“ Each year is different and also clients and customer groups change along the years, and this makes my work diverse and interesting. For example, now that we have been working on the development of our business within a training programme, we have divided our customers in three different groups.
First we have individual customers who can be couples, families or lonely travellers spending their holidays in the area. Then we have the ones who arrive as a group from Finland or abroad. As a third group we have companies and incentive groups who come mostly from abroad.”
|| “In my opinion it’s very important that employees and locals become credible, reliable and enthusiastic supporters of our company. Because of that we are always trying to consider our employees and local people when developing our products and business as a whole. The idea is that customers but also our employees and neighbours like our products and what we do. It’s not enough to listen to the customer. We also have to listen to our neighbours and employees.”
Hybrid customers: Upitrek
Tourists change their mind fast and usually external factors, which are difficult to anticipate, seem to influence the choice of a particular destination. Rather than being based on nationalities or vacation habits, these external factors appear to be situation and context dependent.
Mike and Carol, a senior couple from Wales, have made travelling a part of their everyday life. They own a holiday home in France in the heart of the Brittany countryside as they love rural areas, nature and outdoor activities. Every spring they are used to doing something else. For example, last spring they took part in a snowshoeing tour in the Finnish region of Kainuu.
The tour persuaded them to come and visit the northern Finnish nature for the very first time. It was a new destination for them, though they had been to Sweden and Norway before. In addition to the rural and adventure holidays, they also travel to the Mediterranean Sea once a year. They love sun and beach vacations, because they do not need to do anything. They can just lie in the sun and enjoy the hotel services. Instead, on the snowshoeing tour they wanted to work out.
Photo: Jose-Carlos Garcia-Rosell
Vicky and John, a Dutch couple, wanted to spend their holiday in Romania somewhere in the middle of untouched nature. They were just exploring offerings on the internet when by accident they got an offering of a snowshoeing tour in northern Finland on the screen. The same thing happened to Claudine, a French middle-aged woman, who had initially planned to go for a nature-based holiday in Greenland. In the same catalogue providing information about Greenland holidays, she found an advertisement about the snowshoeing tour in northern Finland.
Eventually, Vicky and John as well as Claudine ended up in the middle of the northern Finnish nature. This shows that neither places alone nor simple activities – such as snowshoeing – are enough to attract tourists. What appeals customers is just the story that emerges out of the combination of place, company values and activities. For today’s tourists it is no longer important where they are and what they do, but how and with whom they spend their time.
Supporting common practices instead of looking for differences
The idea of individualised customers who have different needs becomes an illusion when considering that all customers engage in universal well-established practices while consuming and travelling. Instead of focusing on customer differences, product developers can turn their attention towards common customer practices. Indeed, by supporting these practices, they can improve products.
For example, a common practice in accommodation services is sleeping. The IceHotel in Jukkasjärvi in northern Sweden advertises on its website “Sleep well in -5 C.”. This shows that the company understands how important good sleep is to their customers. Another example is Stanglwirt that offers customers the possibility to choose a suitable pillow from a wide assortment. Also various types of bed linen and quilts are made available to hotel customers. This service has been developed in co-operation with Hefel Textil GmbH. The main idea is that customers have the possibility to familiarise with and test Hefel Textil’s high quality products during their stay in the hotel.
The product has different meanings to different customers
In addition to the tourists’ perspective, product development should also include the point of view of employees, locals and business partners. Meanings experienced by any of these actors can play a critical role in creating competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Arctic SnowHotel is a tourism product with different faces. It means different things to different stakeholders. For tourists, it is a place to experience an exotic world made out of ice and snow, local history and extreme conditions. For tour operators, it is a place to perform different activities and programmes for their own customers. The students and instructors from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Lapland, who participate in the planning and construction of the hotel, see it differently. For them, Arctic SnowHotel is creativity and inspiration as well as engagement and results. For locals it is a source of pride and an expression of local expertise.
More about the different forms of customership can be found in the case of StaffPoint.
Partnership and customership: Lapland Safaris and Arctic Reindeer
During its long history Lapland Safaris has develop different forms of co-operation aiming to create solid partnerships with local businesses. The idea of a partner-customer relationship with such companies – especially those whose products are crucial for guaranteeing service availability, quality and experiences during the high season – has become important and needed in facing current market conditions. The establishment of genuine and solid partnerships among companies that are completely independent from each other has proved to be a very challenging task in the industry.
The basis of the partnership between Lapland Safaris and Arctic Reindeer lies in a minority ownership of the reindeer farm by the former. This kind of co-operation enables a joint business model that is long-term oriented, sustainable and provides equal benefits for both partners (win-win situation).
For Lapland Safaris, it is important that its business partner has been able to preserve its own entrepreneurial identity and business idea in spite of the minority ownership. At the same time, Lapland Safaris has not only gained access to special know-how and expertise on reindeer herding but also its needs and expectations have been considered in the daily business of Arctic Reindeer. Similarly, Arctic Reindeer has benefited from Lapland Safaris’ marketing, management and sales expertise as well as from its large international customer network.
What is this about?
We need to go beyond the understanding of markets as spaces described in demographic (e.g. gender, age, education) and geographic (nationality, target country) terms. We should also avoid thinking of target groups as fragmented, completely detached from each other and failing to reach a degree of homogeneity.
Instead of trying to determine in which aspects customers differ from one another, product developers should better draw their attention to those aspects that unify them. For example, widely known, appealing stories or a way of life, or even practices related to travelling and holidaymaking are surprisingly consistent among different customer groups. In addition to particular customer characteristics and features, it can be beneficial to take a practice perspective: what are our customers doing and how can we support them in their doings; or how could we help our customer to create new practices and ways of doing? When we move beyond consumer differences (Chinese, Indian, Brit) and start looking at what consumers have in common (eating, drinking, sleeping), we realise how simple marketing and product development become. In a similar way, we can identify differences and commonalities among individual, charter and incentive travellers.
The great variety of customers needs to be considered in product development. It is not possible to create competitive advantage if only the entrepreneur, end-customers and business partners are doing well in the short term. A sustainable competitive advantage requires that as many stakeholders as possible do well in the long term. Due to the nature of tourism business – strongly based on distribution channels – the term customer is also used in relation to business partners such as international tour operators that form the link between end-customers and tourism enterprises or destinations. When customership is understood broadly and even locals and employees are seen as customers involved in product development, we are not only able to create sustainable competitive advantage but even socially, ecologically and culturally more sustainable products.
Open the product developer’s workbook (link on the right). It will help you to apply the content of this page to your own case.