Monday, February 23, 2009

Why we fail.

Have you ever been in a meeting and found it truly motivating and insightful? Not insightful in the "wow, this is the start of something great" kind of way, but in a "holy sh*#!, this is a train wreck" kind of way.

It is all too common to hear about the experiences of a company trying to rejuvenate there sales and marketing efforts. You find yourself in a situation where the more you listen the more you feel that something isn't adding up. It runs deeper than the initial pain of hearing the "sell to everyone" message that has crippled dozens of once-great companies...then it hits you. The strategy being discussed is based on assumptions rather than insight.

Polaroid failed because it assumed that it would be the 'instant' photo choice forever. Who would have thought consumers would stop printing photos?

Hotmail faltered because Microsoft assumed that, just like Explorer, nobody would need an alternative to the webmail app. Where was the insight into internet habits? The search is more powerful than the browser. Gmail popularity has sky rocketed.

Palm got blown away by a company that only delivered one solution. In 2002 I sat in a Palm product launch where they said "Sure, Blackberry might give you a better email experience - but we have endless applications, colour, and a touch screen!". Unfortunately people only wanted email at the time. Then came out new Blackberry's, Smartphones from every manufacturer, and then the iPhone. All of them full of colour, applications and touchscreens. Where is Palm's market share? (side note: Around the same time I also sat in a Blackberry product presentation where we were assured that Blackberry would never change it's monochromatic screen to colour as it was "it's not what consumers want - they want the functionality. Colour is just not that important" - turns out there was more than one lesson learned from the popularity of colour TV vs. B&W TV)

  • We assume we know the reason why we are the best in the business.
  • We assume we know why our product is popular.
  • We assume we know why our consumers go to the competition (let me guess, it has nothing to do with your competitor's price, personality, marketing, experience).
  • We assume that the tactics we used yesterday are relevant to use tomorrow.

We avoid thinking hard and, instead, react. We just do what we're supposed to do. We go through the motions. We avoid the tough questions. We rely entirely on our experience or, worse, the collective corporate instincts.

Luckily, finding insight has never been easier. There are endless examples of organizations successfully turning the tides. (Just search the big companies - Dell, Boeing, Dole, T-Mobile. and these small companies Moleskin, NS Crystal, Etsy, Toms Shoes, and Umpquabank)

The consumer has never been more accessible and influential. The first step is to acknowledge this. Then we can change the way we think of that relationship and how we can grow it.