Solicit Advice From Your 'Super Consumers'

Last Updated Dec 3, 2009 11:31 AM EST

Super consumers are the 10 percent of customers that produce 50 percent of your profit. If you're a retailer worth your salt, you've identified these people, carefully tracked their buying habits, and make sure they are happy -- deliriously happy -- with your service.

But if that's all you do to connect with supers, you are missing out on a big opportunity to increase sales across your entire customer base, argues Eddie Yoon, a principal with The Cambridge Group consultancy. Instead, you should be combing this group for insights.

"Invariably, acting on the insights from those consumers who spend disproportionate time and energy in the category uncovers insights and innovations that encourage trade-up behaviors across other segments as well," Yoon writes on Harvard Business Publishing.
He provides several excellent examples of how this works in practice, such as the meat company that listened to its top profit generators to learn that its core group of customers were hot-dog hungry teenage boys and their moms. "Armed with this insight, the manufacturer focused its portfolio strategy on all-beef products, emphasized taste at point of sale, and shifted its marketing to extreme sports and gaming environments to build awareness among teen boys -- who'd push their moms to buy the brand."

I imagine this strategy is more difficult to execute than it appears at first blush. Remember, super consumers are top generators of profit, not overall sales. So following their advice without thinking could cause ripples among the 90 percent of customers who buy the bulk of your offerings.

What's your take on super consumers and how to tap into their insights?

(Superman image by Alan Light, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.