Here's a flash of the blindingly obvious: More and more products are going digital. You know this, but what I'm interested in is how they are going digital and to what degree. I see three major aspects: (1) the product itself becomes digital; (2) a physical product adds digital technology; and/or (3) processes and context around a physical product become digitally infused. Let me offer a sort of continuum of examples, and then I want to ask a question:
Music (nearly 100% digital). The greater part of music bought these days is in the form of a 100% digital product.
Health band. With a health band (e.g., Fitbit, Nike FuelBand), I don't really care about the physical product, but I'll put up with it to get the digital benefit: lots of data (and more) about my workouts and health.
Cameras. A digital camera is a physical product that uses a combination of physical and digital technology, and I actually care about some of its physical design (e.g., lenses). It produces a 100% digital artifact (photos), and the process around the photos is digitally infused.
USB picture frame. Part physical, part digital. By replacing the center of a picture frame with a digital screen, I get a new twist on an old standby. But, working with the digital part still requires a high degree of physical manipulation (carry a USB drive to the frame, etc., etc.).
WiFi picture frame. Part physical, even more digital. The WiFi bit bumps it way above a USB picture frame in terms of seamless integration into a digital world. I can email a picture to the thing, or maybe tag a photo on Facebook and suddenly it shows up.
What to do when a failed product concept still lingers, haunting every attempt at injecting it with new life? That's the problem with interactive TV, a term that grates like the name of an old girlfriend, conjuring up hopes long since unfulfilled yet still surprisingly fresh. Gratefully, it’s time to put old product notions of interactive TV behind us because this week Microsoft will release a user experience update to the Xbox 360 that will do for the TV what decades of promises and industry joint ventures have never managed to pull off.
Meet engaged TV. From now on, I will no longer need to plead with the audiences I address, the clients I meet, or my friends who still listen to me to imagine the future of TV. Because Microsoft has just built and delivered it: A single box that ties together all the content you want, made easily accessible through a universal, natural, voice-directed search. This is now the benchmark against which all other living-room initiatives should be compared, from cable or satellite set top boxes to Apple’s widely rumored TV to the 3.0 version of Google TV that Google will have to start programming as soon as they see this. With more than 57 million people worldwide already sitting on a box that’s about to be upgraded for free – and with what I estimate to be 15 million Kinect cameras in some of those homes – Microsoft has not only built the right experience, it has ensured that it will spread quickly and with devastating effect.
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 report, Sarah 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.
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.
Product strategists in many industries (from CPG to consumer electronics to financial services) share a challenge with their marketing colleagues: how to leverage the power of brand. Product strategists have a number of strategic tools in their toolboxes for differentiating their products from competitors’ offerings: features (a different taste, a new technical capability, or a higher interest rate, for instance); channel, price, or brand (or based on some combination of these factors). For the moment, let’s think about brand, because some product strategists design and build their products based largely on the promise implied by their brand name.
Forrester’s new research report– leveraging a multi-year analysis of Consumer Technographics® data – shows that while brand is important, brand loyalty (defined as the propensity to repurchase a brand) has been waning. The new report, entitled “Brand Loyalty Isn’t Enough For Products Anymore,” reveals that:
· Brand loyalty is on the decline. Brand loyalty dropped in the U.S. from 2006 to 2010, our data shows. One reason? The Great Recession. Another? The strength of brands themselves: competing brands in the marketplace entice consumers to try new brands.
It’s a couple of days after Google announced its intentions to jump headfirst into the hardware business. By now everyone — including my colleagues Charles Golvin and John McCarthy — have expressed their thoughts about what this means for Apple, Microsoft, RIM, and all of the Android-based smartphone manufacturers. This is not another one of those blog posts.
What I really want to highlight is something more profound, and more relevant to all of you out there who might classify your day job as “product strategy.” To you, the Google/Moto deal is just one signal — however faint — coming through the static noise of today’s M&As, IPOs, and new product launches. But if you tune in and listen carefully, two things become crystal clear:
The lines between entire industries are blurring. Google — and some of the other firms I mentioned above — are just high profile examples of companies that are diversifying their product portfolio, and the very industries in which they play. There are several instances of this over the past "digital decade." What's different now is the increased frequency of the occurrences.
We live in a world punctuated by big innovations. From fire and the wheel down to the light bulb and the iPad, we mark the march of history by the steady beat of transformative innovations. Except that steady beat is no longer so steady. The rate at which these life-altering innovations are coming to market is accelerating so quickly that it's no longer sufficient to invoke even Moore's Law to explain them.
Not only are new things being introduced more swiftly than before but consumers are adopting them more rapidly than before. I make my living studying early adopters, but recently I've had to throw many hard-earned lessons out the window. Because in a world where Microsoft sold 8 million Kinect cameras for the Xbox 360 in just two months, traditional definitions of "early adopter" became irrelevant after about week two.
This is both exciting and maddening. We've spent that last several years watching the acceleration of innovation to figure out what is making this rate of innovation possible and we've discovered that innovating at this pace is tricky, but doable, with the right approach.
Calling all product strategists at big name clothing and apparel companies: If you work at the likes of Gap, Macy's, Nordstrom, or American Eagle Outfitters, we at Forrester think you are currently missing out on an opportunity to delight customers, generate new revenue, and differentiate your offerings. We’ve been writing about why now is the time to experiment with mass-customized product offerings – customer-facing digital technologies have reached the point where customization is easy to deliver, and customers increasingly expect products and services will be tailored to their desires and needs.
Now it’s time for product strategists at big name clothing and retail companies to give mass customization another shot. Levi’s once offered customized jeans (from 1993-2003), but the offering was too far ahead of the curve – it didn’t have the opportunity to leverage the type of digital configuration experiences available today, and it didn’t offer buyers choice in features they wanted (like color).
We know that product strategists who want to offer mass-customized clothing and apparel products face customers who are stuck in an off-the-shelf comfort zone. We know that this customer resistance is holding back some product strategists at big brand-name clothing companies. Yet the return on investment could be significant. Incorporating customization into your product strategy will enhance current customer relationships and attract new customers that, up to now, have not been able to find what they want or need from your products.
Sarah Rotman Epps is the senior analyst on my team who leads our research on tablets (and consumer computing) for product strategy professionals. She’s written extensively about the future of tablets but also about the characteristics of software and media experiences that succeed on tablets. (Forrester clients can read “Best Practices for Media Apps,” for instance). At the same time, I have written about how mass customization is finally the future of products in an age when customer-centricity reigns.
Tablets and configurators – the typical tool that consumers use to co-design customized products – are a match made in heaven. They share a number of characteristics that product strategists should consider when developing mass-customized product interfaces. For example, they both:
Product strategists at Mars, Incorporated are experimenting with mass customized offerings quite a bit. In addition to their build-to-order customized M&Ms offering, their subsidiary Wrigley has just rolled out MyExtra gum, which prints personalized wrappers on Extra gum packs.
Product strategists at Wrigley declined Forrester’s recent request for a research interview, but judging from the myextragum website and their press release, the offering is a really interesting example of a creatively mass customized product strategy. Why? Product strategists at Wrigley have:
Redefined the product using customization. Myextragum isn’t just gum with a customized wrapper. Instead, it’s a greeting card (Mother’s day, birthday, other holiday) or a business card (to be given to patrons) plus gum. Wrigley is moving into a non-adjacent, previously orthogonal product market in one fell swoop. That’s aggressive and creative.
Justified the higher price point. At $4.99 – though the price reduces with bulk orders – the product is pretty expensive for a pack of gum. But, again, it’s not a pack of gum – it’s a greeting card or business card that also has gum inside. This pricing makes sense when you think of the price of Hallmark cards or custom business cards.