Posted by Doug Williams on October 1, 2009
Yesterday, Verizon told the world that its Hub VoIP phone was being discontinued, effective immediately. And I use the phrase "told the world" loosely, because I don't think too many people were really listening. I offered up my thoughts on the this very blog when the Hub debuted. My take at that time was despite the features and functions the Hub offered, all that mattered was price:
Sure, there is added value with all the interesting things the Hub can do. And the Hub arguably improves the overall end-user experience of fixed voice by improving the convenience of managing communications in the home. But the adoption curve of the Hub will remain particularly shallow in the current economy until such time as the up-front cash outlay for the device and handsets is reduced. Dropping the monthly recurring fee to bring it in line with other over-the-top VoIP services and below the going rate for cable voice service wouldn’t hurt, either.
But this isn't an I-told-you-so post. (Ok, maybe just a little.) What this is is a wake-up call to consumer product strategy professionals, because what happened to the Verizon Hub is your biggest nightmare. It's a huge failure, if you think about it. Here's a product that surely required loads of time for development, both on the hardware and software side. It involved buy-in from management from Verizon Corporate, because the Hub had the potential to cannibalize Verizon's core fixed voice subscriber base. Its debut generated rumors for months prior to launch. It didn't launch with huge fanfare, but Verizon thought enough of the product to have a parade of industry analysts come in for demos and a pitch. Yet here we are, eight months later and the product is in the garbage can.
What could Verizon have done differently? Perhaps a lot of things, but let's keep it simple and think about this from two points in time through the product strategy lens. During development of the Hub, Verizon must have held a strong belief that the Hub would satisfy some consumer needs around in-home communications. But what needs weren't being met with consumer's existing options? Did existing market research or custom surveys reveal those needs? Were those theories tested, and how? Ultimately, we must ask: Did Verizon do enough research prior to launch to ensure the product's success?
Regardless, the decision was made that the product was viable, it was developed, and it launched. After the product hit the market, Verizon certainly recognized that it wasn't doing as well as the company hoped. To help, Verizon rolled out new widgets that increased the list of features the Hub offered, apparently thinking that if more alleged benefits were added, consumers would be more interested in buying the product. But Forrester believes (1) a feature is not the same thing as a benefit; and (2) the success of a product has just as much to do with a product's barriers to adoption as it does with the benefits the product offers. Here, Verizon appears to have spent too many resources trying to enhance what it thought were the benefits of the device -- which may or may not have satisfied actual consumer needs -- instead of trying to reduce the barriers to adoption. (A high cost is only one barrier to adoption, but in this case it's a critically important one.)
Hopefully, readers of this blog are already familiar with Forrester's Convenience Quotient methodology. If you are, then you'll remember that we strongly believe in the role that convenience plays in determining the potential for mass adoption of a product. The base concept of our Convenience Quotient analysis -- that convenience is determined by the benefits a product offers, diminished by the barriers to the product's adoption -- is something that should be considered throughout the product lifecycle. Would it have saved the Hub? We'll never know. Hopefully you won't find yourself asking the same question one day.