19 Mar Finding the way into the heart of the customer – with innovation
I recently read the book “Inspired – How to create tech products customers love” by Marty Cagan. While this will not summarize its content, a couple of thoughts crossed my mind while reading. Some of them pretty obvious; some made me reminiscent of past days.
My initial thought was about how technology has changed what I believe I want and need, paraphrasing Schopenhauer’s theory of the bondage of will: “you can only know what you want but can never choose if you want it.”
Being from a generation that tinkered with C64’s and Commodore Amiga’s, sported a calculator wristwatch, and witnessed MTV as a music channel, I remember myself longing for any kind of new items born from the technology push, and the associated change of culture, for that matter.
Audio cassette tapes became CDs. The Walkman became the Discman. Rolls of Film, typewriters, floppy discs, the yellow pages – vanished, and even the car window crank is almost gone.
Many of these things I loved and grew up with have now become obsolete, but not because we no longer needed them. They just got incorporated into new versions with new names. The mixtape is now a playlist. The CD collection migrated first to hard drives and now online services. Not to mention phones, first going mobile and now being coffee-brewing smart jacks of all trades.
And I really like the example of vinyl. There was a short time when it seemed like it disappeared as well, but now it is more vital than ever. That plastic disk with its unique sound profile has nested in the hearts of entire generations, collectors, and anyone who appreciates the haptics of acquired music, along with parents forwarding the fascination to their kids. ..but I’ll come to that later.
With many or almost all these products being transformed into their current time equivalents, and even those who have not, everything in our modern world has become technology-powered. Very likely the production process and its logistics, or shipping and billing at least. Many of them are a mixture of online and offline experiences. May it be the occasional drive I need in the city, finding the best bike-route to my desired location, sending and receiving a package, or getting a room.
In the past decade(s), it has also slowly but eventually trickled into rather traditional businesses. Some industries were too rapidly disrupted and not prepared at all, and they did not make it.
I remembered a particularly noticeable blogpost by Alberto Brea, used several times in various articles since:
- Netflix did not kill Blockbuster – ridiculous late fees did
- Uber did not kill the taxi business – limited access and fare control did
- Apple did not kill the music industry – being forced to buy full-length albums did
- Amazon did not kill other retailers – poor customer service and experiences did
- Airbnb is not killing the hotel industry – limited availability and pricing options are
The bottom line is that technology is never a disruptor. Kick-Starter would be more like it.
Relying on traditional business models without assessing current options to improve will be the main threat to any industry. Anything based on technology needs to innovate on behalf of the customers.
Another thought was about perception.
What feelings do I have when I read or hear about a new item or application, and what is the difference between then and now?
Well, first, modern solutions usually apply to modern problems only. There simply was no need for a lot of things we have now back in the day. Nowadays, when I have the idea for a fix to a specific obstacle I face, my first move is to check if there is already an application on the market (there usually is..). Or I was not even aware of a problem I just used to live with and identified my need for the solution. Sometimes friends’ recommendations. Most of the time, I happen to stumble upon new developments presented in tech news and reviews.
Because today’s options are confusingly vast, and once one decided, there is something harder, better, faster, stronger the next day. What seems daft at first develops into its unique argument, and depending on the quality of the production and how sustainable it was designed, I’d dare to say it could last decades.
Many steps are being taken in the regular development cycle: Research conducted, opportunities and risks evaluated, market values assessed, business cases drafted and adjusted, plans and roadmaps discussed, prototypes go back and forth. But in the very end, it needs to find a way into the consumer’s hearts. Then, questions like “do I really need it, can I afford it, is there a strong argument against it?” become obsolete. The idea itself remains the primary sales proposition.
So, what about software products of traditional industries such as insurances and banks? Really hard to attract love and passion at first sight and not necessarily something that already nested in the collective heart, to begin with, right?
However, the demand is sound and with reason. The customer’s need for convenience dictates to provide features that are not tangible at first sight.
Here’s where innovation comes in place.
Seamless integrations and relatable processes in interactions with our environment, the ability to resume a transaction across devices and platforms without additional steps.. such tools and helpers augmenting our usual routines will become increasingly important.
Finding a way to touch the customer’s life – and in the long run their heart – by providing ways to overcome barriers is the key and represents innovation’s mandate.