I was listening to a podcast and someone used an analogy that resonated with me.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
They likened a new product to what the car companies did when they really didn’t have any new innovations to add to a new model so they added fins. The fins didn’t do anything but they gave the car a new look and made all the old cars look…old!
I suppose every business that produces ongoing lines of product – phone manufacturers, cars companies, TV makers, etc. – are under a fair amount of pressure to add features constantly so you’ll feel the need to update a perfectly good item for a newer model. After all, if we used many products to the end of their useful lives, the economy would probably be in much worse shape. I’m not sure, however, that simply “adding fins” in the figurative sense is the best route for most businesses.
If you’re going to produce something new, make it something new. If the new stuff is not a reason to buy the product – and in my mind “fins” don’t do it – they need to make the product demonstrably better. It should be something users will employ on a regular basis, and preferably they’re something unique. Adding, say, a soda can cool zone to a car doesn’t, in my mind, fit the bill (yes, that’s a real thing). Adding dozens of new features to Word, which Microsoft is notorious for doing, that 99% of users won’t use and are just clutter and confusion for a huge percentage is self-defeating. In many ways, phone manufacturers are the worst.
I love to buy new stuff. I won’t buy it, however, just for the sake of doing so. I suspect most consumers think as I do. I’m waiting for the day when the press release comes out saying “there’s nothing new this year – we made a great product that we hope you bought and we’re committed to making it better. We’ll let you know when it really is.” I’m buying the new model of whatever that is the day it’s released. I won’t be buying something because the release reads “and now with fins!”
While I’m too lazy (or burnt) to write a few new screeds this week, as has become our tradition we’ll look back at the posts you guys read and shared the most over the past 12 months. This first one was also one of my favorites because it’s a good example of what I’m trying to do here most days. That is, of course, to take the things that go on around us all the time and find actionable business lessons among all the other stuff. This was from last April 10. Enjoy!
Suppose you have a small but very popular business. You began as a handful of people, most of whom are still with you after you kicked out a couple of uneven performers. While you’ve added some staff as the business grew, every employee is a key employee since there really aren’t any overlapping roles.
Thirty five years go by, the business grows, and while there are good years and bad, the product mix is generally well-received by customers and reviewers. In an industry where products come and go very quickly, this one endures, even though it went through a period where everyone wondering if it had lost its way. The product focus changes with each release cycle to match the times – no one has ever called your business stagnant even though its product sector has gone through some very rough times. In fact, there is an entire secondary business of add-ons and information providers that has grown up around your business. Not a bad place to be.
One day, you learn that a key employee is sick and several months later he dies. You adjust by hiring someone who can do what he did albeit without the strong emotional bond to the team as the late employee. A few years later, another key member – your right hand – passes away suddenly. The team is devastated and there are real questions about the ability of the business to continue. The emotional toll on you is palpable and the business community wonders if you’ll retire and shut it down.
Instead, you decide to replace the man who everyone thought was irreplaceable. You let customers know that it will be different, and while you will make best efforts to minimize the differences, you are up front about it being different and don’t try to pretend as if nothing had changed. You bring on more employees to reinforce some of the differences, creating a transformed product in the process. You release new product – one developed primarily with an outside team for a fresh perspective. It’s very well received, and breathes life into the older products, and customers continue to buy it in droves. The business remains true to its core values and it’s obvious that the old and new employees are on the same page thanks to excellent leadership.
It’s really a textbook case on managing business transformation in difficult times. I was privileged to witness it myself last night. Ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
A picture is worth a whole bunch of words. We all know the expression and it’s true: it’s often easier to show than to tell.
Flower Stock Photography (Photo credit: Carlos Lorenzo)
Visuals make presentations (and blog posts) more interesting. Way back in the days before we all had access to everything (that’s before the Internet for you youngsters), stock photo houses made a pretty good living as photo resources. When you only needed a generic image to reinforce a point, the photo house was your first stop.
The photo I’ve used could be used to illustrate flowers or spring or gardening. The point about stock photos is that they are generic products. They are used multiple times by different people for varying purposes. They don’t really have any distinctive personality. Why start the week with this?
More of us seem to be in the business of stock photography than we believe. What I mean is that we are making products that are stereotypical. Web sites look the same in terms of layout and functionality. There’s way too much “me too” and not enough of a focus on what makes us unique or better.
The companies that get it right take what could be something stock and make it their own. Apple did it with the iPod, which wasn’t the first MP3 player. Amazon did it with online commerce – they were far from being the first store but they have taken the notion of a store and made it very much their own.
I could go on about this but you get the point. Sure, generic products made and sold less expensively have their place. They’re low margin and don’t inspire much loyalty (a low price point is a hard-to-defend place since anyone can lower their price if they want to sell at a loss). We need to take our own photos and not buy from the endless supply of generic stock. We need to constantly ask what makes our product or service unique and better. All of us in business are better off when that happens.