Mass customization has been the “next big thing” in product strategy for a very long time. Theorists have been talking about it as the future of products since at least 1970, when Alvin Toffler presaged the concept. Important books from 1992 and 2000 further promoted the idea that mass customization was the future of products.
Yet for years, mass customization has disappointed. Some failures were due to execution: Levi Strauss, which sold customized jeans from 1993-2003, never offered consumers choice over a key product feature – color. In other cases, changing market conditions undermined the business model: Dell, once the most prominent practitioner of mass customization, failed spectacularly, reporting that the model had become “too complex and costly.”
Overall, the “next big thing” has remained an elusive strategy in the real world, keeping product strategists away in droves.
Are you a product strategist trying to craft an iPad (or general tablet) product strategy? For example, are you thinking about creating an app to extend your product proposition using the iPad or other tablet computer?
At Forrester, we’ve noticed that product strategists in a wide variety of verticals – media, retail, travel, consumer products, financial services, pharmaceuticals, software, and many others – are struggling to make fundamental decisions about how the iPad (and newer tablets based on Android, Windows, webOS, RIM’s QNX, and other platforms) will affect their businesses.
Aside from my work with product strategists, I’m also a quant geek. For much of my career, I’ve written surveys (to study both consumers and businesses) to delve deeply into demand-side behaviors, attitudes, and needs. For my first couple of years at Forrester, I actually spent 100% of my time helping clients with custom research projects that employed data and advanced analytics to help drive their business strategies.
These days, I use those quantitative research tools to help product strategists build winning product strategies. I have two favorite analytical approaches: my second favorite is segmentation analysis, which is an important tool for product strategists. But my very favorite tool for product strategists is conjoint analysis. If you, as a product strategist, don’t currently use conjoint, I’d like you to spend some time learning about it.
Why? Because conjoint analysis should be in every product strategist’s toolkit. Also known as feature tradeoff analysis or discrete choice, conjoint analysis can help you choose the right features for a product, determine which features will drive demand, and model pricing for the product in a very sophisticated way. It’s the gold standard for price elasticity analysis, and it offers extremely actionable advice on product design. It helps address each of “the four Ps” that inform product strategies.
I'd like to invite you to participate in an exciting new forum for discussion: our community for Consumer Product Strategy professionals!
The community is a place for product strategists to exchange ideas, opinions, and real-world solutions with each other. Forrester analysts will also be part of the community, helping facilitate the discussions and sharing their views.
Right now, we already have discussions going on the topics of product co-creation, creating video content for your product or brand, and the effects disruptive technologies like the iPad have on product strategies. These vibrant conversations are just getting started, but they're already pretty exciting discussions.
In general, here's what you’ll find
A simple platform on which you can pose your questions and get advice from peers who face the same business challenges.
Insight from our analysts, who weigh in frequently on the issues.
Fresh perspective from peers, who share their real-world success stories and best practices.
Content on the latest technologies and trends affecting your business — from Forrester and other thought leaders
I encourage you to become part of the community:
Ask a question about a complex business problem.
Start a discussion on an emerging trend that’s having an impact on your work.
Contribute to an existing discussion thread from a community member.
Suggest topics for upcoming Forrester research reports.
Create a community profile.
Share your perspective with others.
The community is open to both Forrester clients AND to non-clients. Why not visit today?
But Empowered isn’t only about employees. It also lays out a strategy for engaging your most influential customers. Consumer product strategy professionals should wield Empowered concepts for exactly that reason – to energize your best customers. In the mobile space, product strategists are looking for ideas to help them develop innovative, leading-edge applications for Smartphone users on platforms like the iPhone or Android. So we’ve just released a report to help product strategists do just that, called “Designing A Mobile Empowered Product Strategy.” It applies ideas from Empowered to product strategy, and includes numerous case studies of mobile applications that exemplify Empowered approaches.
Product strategists should check out this article in today’s New York Times about online borrowing. Think of it as a Web-empowered peer-to-peer product rental program. The article describes how Web sites like SnapGoods allow private owners of products to rent them out for temporary periods of time to consumers who want to use – but do not (or cannot) own – those same products. It’s a product rental marketplace, smaller than but resembling a product sales marketplace (like eBay).
This peer-to-peer product rental approach to sharing complements another sharing technique that has been around for a while: timesharing. Vacationers who own 1/8 of a condominium in the Bahamas get to use it part of the time, as do their fellow timeshare partners. More recently, the Web enabled Zipcar to grow to over 275,000 users by 2009. Zipcar users make reservations to use vehicles in their neighborhoods on an hourly basis.
I just returned home from a trip to Bangkok and Bhutan. Civil unrest in Bangkok kept me from wandering as much as I would have liked. I had a lot of opportunity in Bhutan, however, to wander about and talk to people. As a bit of a background, Bhutan is a land-locked country bordered mostly by India to the south and China to the north. Much of the northern portion where we traveled is covered by mountains, so wireless is the primary infrastructure for communications. The average annual income is about $1,300, so they are not a wealthy nation. They've only been allowed access to TV and the Internet for about 10 years.
A consumer brand might argue that in a country where the annual income is only $1,300 and little infrastructure exists for the import of goods, there isn't much point in marketing -- let alone a digital marketing strategy that includes mobile. Countries like these are opening up, however, and their wealth is growing. Personal care products and Coca-Cola was on the shelves in most of the small shops we passed. In a country where cell phones certainly outnumber PCs and cellular connections (even if prepaid) must outnumber fixed, mobile has to be part of the mix.
Teenagers had cell phones. One of my guides had a Nokia N73 and the other had a Nokia Xpress Music. These aren't dumb or cheap text-only phones. They have high-resolution screens and are capable of music, videos and Internet. (My guide was checking and posting to Facebook DAILY.) Monks had cell phones. Women selling vegetables in open-air markets had cell phones.
Product strategists struggle with the issue of value all the time: What constitutes a revenue-maximizing price for my product, given the audience I’m targeting, the competition I’m trying to beat, the channel for purchase, and the product’s overall value proposition?
There are tools like conjoint analysis that can help product strategists test price directly via consumer research. However, there’s a bigger strategic question in the background: How can companies create and sustain consistently higher prices than their key competitors over the long term?
The Mac represents a good case study for this business problem. Macs have long earned a premium over comparable Windows PCs. Though prices for Macs have come down over time, they remain relatively more expensive, on average, than Windows-based PCs. In fact, they’ve successfully cornered the market on higher-end PCs: According to companies that track the supply side, perhaps 90% of PCs that sold for over $1,000 in Q4, 2009 were Macs.
Macs share common characteristics with Windows PCs on the hardware front – ever since Apple switched to Intel processors about four years ago, they’ve had comparable physical elements. But the relative pricing for Macs has remained advantageous to Apple. At the same time, the Mac has gained market share and is bringing new consumers into the Mac family – for example, about half of consumers who bought their Mac in an Apple Store in Q1, 2010 were new to the Mac platform. So Apple is doing something right here – providing value to consumers to make them willing to pay more.