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Seeking commonalities, highlighting differences: in today's complicated world, designing products based on consumer differences may be the secret to success.

Teenagers in most parts of the world watch MTV (music television) and are influenced by its messages. Their interests may vary, but many of their problems, like acne and relationships, are the same. Exploiting the common threads among teens and young adults has made MTV billions of dollars over the years. And it is these commonalities among consumers that bring in a lot of business for many corporations today.

There are 77 million baby boomers in the U.S., representing about one of every four persons. They control 50% of all U.S. spending. Certainly there are some differences between boomers about to turn 60 and "Gen Xers" about to turn 32--but both are characterized by fierce independence and self-indulgence, as are many consumers these days in every demographic and age group. Just focusing on baby boomers, however, and the similar experiences they share in all aspects of their daily lives could pay off HUGE.

Solving Common Problems by Exploiting the Differences

Seeking solutions to common problems is a great place to start with strategy. In the world of nutraceutical products, many companies are hooked into the fact that a majority of consumers suffer from similar ailments and are interested in wellness/fitness. But where nutraceutical companies can differentiate their offerings is by exploiting the differences in which these consumers approach these health issues or wellness/fitness needs.

It is important to note that there is no such thing as a standardized brand that exists as the same formula, with the same packaging worldwide. For example, many believe Coca-Cola produces the same Coke beverage in every market, but that's not so. Coca-Cola produces many different formulas around the globe to satisfy different tastes. It may also don a different appearance in the form of packaging.

Examining consumer similarities can lead to efficiency, but understanding consumers' differences is just as important. Some companies start out examining consumers by trying to pinpoint what behaviors and characteristics are the same. But the world is changing at a faster pace than ever before, and so are consumer desires. As a result, it has become a full time job to stay on top of what makes consumers different yet similar in today's fast paced world.

As many teens around the world watch MTV, many baby boomers are watching the travel channel, and each is embracing new and evolving technology. Making things evermore complicated, print media and TV are not the only ways to communicate with consumers anymore. Today companies are working through blogs, customized websites and cellular phones. All of this in an effort to make the consumer feel unique among a million others.

So how do we define the differences? If using baby boomers as the group of choice, you can break them down by finances, health needs or interests. For example, some baby boomers, with their savings and investments, are spending their money on expensive facelifts and frequent spa visits. Others baby boomers, however, are just trying to make ends meet. To put this into a nutraceuticals context, those with great wealth may adopt an elaborate plan of taking dietary supplements and engaging in other wellness activities, while those with limited means may be seeking the most comprehensive "all-in-one" supplement they can find.

It's also important to understand behavioral and attitudinal differences. Are the baby boomers you are trying to reach couch potatoes or are they proactive when it comes to their health? Most research firms divide the population into five or six basic segments, ranging from those who stick with old, less healthy habits to those who are the most progressive in learning about health and changing their life.

Digging further, we can apply those segments to particular strata of the population, such as baby boomers or Generation Xers, or even people living along the Pacific Coast. In other words, if we wanted to promote a product targeted toward arthritis sufferers, then we looked at the differences in both geography and behavior, we may find that Pacific Coast arthritis sufferers who are health aware and leading a healthier lifestyle will likely embrace a very different product than the mainstream arthritis sufferer who is far less health aware.

Greg Kitzmiller is a marketing faculty member at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, Bloomington, IN. He is also co-director of the Global Business Information Network (GBIN) at the Kelley School of Business. He combines international and domestic strategic and marketing management experience with university teaching, professional speaking, executive education and consulting. Mr. Kitzmiller can be reached at 1309 East Tenth St., Bloomington, IN 46405-1701; 812-855-1004; Fax: 812-855-6440; E-mail:
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Author:Kitzmiller, Greg
Publication:Nutraceuticals World
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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