Not long ago, Clorox teamed up with Stanford's Graduate Program in Design to sponsor a class on “Needfinding.” Students spent time with different groups of people while they cleaned to find out what they need most. However, when it came time for final presentations, Clorox was in for a surprise. The executives expected to hear about people who wanted to cut down cleaning time or kill germs. Instead, the students told them that people frame the world in two fundamentally different ways: those that see almost everything as short-lived, or disposable, and those that see them as long-lasting, or durable.
As the Clorox VPs soon realized, their company designed cleaning products exclusively for the people who view their possessions from a durability mindset—“Keep it looking like new.” But for consumers who were on their third computer by age 17, that message landed on deaf ears.
The disposable-durable dichotomy is at work in many industries. Clothing retailers like H&M, with “cheap chic” designs and collections that change often, have customers lining up for fashions with a shelf life of a few months. Alternatively, Wrigley's Altoids brand has promoted the many re-uses of the metal boxes that contain their mints (they are perfectly sized iPod cases).
Just like the Clorox team, builders may need to re-think the assumption that home buyers look to preserve the beauty of homes for the future. But as home makeover TV shows and the flipping trend indicate, more people change their surroundings as casually as they change their hairstyles. Many of today's customers see nearly everything they own as “disposable”—and their houses may be no exception.—Jump Associates (for more information, visit www.jumpassociates.com)