Microsoft's Shrinking Window For Tablets: Its Fifth-Mover Product Strategy Is Late

Forrester is bullish on Windows 8 as a product for consumers. With Windows 8, Microsoft is adapting Windows in key ways that make it better suited to compete in the post-PC era, including a touch-first UI, an app marketplace, and the ability to run natively on SoC/ARM processors. This pivot in product strategy and product design makes sense as we move deeper into an era when computing form factors reach far beyond traditional desktops and laptops.

But in a new reportSarah Rotman Epps and I look at Windows 8 tablets, specifically, through our product strategy lens. What do we see? On tablets, Windows 8 is going to be very late to the party. Product strategists often look to be “fast followers” in their product markets. Perhaps the most famous example is the original browser war of the 1990s: Microsoft’s fast-following Internet Explorer drove incumbent Netscape out of the market altogether.

For tablets, though, Windows really isn’t a fast follower. Rather it’s (at best) a fifth-mover after iPad, Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, HP’s now-defunct webOS tablet, and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. While Windows’ product strategists can learn from these products, other players have come a long way in executing and refining their products — Apple, Samsung, and others have already launched second-generation products and will likely be into their third generation by the time Windows 8 launches.

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The Nook Boutique: How Channel Matters To Product Strategists

The link between product strategy and channel is often overlooked, but strong: In our most recent survey of product strategy professionals, 33% say that they, personally, define the channel strategy for the products they sell. In other organizations, product strategists must work with more specialized channel strategists. Either way, channel is a determinant of success in any product strategy.

In the consumer electronics industry – and more specifically, the rapidly changing tablet market – channel presents a major challenge to product strategists. Most product strategists sell their tablets at Best Buy, a retailer that receives high foot traffic from engaged buyers, but which contains a lot of competing models. It’s easy for any individual tablet product to get lost at Best Buy, particularly when the retailer is offering plenty of Android tablets with limited meaningful differentiation among them. Buying end caps (which are expensive, if differentiating) can help, but it’s not always clear that the Blue Shirts can explain every tablet’s value equally.

Apple has this quandary beaten: Its Apple Stores form the core of its retail channel, and after a product like the iPad has been popularized, Apple also sells via mass-market retailers like Wal-Mart and Target. Competitors haven’t been able to match Apple’s winning formula, though Microsoft is starting to roll out its own stores.

Barnes & Noble offers the most interesting test case: As Sarah Rotman Epps has written, the brick-and-mortar stores play a very central role in the product strategy of the Nook Tablet. The new Nook Boutique has finally launched (see photo below); how is it stacking up?

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Christmas 2011: The First Mass Customized Holiday Season

Ah, Black Friday: What would the post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza be without a visit to the local mall? This year, I was keen to perform some gumshoe research on a theme I've been talking about all year long: mass customization, a product strategy that's ready for prime time across multiple industries.

A trip to the Natick Mall (yes, "Mall," no longer "Collection," New Englanders) reveals that mass customization isn't just the future; it's the present. In fact, it's hiding in plain sight. Build-a-Bear Workshop, Hallmark, Lego, and LensCrafters are all stores in the Natick Mall that offer significant customization for consumer products. Burberry is the latest Natick Mall vendor to offer mass customization; I am quoted in Time magazine this week (here, but subscription required to view the link; page 82 in the December 5 paper edition) discussing how luxury clothing and customization fit together well. As I've written before, one of the benefits of employing mass customization is that it empowers consumers to create products that express their personalities -- a particularly relevant feature for clothing and apparel products.

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Welcome To The Nook Signing

 It’s a tried-and-true in-store promotional tactic: the book signing. Authors tour bookstores, meet their fans, and sign copies of a book that was bought in the store that day.

How can book signings be updated for the 21st century? Barnes and Noble, with its Nook devices and its rapidly expanding Nook Boutiques, has an opportunity to create a total product experience around its Nook devices and digital books. Let's call it a Nook Signing, a theoretical Forrester product idea for Barnes and Noble to consider.

Leveraging its in-store Wi-Fi, Barnes and Noble could host a series of Nook Signing events – special book signing events only for owners of Nook devices (or those willing to buy them in store that day).

The event would feature marquee bestselling authors like George RR Martin or other authors with vociferous, loyal fans. (Barnes and Noble would have to incentivize these authors).

Attendees would get to meet the author, but more importantly, would receive an in-store download over Barnes and Noble’s Wi-Fi, receiving unique, brand-new content on their Nooks. For example, Nook Tablet and Nook color devices could receive a video from George R.R. Martin offering up an exclusive tidbit about his next book.

What happens next? Nook Signing attendees use their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts to tell the world the news about George R.R. Martin’s next book ... which they learned about at the Nook Signing.

What does this event accomplish?

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