What can happen if you don’t run consumer profiling? 

If you don’t listen carefully to consumers, it’s easy to get things wrong. Even huge brands have experienced epic fails because they didn’t understand the needs of their target customers.

Consumer profiling fails

And if you’re looking for evidence of just how essential consumer profiling is to brands like yours, here are some real examples of blunders by brands that skipped the research stage, leading to some creative mistakes.

Your advertising offends people

A powerful message can make a commercial stand out, but exercising sensitivity when tackling emotive issues to sell products is vital. 

Some slogans or concepts might sound great in a boardroom, but could leave customers cold, or worse—angry.

Checking which messages resonate most with your target customers—and which don’t—is a relatively simple research process, but you’d be surprised by some of the brands that have failed to take this step.

Example of offensive advertising: Pepsi

Pepsi suffered an epic fail when it released a tone-deaf ad showing reality TV star Kendall Jenner defusing a standoff between peace protesters and police by approaching one officer with a can of cola.

Pepsi consumer profiling fail
Pepsi’s infamous ad featuring Kendall Jenner hit the wrong note with consumers

Consumers were angered by the similarity to the iconic photograph of Leshia Evans, a young black woman who faced off with heavily armoured riot police during a Black Lives Matter protest. 

Asking your target audience what kinds of messages they want to see in advertising—and which ones are a turn-off—allows you to avoid high-budget epic fails like Pepsi’s.

You launch something no one wants to buy

Let’s say you’re already a household brand and you’ve got a great idea for a new product. People are going to love it, right? Not necessarily. Just because you have loyal customers for one product doesn’t automatically mean they’ll embrace another.

History is littered with examples of new products from established brands that failed to catch on. Who remembers the Apple Newton or Microsoft Zune? In most cases, these brands put significant investment into the development of these products without even taking the simple step of establishing whether there was any demand for them through NPD market research.

Example of a failed product launch: Facebook

One great example of a company failing to undertake adequate consumer profiling ahead of launching a new product is Facebook. Their early attempts to create a smartphone were thwarted by their failure to understand that what people want from a smartphone is for it to be a multi-functional device. 

Facebook consumer profiling and new product development fail
Facebook phone

By creating a phone that was effectively only useful for accessing Facebook, the tech giant embarrassed itself in a very public way. If they had thought to go through the consumer profiling process first, this humiliation could have been avoided.  

You focus on the wrong sales channels

Consumer profiling is an essential process for brands that want to maximise their sales. If you don’t know where your target customer is, then you’re going to find it pretty hard to reach them effectively. 

By asking your customers about their shopping habits, you’ll get a clear picture of which sales channels you need to focus on in order to best serve them. While it might be tempting to try to sell directly through your own website, if consumers would rather buy your product in a physical store then you’re wasting your time and money.

Example of sales channel failure: Pets.com

A good example of a brand barking up the wrong tree comes from Pets.com. The pet product retailer tried selling bulky pet supplies like dog food and cat litter online, but consumers could more easily buy these products at local shops without having to pay for postage or wait for delivery. As a result, Pets.com ultimately went the way of the dodo.

Times have certainly changed since Pets.com’s demise and all sorts of products are successfully sold online, but it goes to underline the importance of understanding the marketplace at the time you’re entering, and staying on the pulse of market trends. This understanding can be gained from consumer profiling.

Your ‘special’ offers fall flat

Special offers are a great way for brands to show their customers a little bit of love. But these grand gestures have to be well-targeted; if your spouse has hayfever, then you won’t get much thanks for buying them a bunch of flowers. 

Consumer profiling can help brands find out exactly what their customers want from a special offer, whether it’s a free gift, a discount or something else entirely. Once you have this data, you can go about creating special offers that they will really appreciate—and hopefully drive extra sales too. 

Example of a special offer failure: Morrisons

But if you don’t go through this essential process, then you could end up with egg on your face. UK supermarket chain Morrisons demonstrated embarrassing ignorance about the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when it put wine on offer at £9, under a ‘Stock up for Ramadan’ sign.

When planning special offers and promotions for your customers—especially for specific demographics—spend time getting to know them through customer profiling.

Your packaging misses the mark 

Packaging is the first thing a prospective customer sees when they first encounter your product. It’s important, then, to understand what your customers want from packaging before it hits the market to ensure it meets expectations and isn’t a complete turn-off. 

Some key questions you should be asking your customers are:

  • How does the packaging make you feel?
  • What do you want to know about this product? 
  • Why do you choose this product ahead of competitors?

Example of a packaging fail: Dove

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the first question in particular could have helped beauty brand Dove avoid a costly fail.

We’ve created consumer profiling survey templates and a question bank to get you started with your research.

Launch ready-to-use consumer profiling templates

Our Customer Research Team has created these survey templates for your consumer profiling project—just add in the details for your brand or category!

See the templates

Dove created six differently shaped bottles of shower gel, designed to reflect a range of female body types. However well-intentioned the message around body positivity was, a social media storm followed, and Dove scrapped these limited-edition products before they hit the shelves.

If Dove had chosen to go through a simple consumer profiling process, they would have understood that their target customers found buying these bottles embarrassing, not empowering.

Dove consumer profiling fail
Dove bottle add campaign

Dove could have benefitted from an expert-written consumer profiling survey template—luckily you have just that! And while you’re thinking about it, here’s a bunch of super useful consumer profiling questions you could think about adding to your surveys.

All of these brands eventually realized the errors of their ways and changed direction. It’s highly likely they made these sensible decisions because they saw brand perception taking a tumble through their brand tracking studies.

The Consumer Research Academy is brought to you by the Customer Research Team—our in-house research experts. Any research questions? Email or chat with the team.