Should design and marketing focus only on the user? The case of the Don Simon wine shows us that our customer is something more complex than the end user.

Focusing on the final user

Bill Aulet explains in his latest book “Disciplined Entrepreneurship” that market segmentation is one of most important steps to take before starting a new venture. For this, he says that we should “focus on end users, not customers, because you will need a committed group of end users to have a sustainable business. A school doesn’t use a textbook, or a chalkboard, or a lesson plan, but teachers do“.

This introduces the fact that often the customer is not the end user, but a complex unity composed by different roles. As in the example of school, sometimes the economic buyer (the school) is not the end user (the teacher). It’s important to know these roles because they have implications for design and marketing strategy.

But is it true that we should focus on the end user? In my opinion, although the end user is an essential part, we would be making a huge mistake if we don’t take into account the complexity of our “customer” and the roles within it.

The case of the launch of the Don Simon wine in Spain illustrates this well.

Don Simon, the final user and the housewife  

In the early 80s, the most widely used packaging for table wine was the returnable bottle. The Spanish company Garcia Carrion wanted to become a national company, but the returnable glass bottle demanded having several plants throughout the country to cover the entire national distribution.

In addition, the poor road conditions resulted in higher transport costs. They needed an easy-to-carry, non-returnable, practical, economical and lightweight container that could be packaged in a single plant. After analyzing several alternatives, such as glass or PET, they opted for the carton package commonly known as brick. But what would be the consumer reaction? 

don simon

At that time, the brick package was only used for milk. Replacing the glass bottle for the carton brick wasn’t only revolutionary but also a controversial issue. It presented a major challenge in such a traditional and mature sector as cellars. Wine is something more than a drink and, from the point of view of marketing, is defined by attributes such as the designation of origin, the brand and, obviously, the package.

Since it was a risky innovation, the company commissioned a market research and the result was disastrous. The idea was totally impracticable: 100 percent of users (men from lower-middle class) said that they never would drink wine from carton package.

Despite these disappointing results, Garcia Carrion was convinced that their project would succeed because wine quality would prevail. So in 1982 they launched the brand Don Simon of table wine in brick.

During the first six months they sold virtually nothing, what seemed to give reason to their numerous critics. However, sales began to grow and the third year they were market leaders. What had happened?

Don Simon was an “everyday” wine, oriented to lower-middle class homes, where the housewife carries out the household chores, including doing the weekly shopping. Housewives didn’t care the package if the product was of good quality and, besides, the brick package was lighter and more practical and less fragile than the glass bottle. Finally, the practicality of the buyer (the housewife) was imposed over the will of the final consumer (which used to be the father).

The roles of the buying decision process

As we have seen, when designing a new product or service we should analyse the decision making unit as a whole and not just one of its elements. Who are the roles involved in the buying decision process? There is some diversity of opinion, but in general, all are based on the Webster & Wind (1972) model, referred to organisations.

roles decision making process.001

The most complete model includes 7 roles:

  • Initiator: who proposes to buy/use the product or who detects the need.
  • Influencer: the person whose opinion is respected when making the decision (e.g. experts, celebrities).
  • Decider: who makes the final decision on which product to buy.
  • Approver: who authorizes the purchase (e.g. Finance Department).
  • Buyer: who makes the purchase.
  • User: those who use or consume the product.
  • Gatekeeper: who controls the flow of information or has the power to prevent it to reach the decision makers (e.g. receptionist)

The buying unit doesn’t always include all these roles. The number of roles involved in the purchase decision depends on two key factors: the product complexity and structure of the decision making unit.

roles decision making process.002

Regarding the complexity of the product, it’s determined by several elements, such as the price, the frequency with which it needs to be purchased, the perceived importance, the information the consumer has about its characteristics and the variety of similar products, among others.

Secondly, we must also take into account the structure of the buying unit, which can be one person or a group. In the case of groups, it’s important to consider the degree of formality of the structure, which includes informal groups, such as friends, and formal ones, such as organizations. In the middle we have other structures (families, clubs, etc.).

In short, when we speak about the user, people responsible for design and marketing should note that it isn’t an isolated entity. The user is a role that is often embedded in a complex structure that needs to be analyzed as a whole.


Webster Frederick E. Jr. and Yoram Wind, “A General Model for Understanding Organizational Buying Behavior“, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 36, April 1972, Pp.12-19.