The Startup Magazine Jack Truong Says Beat Your Competition by Satisfying Consumers’ Unmet Needs

Since 2009, the reality show Shark Tank has been a consistent crowd-pleaser. In 2022, media ratings and analytics giant Nielsen estimated Season 14’s average viewership at 4.2 million people per episode. The Shark Tank hook is simple: Identify a unique and usually as-yet-unmet need in the marketplace, create and produce a product that satisfies that need, and then hopefully cash in on it for big bucks. Whether that product is a Scrub Daddy, a smiley-face dish scrubber, Bombas, a philanthropic brand of socks and underwear, or the Ionic Ear, a surgically implanted Bluetooth headset (the Sharks didn’t bite on that one), groundbreaking CEO Jack Truong sees this “identify demand and supply the need” strategy as a truly sound business practice.

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Focusing on Your Sales Funnel

With a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and 11 innovative patents to his credit, Jack Truong has an impressive history of researching untapped market niches and subsequently creating the requisite goods and services to fulfill them — all to the tune of major profits. While at 3M, he reimagined the faltering pale-yellow Post-it note into the rainbow-hued, multiuse megabrand it is today and was also instrumental in the development of the company’s Scotch-Brite microfiber cloth, which has since become synonymous with scratch-free cleaning worldwide.

“I was exposed to various divisions in my first two years at 3M, and I really had to learn and understand what the unmet needs were in those industries, and come up with inventions that deliver innovative solutions for those particular sectors,” Truong told Construction News.

Why Companies Must Pivot To Meet Evolving Consumer Needs 

As times change, there are inevitably going to be goods and services that fall by the wayside. However, this type of attrition only accounts for a small percentage of failed business endeavors. Sadly, the corporate landscape is littered with downed players who fell flat as the result of nothing so much as missed opportunity. 

“As technology advances and consumer demand evolves, companies and products quickly can be left behind,” Truong cautioned. “Too many organizations are focused on developing, launching, and loading new technologies and features to existing products while ignoring the possibility of new solutions that actually make life easy for consumers.” 

When Truong took the helm as president and CEO of Electrolux, the venerable appliance brand was poised on just such a slippery slope. At the time, the company’s management had accepted declining sales figures as, if not inevitable, at least highly likely. But where they saw stagnant expansion prospects, Jack Truong saw promise. 

“Back in 2011, when I joined, [Electrolux] was about a $4.2 billion business,” he told CEO Magazine. “The company saw North America as a mature market and didn’t expect any growth. In fact, when I took over, the company wasn’t growing and profit was declining.”

During his first meeting with the company’s global leadership, Truong made his case: “There’s no such thing as a mature market, there’s only mature business managers,” he asserted. “Of course they were shocked … but North America is a very large market and it should be growing.”

After sussing out the competition’s strengths and weaknesses, Truong focused on marketplace feedback to find a profitable solution. Realizing Electrolux couldn’t go toe-to-toe in technological whiz-bangery, Truong recognized its products had their own set of strengths — ease of use, durability, and superior aesthetic design — making them items that consumers were not only hungry to own, but willing to pay substantial money to get. By repositioning the brand to leverage these factors, Truong saved Electrolux from possible extinction, and also turned it into a brand to be reckoned with, rising from third place in the North American market to second, and seeing the company’s valuation double.

How Listening to Consumer Needs Unlocks the Doors to Progress

Admittedly, there are sometimes unassailable forces at play — the introduction of artificial intelligence, for example — that lead to the obsolescence of certain industries whose profit models are dependent on outmoded technology. However, as consumer preferences morph to meet the changing marketplace, Jack Truong asserts savvy leaders must consistently tune in to customer feedback if they hope to succeed.

Stakeholders have to ascertain not only which things their customers like and which they hate, but also pinpoint the goods or services for which there’s a pressing consumer need they’re either unable to find or can’t reasonably afford. “Creativity costs money and innovation drives value,” Truong explained. “Listen carefully to what consumers don’t say, and observe closely what they do. Only then do your innovations have the potential to change consumer behavior and create true value and demand.” 

Truong warns rushing a product to market without conscientiously doing your homework first can have disastrous results. If you’re looking for a prime example of a highly anticipated product that was neither budget-friendly nor satisfied consumers’ actual wish list, Jack Truong says you need look no further than Google Glass. 

With an ill-conceived, overly fussy design, not to mention a hefty price tag, Google Glass’s less-than-stellar reception quickly rendered it an Edsel in the Tesla world of high-tech gadgetry. As Truong wrote in a Sept. 11, 2023 feature for Entrepreneur, “Google failed to understand the true unmet needs of its consumers when the company first launched its ‘moonshot’ Google Glass in 2014. Despite the ‘smart’ glasses’ cutting-edge technology, the product was discontinued after just one year. Despite its live map imaging and hands-free web navigation, Google botched its assessment of the product’s marketability — opting for a ‘clunky’ shape, overcomplicated features, and an overwrought price tag ($1,500).”

A Final Lesson from the Sharks

It’s a widely accepted belief that sharks must keep in continuous forward motion to survive, and it’s a strategy that some misguided leaders cling to, even when it works against their best interests. The truth is, the old shark adage is more myth than aphorism. Although some species do obtain oxygen by water passing over their gills, sharks that rely on the internal pharynx to breathe can remain at rest and not asphyxiate. Moving forward without first navigating a winning course has sunk more than one business.

Differentiating between a truly essential unfulfilled consumer desire and falling prey to the “something shiny” syndrome can be tricky. In Shark Tank terms, it’s the difference between the multimillion-dollar selling Scrub Daddy, a product that truly delivered on an unmet consumer need, and the ill-fated Wake N’ Bacon, a pig-shaped alarm clock designed to rouse sleepers from dreamland by bombarding them with the aroma of America’s beloved cured pork product. (As much as it’s hard to argue with the appeal of bacon, it turned out this invention was both a fire hazard and a food safety risk.)

As elemental as listening to consumers may be, Jack Truong points out it’s only the first step in a longer process. After gathering the pertinent feedback data, it must be thoroughly analyzed and put into the context of realistic deliverables. Only then can innovative strategies aimed at diminishing consumer pain points and delivering pleasure metrics be set into motion, allowing corporations to leverage appropriate resources to create novel solutions that keep the customer satisfied and boost company sales figures accordingly.

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