AVOID MEDIOCRITY IN NEW PRODUCTS--IGNORE THE COMPETITION, GET CLOSE TO THE CUSTOMER


AVOID MEDIOCRITY IN NEW PRODUCTS—IGNORE THE COMPETITION, GET CLOSE TO THE CUSTOMER

In many highly competitive industries today, corporations tend to expend considerable time, money, and human resources on competitive tracking, monitoring, and otherwise "keeping up with the Joneses." This is especially true in major appliances, where the top five manufacturers account for more than 95 percent of all core-appliance sales such as refrigerators, dishwashers, and washing machines. While these manufacturers have their eyes focused on the competition, they too frequently fall out of touch with their existing consumer markets, their potential markets, and the trends, changes, and factors that are influencing the future of the market. In too many industries, competitive analysis is the "poor-man's" substitute for market research. Companies dedicated to competitive research assume that their competitors are doing the timeconsuming, hard, and costly job of consumer research. They spend their time watching the competition and the new product releases, analyzing products and features, so they can piggyback on others' efforts.

In too many industries, competitive analysis is the "poor-man's" substitute for market research.

This approach to new product development is a guarantee of product mediocrity as the cycle of competitor copying competitor turns back on itself in an endless loop. I cut my teeth professionally in the field of competitive analysis and even belonged to the Society for Competitive Intelligence Professionals for a time. However, I came to realize that the end of this competitive analysis and tracking work was "me-too" marketing strategies. The simple fact is that competitive analysis work is easy. Corporate executives are highly skilled at reading balance sheets and SEC filings and deriving insight into competitive strategy and tactics. It is a realm where executives feel comfortable. They understand the inner workings of other executives' minds and thus other companies' behaviors and strategies. However, expose these same executives to the vagaries, conflicting information, and "hocus-pocus" of consumer market research and they are out of their element entirely. If you can't chart it, graph it, or table it, they do not want to deal with it.

Male-dominated industries selling technical (i.e., male-oriented) products to female-dominated consumer markets face a disconnect.

Every industry that creates products for the consumer market should cross-pollinate with fashion and design experts. These industries must also invest time, money, and powerful corporate resources to understand their consumer markets better. It is not enough to bring a few consumers into a lab to test new products. They need to explore how their company's products improve customers' lives and what makes their hearts flutter when they talk about stoves, refrigerators, and washing machines. Appliance industry executives need to get beyond the leftbrain-dominant product features of their appliances. They need to study how customers really decide which brand to buy, what the brand means to them, and how it reflects upon their identities and value systems. Maledominated industries selling technical (i.e., male-oriented) products to female-dominated consumer markets face a disconnect. Taking superior features and quality for granted, women don't bring a product-and-features left-brain orientation to the store when they shop for appliances. However, if an appliance also looks good, is the right color, and is a brand that enables her to express herself, that is the one she will buy.