I recently read an article on MSNBC.com that shared the story of a small Vermont business and their experience with an addition made to the products sold in their store and catalog. The business bills itself as "purveyors of the practical and hard to find," offering such items as kitchen wares, suspenders, pine tar soap, and socks.
The owner of the business, a gentleman in his mid-sixties, decided to begin offering a non-traditional line of products - of the intimate variety - hoping they might appeal to older customers. This decision was made without any customer requests for these products or market research. In fact, the owner's own sons disagreed with the decision.
How did this experiment work out? Well, the business claims that the new products are big sellers. However, they also admit to receiving hundreds of letters expressing opposition to the new product offering with some asking to be removed from the mailing list. Debate also continues as to whether the new products have helped or hurt the business.
While their experience is certainly unique, I think it holds a valuable lesson for all marketers. You must know your customers and make strategic marketing decisions. If you don't, you risk losing customers that disagree with the direction you've taken or who's needs you no longer meet. Perhaps this is okay, but unless you can replace those customers with new ones, you risk losing your business.