It's one thing for customers of Mrs. Field's Cookies to give advice to the brand. But can rank-and-file American car buyers really help a brand like Mazda in a business where lead times for changes can be measured in years, not weeks?
OWN watchers can judge for themselves when Oprah Winfrey's network features Mazda on Thursday in the latest installment of its reality series, The Customer Is Always Right. But a Mazda executive told brandchannel that the week spent by the show's protagonists, Tommy and Darla, at Mazda's R&D operations already has helped the brand.
"Our engineers can tend to focus on features and appearance, not uses and benefits," said Robert Davis, senior vice president of US operations. Interacting with focus-group members Tommy, a Mazda owner, and Darla, a skeptic of the brand, for the documentary "focused our group on how our product is actually used. And that was actually a very good lesson for them, because sometimes we get tripped up on whether a feature matches or beats a competitor, or how it looks. But the customer owns this vehicle for three or five or eight years and is using it over and over."
Tommy and Darla got a sneak peak inside Mazda's development of a new CX-9 full-size SUV, which is due out next year. Their helpful suggestions to Mazda developers—which will be specifically revealed in the show—had to do with storage compartments and how consumers actually use them. The show was filmed in January.
And so while that's a long time for Mazda to filter the importance of the input they received from the two people in the show, Davis said brand developers also learned in general about the benefits of such hands-on interaction with consumers rather than just surveys and focus groups.
"It was a good lesson in how valuable non-traditional customer input could be" as well as providing, presumably, a favorable view of the brand when it airs, Davis said. "We're consistently building an owner base that wants to be involved with the brand, and this is one more way to get them involved."
For Tommy and Darla, the payback may be sooner. In the format of the OWN series, they work alongside Mazda to implement suggested changes in the CX-9. If their work impresses a second focus group at the end of the week, they'll each win $10,000.