Technology Vendors for IT Focus on IT Spend
Forrester's technology vendor clients prefer data over analysis, whereas our IT clients prefer analysis. The vendors are gracious and will sit through a few slides of customer problem examples and politely let me wax on about where their real opportunities are, but most only really perk up when I get to the data slides. Having been responsible for product strategy for software product lines myself, I understand precisely why this is the case: When you're in middle management, your ability to get oxygen (read: funding) to sustain your team depends on your ability to make a case, and the case is usually predicated on IT spend.
Their Strategies are Often Tied to the IT Buyer Data so They Miss the Underlying Human Factors
Why? Because the garden variety general manager in the technology business understands numbers. Human factors? Not so much. For many of them, understanding the underlying human reasons for a disruptive technology shift like, say, the rise of Apple, is not in their DNA. Only the numbers matter. It's tragic really, because if they could reflect on the human factors that I bring with the analysis, born from observation of hundreds of firms who are not yet their customer, their investment priorities would be clearer because significant unmet market needs and competitive risks would be obvious. The best possible question a vendor can ask: What are we missing?
Vendor Strategists Need to Combine Market Data with Human Factors
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.
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.
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.
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.
First off, let me say this: I hope that Steve Jobs' health improves, and that he comes out of whatever challenges he's going through in the best of health. He's an amazing, visionary leader of a dynamic company -- and he's also a person with a family. Let's all wish him well.
While famously a CEO, Steve Jobs is also, it should be known, a product strategist par excellence. He's clearly been involved, in a deep way, in the development of Apple's product ideas, product designs, business models, go-to-market strategies, and responses to competition. These are the job responsibilities of product strategists. In his (and Apple's) case, product strategy has risen to the very top of the organization.
Product strategists of two different flavors are wondering how they might be affected by his resignation as CEO (and concomitant request to become chairman):
Product strategists who compete with Apple. Product strategists at companies like Microsoft, Google, Samsung, HP, Dell, HTC, and similar firms wonder if Steve Jobs' change in role might benefit them. They actually shouldn't wonder: His departure from the CEO spot won't benefit them -- not for a very long time, at least. Apple's product development road map stretches into multiple years ahead and has been shaped both by Jobs and by the organization he built. Jobs' departure won't affect Apple's product portfolio, quality, or competitiveness for a long time -- if ever.
All through the past decade, observers in industry and on Wall Street have offered reasons to discount Netflix’s efforts. Supposed obstacles ranged from Blockbuster to scant streaming options to recent rate hikes on DVD renters. When will these people ever learn? We understand why people cheer against disruptive players like Netflix — it would be nice if we could pretend all these digital disruptions will go away. But they won’t, and neither will Netflix. We’ve written about this in our latest report that people who keep an eye on content strategy will find valuable (see our newest report on Netflix).
But it’s not really written for them – it’s written for people who take an even bigger view, as do we. These people – today’s product strategists – know that Netflix is a powerful example of disruptive digital product strategy and are eager to learn how to act like Netflix in their own context and industry. In our report, we extract three specific lessons from Netflix:
Control the product experience. The company that controls the user’s total product experience will win, whether retailer, producer, distributor, or platform. That company will have ultimate control over what options people have, what prices they pay, and what value they believe they are getting. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s one that people charged with product strategy must be willing to accept. Makers of products as wide-ranging as sleeping pills, running shoes, and auto insurance should all follow Netflix’s lead and control the total product experience they deliver.
We talk to product strategists in a wide variety of industries. Regardless of the vertical industry of their companies, they tell us that the release of new, disruptive products -- like Apple's iPad -- changes their relationships with their customers. Oftentimes, nearly overnight.
Whether their product comes in the form of “bits” (content, like media, software, or games) or “atoms” (physical products, like shoes, consumer packaged goods, or hardware), consumer product strategists must navigate a world filled with a dizzying array of new devices (like mobile phones, tablet computers, connected TVs, game consoles, eBook readers, and of course PCs). We call this proliferation of devices the Splinternet, a world in which consumers access the digital world across a diverse and growing number of hardware and platforms. And product strategists have to react by developing new apps, by crafting digital product experiences, and by rethinking their product marketing.
Delivering digital products across the Splinternet isn’t easy: It requires understanding -- and acting upon -- an ever-changing landscape of consumer preferences and behaviors. It also requires reapportioning scarce resources -- for example, from web development to iPad or Android development. Yet product strategists who fail to contend with newly disruptive devices (like the iPad or Xbox Kinect) will find themselves in danger of being left behind -- no matter what industry they’re in.
We'd like to invite product strategists to take our super-quick, two-minute survey to help us better understand how you are reacting to disruptions caused by the Splinternet:
More than 90,000 iPad-only apps are available today. Forrester clients in a wide range of industries — media, software, retail, travel, consumer packaged goods, financial services, pharmaceuticals, utilities, and more — are scrambling to determine how to develop their own iPad app strategies (or browser-based iPad strategies).
Clients are asking us to help them address both challenges and opportunities associated with the iPad: How do I develop an app product strategy for the iPad? Does the browser matter, too? What will make my app or browser experience stand out from the competition? How will an iPad app complement my smartphone and Web properties?
If you are navigating these sorts of decisions, I'd like to invite you to a very exciting event being hosted by an analyst on my team, Sarah Rotman Epps. Sarah's holding a Workshop on July 27 (in San Francisco) to help clients like you separate the hype from the reality and take concrete steps toward developing a winning iPad app and browser strategy.
The Workshop: POST — Refining Your Strategy For iPads And Tablets
This Workshop focuses on refining your strategy for reaching and supporting your key constituencies through iPads and other tablets. We'll take you through the POST (people, objectives, strategy, and technology) process, helping you to:
Understand where the tablet market is going based on Forrester's latest data and insights.
Apply what other companies have done to your own tablet strategy.