By Andrew Wilson
This summer, a Harvard Business Review case study presented the dilemma of a modern dance company caught between their mission to grow and enter new markets, and their mandate to remain creative and groundbreaking. The arguments on both sides are pretty compelling. A new employee pleads her case that the dance company needs to know who their customers are and what they want, while the Company’s founder argues this information would be detrimental to creating challenging dance performances— “if we ask them what they want, we’ll end up doing Swan Lake every time.”
Conversations like these aren’t just happening in the halls of fictional dance companies, they’ve been challenging companies for at least a century. Take this quote from Steve Jobs, founder of what is arguably the most consistently innovative company today:
We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it too. That’s what we get paid to do. So you can’t go out and ask people, you know, what’s the next big [thing]? There’s a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, ‘If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’ [2008 Interview with Fortune magazine]
In the past several years, I’ve sat in on talks, read articles, and spoken to lots of product developers who now feel that research and talking with customers provides little, if any, value. They invariably point to Apple or that ubiquitous Ford-ism, but it seems to me that those who are dead set against customer research are missing the point. It’s not the customers’ job to develop the solution, it’s simply the customers’ job to tell you about their experiences and what they’re trying to accomplish. In the famous quote by Henry Ford, the takeaway isn’t that they should develop a faster horse. Instead, it’s that people want to travel faster, and Ford came up with a better solution.
Let’s look at Apple, for example, if you take the latest version of the iPad, you’ll see they haven’t ignored customers at all. People are more connected today than at any other point in history; our desire to connect with people and share, access, purchase, and manage media/content from anywhere at any time has only grown stronger with time. Recognizing these trends, Apple made an incremental shift in current tablet technology and created a game-changing product. The iPad might not be the perfect device for every user, but it performs great on attributes that allow us to connect with one another and consume content.
What makes Apple special is their ability to anticipate needs becoming more important and that's what they did in the case of the iPad. But they don't just understand the customer needs from a macro level, they have a complete and nuanced understanding of the detailed needs that make up the entire customer experience. So when it came time to build the next generation of tablets, they made the right decisions about screen size, processing speed, connectivity options, virtual keyboard size, touch screen sensitivity, gestures, etc., because they knew what mattered to customers. The customers’ experience was the driving force behind those decisions. This vision allows Apple to consistently churn out game-changers.
But donning a black turtleneck and taking the buttons off of your products won’t get you the next iPad. While Apple may not engage in typical customer experience research, they have a culture that is customer focused from top to bottom. Their product development process is motivated, from concept to implementation, by the goal of providing seamless, user experience. Apple’s greatest innovations—the iPod, iPhone, and iPad—embrace simplicity and usability. Uncovering customer needs and creating products and services to meet them doesn’t require one of the greatest visionaries of all time, it can come through comprehensive customer experience research.
So we’re back to our dance company. How can they maintain their desire to grow with their commitment to boundary breaking dance? The answer is customer research that identifies all of the customer wants and needs for a given product/service, and then tells you which ones matter the most. Show goers may say they want to see Swan Lake, but do they really mean they want to recreate a powerful experience they had the first time they saw dance? Customer research that focuses on needs is a powerful tool, and critical to innovation whether developing a dance program or building a new processor. By knowing what matters to customers, organizations can discover unmet needs, find opportunities for disruptive innovation, know where to focus resources, and set the foundation for developing game-changing products and services
Needs based customer research is not about asking the customer to dream up the next new product, feature, or technology. Nor is it about learning new ways to sell customers products they don’t really want. It’s a proven method to help organizations connect with their customers and focus on what matters to them. Apple’s success is based on a fundamental and detailed understanding of their customers. Do you understand your customers in that way—or are you giving them Swan Lake?
Posted by Andrew Wilson, Andrew is an Account Director at CMB, he isn't sure about modern dance but awaits the iPad Mini with baited breath.
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As a self-proclaimed technology geek, I was extremely excited when Apple finally announced the release of their new cloud service, iCloud, coming this fall. For those of you who are unfamiliar, iCloud is a free service that will allow users to easily store data online (more specifically –music files, photos, applications, email, contacts and calendars) and automatically sync multiple devices such as iPhones, iPods, iPads, and personal computers, including Windows PCs.
At first glance, this may seem like old news. In fact, our most recent consumer pulse study, conducted right before the iCloud announcement, showed that 70% of US adults had already heard about online storage services, and 11% already use them. As an early adopter (tech geek, remember?), I am part of that 11%: I use dropbox for storing and sharing files online and flickr for my high resolution photos.
So what makes this service different? Apple’s iCloud service has some key advantages that—if work as advertised—have the potential to really make a difference in how I manage my media content:
1) I would not need to actually do anything: Apple says that iCloud will be a part of iOS 5 (translation: no installation required) and that all the synchronization will happen automatically. For someone like me who frequently forgets to backup data and sync his devices, this is great news.
2) It would all be seamlessly integrated: This means that I will be able to purchase songs and videos on any of my iOS devices and not worry about transferring files back and forth. This is possible since Apple is the first company to arrange deals with most record labels and studios to allow digital copyrighted music and video content to be accessible via the cloud.
3) It’s big: iCloud offers unlimited capacity for all of my iTunes-purchased music, apps and books, and another 5GB of storage space for any other files I own and want to access via the service.
4) It’s free! And who can argue with that?
So… is everyone as excited as I am? Tech bloggers and my fellow geeks certainly are. But what about the general market? Will iCloud help online cloud storage services go truly mainstream? I find myself wondering: “would my parents use this”? Our research finds a divided public: exactly half of US adults are not interested in using online storage services. Not surprisingly, these folks are also less likely to own a smartphone (35% vs. 50% of those interested in online storage services), are older (58% are 45+ years old vs. 40% for those interested) and are slightly more likely to be female (56% vs. 47%).
So yes, my mom may not be as excited about iCloud as I am. Why? Some of the most common deterrents are service costs (a non-issue for iCloud) and data privacy (i.e., fears that someone would be stealing their data). As far as the types of files people are willing to upload, things are looking a bit trickier for iCloud: only 30% of all respondents said they would be willing to store address book or contact information online, which is one of iCloud’s selling points.
Maybe because I don’t have much private information to store (except for those 1 or 2 Kelly Clarkson songs in my iTunes), I am not so nervous about data security in the cloud.
More pressing concerns for me are…
(a) How iCloud is going to affect my device’s performance;
(b) The speed of data transfer (which was a concern for only 8% of our respondents);
(c) How my Internet bandwidth at home and cellular data plan are going to be impacted; and
(d) Battery life! (of course)
While I trust my friends at Apple have solutions for all of these problems, I can’t imagine I’m the only one with these concerns.
Are these issues going to prevent me from trying (and potentially loving) Apple’s new iCloud? Not at all. Just imagining all my devices in total sync sounds like a dream come true. Nonetheless, if Apple would like my mom to trust Apple with her photos and contacts, they better make it clear to her that this is one hell of a secure cloud.
And it’s ok: They have the whole summer to make their case.
Posted by Diego Jimenez. Diego is a Senior Project Manager at CMB, a photo enthusiast and resident tech geek. Twitter isn’t his thing, but you can see his photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dejota3
I was like a little kid on Christmas morning when I opened my iPad. As I took it out of the box I was quickly reminded what makes Apple so successful. From a customer perspective my iPad worked seamlessly, before I knew it I was downloading apps, checking out books and listening to music. From a marketing perspective it’s clear to me Apple has incredible brand alignment that continually delivers on their brand promise of being sleek, intuitive and seamless. It‘s also clear that the Apple brand is not owned just by marketing, it is owned by everyone in the company, from the top down, from the product development team to the marketing team. My experience was just what I would expect from Apple and why I pay more for their products.
On the flip side I gave my Dad an eReader. From the time he opened the box to the time we gave up and decided to return it, there was nothing but frustration. From the registration process to trying to download a book, it was clear the product was not designed with the consumer or the company's brand promise in mind. Starting in November I received numerous emails selling me on the ease of use, availability of books etc. After all the emails and marketing messages I got from this company my expectations were set, yet the customer experience failed to deliver on those expectations. A clear disconnect between the brand promise and the customer experience, a great example of marketing telling one story and the product telling another.
Just as a side note, I did a quick search on Twitter to see if others were having the same problem and you guessed it, others were having a similar experience and they were tweeting about it. This is the challenge and opportunity social media presents, as it provides a window into the customer experience.
This is one of the reasons I think it’s so important for brand trackers to include customer experience, without looking at the customer experience it’s hard to get the complete story. While you can’t go into great detail you can at least get an understanding if there is a disconnect or a need for a deeper dive into how well your brand is aligned with other areas of the organization and customer experiences.
Is your brand owned by everyone in the organization? Is customer experience part of your brand tracker? We’d love to know. Leave a comment.
Posted by Kristen Garvey. Kristen is CMB's VP of Marketing, a mother of two, and is loving her new iPad.
The mobile computing market is abuzz with Apple announcing
yesterday they have sold 3 million iPads in just 80 days, Google's press conference today on Droid X
and the shipment of the iPhone 4. With each release devices are getting smaller (well maybe not the Droid X), faster and smarter. Prices are also dropping as the competition continues to heat up. Smartphones, which were once just used by the business traveler are much more mainstream and now marketed to consumers thanks to the iPhone and Verizon's buy one get one free promotions
So with all these changes to the mobile landscape we thought we would ask both consumers and our own IT decision maker panel to find out if they plan to swap one device for another. (See today's press release on the findings)
What we found was that businesses were more open to swapping out one computing platform for another than consumers. The biggest drivers for making the switch were not surprisingly cost and form factor, but what was a bit surprising was that close to twice as many IT decision makers than consumers are willing to ditch the notebook for a netbook the next time around. The netbook, which started out as a low cost computer targeted at consumers is seeing new life and new opportunity in the B2B market.
There has been a lot of hype around the iPad killing the netbook, but netbooks will see new life in the B2B market as long as manufactures research, recognize and capitalize on these shifts in the mobile market.
Posted by Don Ryan. Don is a senior consultant for CMB's technology practice. Don is an avid tennis player and enjoys reading political commentary and spy novels.