectation is identifying what essential attribute your service cultivates in the customer. How does it make the customers life better?

Alignment does not just have to aspirational. Google has been the technical wiz kids of the Internet for 15 years now. They figured out how to make searches faster and better, which changed the customers expectations of how search should work. But customers always wanted faster and better search. Alignment. Win.

Facebook made sharing and connecting people so easy and useful (in terms of feedback from friends), it changed everyone’s expectations of how we communicate and what we wanted to communicate. But it still stems from the fact that people want to share and we are nosey about the lives of our friends.

Shrage points out that Apple and Starbucks tapped into people wanting to be connoisseurs (either for real or status). For Apple, a shiny, sleek, well designed product. For Starbucks, coffee (or a drink with a bit of coffee and lots of milk, lol). We want to be hipsters with the pretty devices and hang out in cool places.

Back to Steve Jobs never did market research. The thing is, Apple did research. The research subjects were initially Jobs and Woz (skip to 2:20 in video above). They built the original Apple machines that they wanted to build and use. And afterwards, products that Apple folks wanted to use themselves.

Most companies are not in a position to use their products so thoroughly internally that they can be experts in knowing what their customers want. The nature of certain industries makes this feasible for some companies. Electronics and fashion come to mind. But if a company is not in such an industry, they have to pony up resources to understand their current and potential customers.

tl;dr – do research and figure out what your customers want and then give it to them.