I recently conducted a color study for a client. They were in the process of deciding on the color combination for their new line of kitchen tools and gadgets. Several competitors had recently introduced new products in bright fashion color combinations. My client did not want to get left behind if the design trend in kitchen tools and gadgets was going towards fashion forward colors.

I conducted an online survey with members of the HomeTrend Influentials Panel. Respondents were shown eight color combinations and asked which they would be most likely to buy if they were buying new kitchen tool or gadget. The color combinations ranged from pretty standard kitchen colors like red, hunter green, royal blue, and yellow to fashion colors like raspberry, orange, and lime green.

We also conducted an online survey among company employees using the same questions.

Company employee feedback did not jive with consumer feedback

The most popular color combination with the HIPsters was one that combined two standard kitchen colors together. The most popular color combination with the company employees was one of the fashion color combinations.

Without consumer feedback, the company would have made the color decision based on what they liked the best and on the competitive offerings. Chances are that decision would have been a costly mistake.

Retailers want housewares products in fashion colors, consumers not so much

Years ago, I worked as Marketing Director for an athletic footwear manufacturer. Every six months, we spent hours deciding on trim and accent color combinations for the new shoe models. We had to come up with new fashion-driven color combinations because our retail customers demanded it. They wanted new and fresh offerings to entice shoppers into the store. However, when they placed their orders with us, while they did order a few of the new trendy colors for use in store displays, most of the shoes they ordered were plain white or tried-and-true standard color combinations. They knew that most of the people buying athletic footwear didn’t necessarily want trendy colors on footwear that they were going to own and use for several years.

The same is true for kitchen tools and gadgets and most other housewares products. Consumers do not base their decision on what kitchen tool and gadget to buy on color.

Sure, people who buy kitchen tools and gadgets are interested in color and design. Cooking is fun, tools should be, too. However, quality, durability, comfort, ease of use and ease of cleaning are far more important considerations than either color or design. Consumer may pick a colorful tool or gadget over a standard white one if, and only if, the product meets their expectations on function, ease of use and cleaning, quality, and value.

Granted, consumers are more likely to buy an unusual color of kitchen tool or gadget than they would be to buy a fashion color major or small kitchen appliance. But that does not mean that mainstream consumers are going to gravitate towards fashion colors, even for a kitchen tool or gadget that is inexpensive enough that it can be replaced when the consumer gets tired of it. They still want kitchen items to match or at least coordinate with their kitchen décor. And they don’t want to be stuck with a tool or gadget in a trendy color that they got tired of long before the item wore out.

Marketers and product designers base decisions on intuition

I applaud my client for deciding to get consumer data before making the decision on color. All too many companies make most product design decisions based on gut feel, intuition, management experience, retailer feedback, personal preferences, and/or on what the competition is doing. On average, marketers depend on data for just 11% of all customer-related decisions, according to a recent Corporate Executive Board study of nearly 800 marketers at Fortune 1000 companies.

Management experience, gut feel, intuition, and personal preferences — all of these should factor into the decision making. But basing product and marketing decisions solely on these can lead to costly mistakes. Factoring in retailer feedback and competitive activity takes away some of the risk that suboptimal decisions will be made.

Consumer feedback reduces risk of costly mistakes

But even that information is not enough. As my client found out from the color study, it is important to get feedback from the people who are actually going to buy your products. If housewares manufacturers want to be assured that they are making sound product and marketing decisions that will lead to successful new products, they must gather and analyze consumer data.

The consumer should be driving the decision making. Because ultimately she is the only one whose vote counts.