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:
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.
Consumer product strategists hold a wide variety of job titles: product manager, product development manager, services manager, or a variation of general manager, vice president, or even, sometimes, CEO or other C-level title. Despite these varying titles, many of you share a great number of job responsibilities with one another.
We recently fielded our Q4 Global Consumer Product Strategy Research Panel Online Survey to 256 consumer product strategy professionals from a wide variety of industries. Why do this? One reason was to better understand the job responsibilities that you, in your role, take on every day. But the other reason was to help you succeed: By benchmarking yourself against peers, you can identify new job responsibilities for growth, improve your effectiveness, and ultimately advance your career.
What did we find out? The bottom line is that consumer product strategy jobs are pretty tough. We found a wide range of skills are required to do the job well, since consumer product strategists are expected to:
Drive innovation. Consumer product strategists are front-and-center in driving innovation, which ideally suffuses the entire product life cycle. Being innovative is a tall task, but all of you are expected to be leaders here.
Think strategically... You've got to have a strategic view of your markets, identifying new concepts and business models and taking a long-term view of tomorrow's products.
...but execute as a business person. While thinking strategically, you generally have to execute tactically as well. You're business unit owners. At the senior-most levels, you hold the P&L for the product or portfolio of products.
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'm a big fan of the digital home, even if the phrase itself has slipped from popular use lately. I cannot wait for it to happen to me -- I'll have connected displays (does the word TV even apply anymore?) throughout the house, including the ones in my pocket, in my lap, or otherwise within reach at all times. Those displays will all speak IP, the language of the Internet, and they'll all speak to each other as well, allowing me to control one display -- say, my TV -- with another one -- my Droid X, for example. There's so much product innovation yet to come in the digital home that I love my job.
I'm not the only one who sees it, of course. If you follow the excited announcements from TV makers and electronics retailers like Best Buy, the next TV we all buy will be a connected TV (defined as a TV set with its own Internet connection whether wired or wireless and some kind of software platform), a critical first step toward that future digital home nirvana.
Connected TVs are going to be a big deal; to understand why, read my latest report which includes US survey results about connected TVs along with a forecast for connected TV penetration through the middle of the decade. It just went live to Forrester clients last week. In the report, we show that thanks to the enthusiasm on the supply side, connected TVs are going to sell like proverbial hotcakes. By 2015, we forecast that more than 43 million US homes will have at least one. That's a remarkable number, especially considering that we entered 2010 with fewer than 2 million connected TV homes in the US.