Trender Research™

Technology meets people.

A New Framework for Getting It Right with Tech Products

As I continue my never-ending research for our new upcoming report on Internet-connected audio-video technologies and devices, I keep thinking one thing— I’m not that smart.

Not that I am dumb. No, not that. It’s just that there is so much technical mumbo-jumbo to process. Everyone has an argument why their technology or product is better than the next guy’s. And many times, it has to do with some special sauce they have that no one else has. But I am encouraged by an equally strong and valid thought— they’re often wrong.

And remember, I have seen the sausage being made, so I have seen the man behind the curtain, I know the emperor has no clothes. Many tech products and services don’t make it, and often it is because the smart technologists missed the boat.

So what is one to do? In the annals of product development research, there are many tomes of wisdom as to what makes a successful product, and what leads to failure. I’ve read many of these books, and spent a good chunk of my career on new product launches or consulting with companies on the best practices of product development and product management. So I am throwing out all that conventional wisdom. Well, maybe not throwing it out completely, since a lot of it is good. Just not referencing it… not worrying about what is relevant and what is not. Starting over.

So I need your help. I need your feedback. Below are my thoughts about what makes a product successful, especially what it takes to be attractive to everyday consumers. Please comment or send me your thoughts directly. The goal is to come up with a new “Trender Framework” that will serve as a filter for all of the analysis that we do. Please let me know what variables you think are important, and their relative priority.

Understandability. I know it is an awkward word, but it means something to me. Understandability is probably the most important variable for what makes a product successful, for if people don’t understand what problem the product is trying to solve, and why it is better, it has no hope of being adopted by them no matter how much money you throw at advertising. Understandability is a combination of how simple and emphatic the product’s value proposition is, the simplicity and clarity of its messaging/positioning/branding, and how effectively that message is communicated to consumers in an often crowded marketplace.

Call to Action. This is an advertising concept, but it applies equally to the product itself. If in fact I understand the product, why do I need to buy it now? What is driving me to open my wallet? What am I missing out on if I don’t act now? Something about the product needs to tie into a larger trend or solve a perplexing problem with how we live our lives. It can’t simply be something that causes us to say, “Cool. I like that product. Maybe someday someone might give me one as a gift” or “After I clean the gutters, I might just start to think about this product a little more.” No, it needs to be stronger than that. It needs to have some wow appeal. It needs to appeal to me emotionally, such that I go look for it in the store or log on to find it online.

Buzz. Buzz is when someone tells you “You HAVE to see this movie. It will change your life” or “You do such-and-such, and you don’t have a bla-bla?!” That’s buzz. There are lots of ways to create it, from traditional advertising, to word-of-mouth, to viral campaigns online, to product reviews, to the simple fact that millions have been sold and you don’t have one yet. It builds on “understandability” and “call-to-action” to provide a certain cache to the purchase you are about to make. Obviously, buzz is more important for technically advanced products than say, paper clips, and even more so for expensive tech products or services.

Reach. People put a certain trust in things they see a lot of. They know they are within their reach, easy to buy. They don’t have to do a jungle safari to find them (though some might like that quest). They are not exotic or kooky. They are right, sound, and reasonable for normal folks. I might walk by the hardware store every day and never buy that chainsaw, but I know where to find it when I do need it. A product that is widely available, or at least where I would expect it to be, builds confidence.

Design. Does it look cool, or as it is supposed to look if not cool (i.e., whatever the intended target market would expect to see)? Are all the other factors of its physical look/feel acceptable?

Installability. A made up word, but it is important for people to know that what is expected of them to set up the new product or service is reasonable. We live very busy lives these days and our time is precious. Knowing that a new product will take the better part of a Saturday to get working becomes a huge mental block for a lot of people and may cause most of them to only embrace your product abstractly in their minds.

Usability. Ease of use is a huge factor for how eagerly folks will embrace, continue to use, and willingly help create buzz for the product. It has to do everything from the user interface and tactile control of the product, to how quickly and intuitively one can access its major features.

Passivity. I am not sure this is the right word but I am going with it. It is similar to usability but different. Passivity has to do with how much physical, mental, or emotional effort is required to maintain the product. Can you just set it up once and forget about it forever (like a wireless router)? Or do you have to constantly update drivers, download new versions, trouble-shoot problems, install new batteries, or make choices and trade-offs. In other words, is it one big headache, or does it go about its business passively, in the background.

Interoperability. I am borrowing this term from the telecom industry, but I think it is highly relevant to all tech products. Does the product or service “play nice” with the stuff you already have in your home, at work, or on the road? Does it connect with what you expect it to connect with? Or does it require you to completely rework all the other things?

Lifestyle Fit. Again, this is somewhat related to some of the above items, but expands to include all of the other factors in our lives. Does it fit space-wise in our rooms, in our pockets, on the proper table? Does it give us more enjoyable time, or take up more time than it’s worth. Does it create harmony in our relationships, or create new sources of tension and fights (e.g., who gets to record what)? Is it just a necessary evil, or something that delights our souls and makes us feel just a bit happier?

Flexibility. Flexibility could mean a lot of things, but for this purpose it means the ability of the product to meet the needs of multiple use cases over time. Does the product have the ability to evolve and adapt to beyond what was initially available when I bought the product?

Translatability. Does the product or service have the ability to traverse the needs of various demographics? Or is it tailored only for women, teens, seniors, or other groups. Not that there is anything wrong with getting it right for just one group, but there are definitely scale advantages for a product that benefits from wide interest and usage.

Total Cost. In most cases this is the up-front price, but in some cases ongoing maintenance costs or monthly service fees can outweigh the initial retail price. Consumers have become very savvy at assessing the various pricing schemes out there and coming up with both a real and perceived cost to obtain the desired product or service.

Value. Obviously different from what I pay is how much I get for what I pay. Does the product or service do just one thing, or one thing well but a host of other things that exceed my expectations? How does it compare to what else I could have bought for half the cost? Twice the cost? Was it still worth it?

Customer Support. This is especially important for tech services, but also complex products that might need some hand-holding to install.

Obsolescence. Contrary to what some technologists might think, most consumer don’t just want the latest and greatest technology, they want some reassurance that their purchase will not become obsolete, or worse laughed at, in a relatively short period of time. If that risk is even slightly perceived to be a possibility, mainstream consumers might just decide to wait it out to see what’s around the corner.

Performance. This is another relative concept, but important for folks to feel good about. Am I buying technology equivalent to a Honda Civic or a Porsche. Am I getting what I paid for?

Quality. Car analogies are in order again. Did I buy an expensive car, only to find the rubber trim around my windows peeling off, the door handles made of cheap plastic. Whether or not the thing ever falls apart, my perception that it is soundly made will go a long way in my enjoyment of it.

OK, that is enough to get the conversation started. There are certainly other considerations, and probably some of the above are not as important or could be combined with others. Your homework assignment is to think about it and let me know. The goal is to create the Trender Framework to help evaluate the fit of new products and services for the mass market, and thereby be able to better predict which products have what it takes to be successful with everyday folks.

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