Marketers and businesses often get lost in their own business bubbles. They forget what problems their products are meant to solve and why their customers buy them. Strategic marketers must make sure proposed products and features solve problems instead of being flash without a purpose. Avoid pitfalls by periodically stepping back and checking for these common problems before they fester into failed products and lost sales.
Taking Growth for Granted
Strategic marketers form the heart of business planning, and they have to be constantly ahead of the game with new disruptive approaches. Complacency leads to stagnation and decline. No product, no matter how stable it seems today, is safe from the ravages of change.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were more horses and horse-drawn vehicles on the road than ever in history, but the internal-combustion engine destroyed that market in a few short decades. Some coach businesses survived, but they did so by moving into the new automotive industry instead of continuing to play a losing game with horses.
Strategic marketers must be constantly on the lookout for technological and societal trends that might change or threaten their business. If there are threatening technologies coming, either embrace the technology, or move into another area not threatened by the new technology, but whatever you do, don’t pour money into solving a product whose day is already done.
New Products and Features That Solve the Wrong Problems
Many companies tack excessive features on their products, hoping it will give customers more reasons to buy their products. Their marketers allow design and R&D teams to throw in any suggested feature to stay ahead of the curve. But just because new products and features seem useful inside the company’s bubble it does not mean regular customers will be interested.
Remember, customers don’t buy microwaves because they want a microwave, they buy microwaves because they want to warm their food. Customers don’t buy cars because they want a car, they buy cars because they need efficient transport. You can keep piling more features into an already usable product, but do any of these features actually improve usability for the customer?
If 90% of customers only use three or four out of dozens of features, those extra features are providing minimal benefit, and may even be making the product worse by increasing complexity and decreasing usability.
Disruptive solutions require understanding how people actually use products. Take the Breville toaster. It replaced number settings with two user-friendly buttons: “Toast” and a new option, “A Bit More,” which as the name implies, toasts the bread just a bit more. Breville managed to make even the humble toaster a more intuitive experience by questioning they way toasters had been designed for decades.
Some businesses get caught up in chasing their rivals instead of paying attention to the needs of their customers. This leaves them on the back foot, constantly following their rival’s features instead coming up with their own, and it means they miss out on unique features their rivals might not offer.
Blackberry used to be on the top of the smartphone market, but it spread itself too thin in competition with Apple and eventually left the market entirely. Instead of focusing on its core smartphone brand, they tried to compete with Apple in other areas, such as tablets, and even as when they introduced new iPhone-like features to their smartphones, they existed in an uncomfortable compromise with Blackberry’s old features. They tried to solve the problems Apple was already solving for customers instead of finding new problems to solve.
Apple now has its own problems with competition from Android-based phones. Except for increased speed and new extraneous features, the basic idea of an iPhone remains little changed since 2007. Apple continues to roll out a new iPhone every year, hyping it as the next great thing, but the more they promise the world, the more their customers become disillusioned with a phone that does the same basic things as the year before.
Don’t promise the world to your customers if you can’t actually give them the world. Some will buy it at first, but they will become cynical. Even if your product is good, your customers won’t trust you if you give them unrealistic expectations.
One Size Fits None
Some marketers do understand what their customers want, but they try to give it to them all at once. They try to make their products all things to all people. Microsoft ran into this problem with Windows 8. They tried to make a product that would work across all its systems, especially the emerging tablet market. Unfortunately, they ended up pushing away many of their core desktop and laptop users.
Strategic marketers shouldn’t only focus on their core customers, but they shouldn’t risk turning core customers away with products that satisfy neither core customers nor new customers. Sometimes compromise exists in better design, as Microsoft managed with Windows 10, and sometimes different customers are better served by different products, such as the huge range of Android phones that compete with Apple’s iPhones by offering options (and price points) that Apple doesn’t offer.
Never take your eye off of trends. Look at the core problems customers need solved and try to come up with creative, disruptive approaches to those problems, whether it is a button that cooks toast “a bit more,” or a phone that changes the way the world communicates. Look for solutions for problems not addressed by competitors, and try to create something new, not just a rehash of what already exists.
Bogost, Ian. “Why a Toaster Is a Design Triumph.” 20 July 2017. The Atlantic. <theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/07/toaster-a-bit-more-button/534312/>.
Levitt, Theodore. “Marketing Myopia.” On Strategic Marketing. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2013.
Savov, Vlad. “BlackBerry’s success led to its failure.” 30 September 2016. The Verge. <theverge.com/2016/9/30/13119924/blackberry-failure-success>