Hi, this is Jill VanDewoestine, checking in for the Technology Marketing Center Leaders' Blog.
I came across a truly enlightening web site the other day: We Put A Chip In It! It's a lovely collection of promotional videos (some borderline NSFW) for "dumb things" that are now "smart things" because of silicon enhancements - microprocessors, RFIDs, LED, etc. Who knew that coffee mugs, yoga mats, socks, toothbrushes, and pacifiers need to be smart?
Then it dawned on me that this is the perfect tool for technology marketers. Watch these videos. Cringe at their obvious idiocy. Then look at your own product.
- Is that new function or feature you thought would be a game-changer really necessary, or is it as redundant as an umbrella app that tells you via your smart phone that it will rain today?
- Did you try to solve a problem with your product through adding unnecessary technology that could be better solved through design? Is adding electronics to deodorant packaging really the best way to reduce plastic waste and make the product less apt to stain clothing?
- Are you solving a real customer need in a useful way, or is your technology creating a problem that doesn't need solving? For example, customers may want to streamline how they enter calories and liquid consumption into an app, but using a smart cup to do so creates new problems (must drink everything from one container, must keep that container charged).
I recognize that it's easy to take pot-shots at obviously ridiculous products, especially when someone else has already made snarky comments about them. But (as best I can tell) these are not spoofs, but real product concepts developed by smart, hard-working, serious marketing and technology professionals. They are raising money on KickStarter (ClickStick, the electronic deodorant, raised over $65K), appearing on Shark Tank (like this smart mattress cover that purports to run your house for you), and getting breathy press write-ups (like an automatic stove temperature controller that could never malfunction and set anything on fire).
All that aside, how can we guard against our own products winding up on We Put a Chip In It?
1. It's About Them, Not You: Make sure you know the real needs of your critical customer segments. Don't just take their word for it, but spend quality time with them, their customers, and other influencers in the value chain to read between the lines of what they tell you. And don't rest on your laurels - their needs with change, so keep updating and validating your understanding over time.
2. Mind the Gap: are your customers innovators, early adopters, early mainstream, or late mainstream? If you are running out of new customers in the current segment, you will need to craft a product strategy that gets you to the next one. As Geoffrey Moore points out, the gap between early adopters and early mainstream customers is a doozy, so go back and read Crossing The Chasm if you haven't done so lately (the 2013 Third Edition is especially good).
3. What Were You Thinking : it's sometimes easier for an outsider to see the flaws in a product than someone within the industry. Find a trusted colleague to get another perspective. Try explaining your product to a grandparent, or a teenager. Imagine the treatment it would get on Buzzfeed or Gawker. If it seems ridiculous to these audiences, maybe your customers will view it that way too.