The Idea Dude


Friday, January 27, 2006

The People's Revolution or Is it?

The theme of Esther Dyson's upcoming PC Forum 2006 is "Erosion of Power: Users in charge". She quotes Barry Schwartz a psychologist who argues that all this freedom and myriad of choices do not always result in happiness. I would agree. I think there's a dangerous theme in product management and marketing today that says give customers what they want and give them thousands of choices. The rationale is that if you do this, you will please all the people all the time. Urgh! Here are a couple of thoughts why this may backfire on you.

Trap #1. Asking your customers what they want. Many customers will tell you what they think you want to hear not what they really want. Harry Beckwith, marketing guru, recounts the story of kids who told an interest group they wanted CD players of all different colors but on the way out they all picked a black one as the complementary gift! Also, if you have ever been a recipient of a RFI (request for information) or RFP (request for proposal), you will also know that the list is really a union of all the players in the domain and whatever academics have been promoting at conferences. Why? The customer is not usually the expert and he or she will cover the bases by merging all the features that you have and the 100 competitors that you may have (and throw in the need for a fusion-powered water kettle to boot). The key here is focus on your competence and be the best at solving a particular need (hopefully the one that people are willing to pay for).

Trap #2. Give the customers choice. Sales teams love this because it means they can satisfy the customer no matter the situation. Choice in itself is not a bad thing. But it can cripple your company needlessly by trying to be the Swiss knife of your domain. The saying, "Jack of all trades but master of none" is relevant here. We should take a leaf out of the Apple book i.e. iPods were always white (the second great innovation? they are now also black!). I think the number of people who refused to buy the iPod because it didn't come in the color of their choice must be in the minority. A staggering 42 million iPods has been sold since it's inception, 14 million in the last quarter. Henry Ford would be proud (except if he was at Apple, the iPod would have been black!). Ever wonder why bad restaurants tend to be the ones with a zillion things on the menu? Be careful of dying from a thousand cuts (er....features).

Trap#3. Customers like to choose. Most people are followers not leaders. If you don't believe me, listen to the table next to you the next time you're at a restaurant. It's often, "I can't decide, what are you having?". Similar conversations occur at cinemas, shopping malls etc. Customers actually don't like to be wrong. That explains why Amazon's recommendation engine is so powerful, and many of the paid advertising shows on TV use celebrities or use testimonials. That's why we do white papers and we get endorsements from experts. Customers think they like to choose, but often the choice, explicitly or implictly is made for them. The thought here is help your customer choose.

Back to the future, it's probably not so much about users in charge but perhaps more about the blurring between producers and consumers and barriers to market. Users are now exposed to so much choice at breakneck speed, all they really need is someone to help them make their choice without making it obvious.

So next time you decide...ask yourself...did you really make that decision or did someone make it for you...

So is it Web 2.0! or Web 2.0? ...maybe it's what follows Web 2.0 that's important...


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