Want to Succeed in the Digital Marketplace? Remember Consumer Choice

Overview Gary's Book Club authors David DeWolf and Jessica Hall shares insights from their book "The Product Mindset"

No matter how interesting, snazzy-looking or compelling they are, your digital products will only succeed when they are chosen. Software as a commercialized product — as opposed to software that is made internally for the sake of operation — will only be successful if people use it.

In the digital world, users have many choices, and the cost of change for users is low.They can change their streaming service more easily than they can change their car or house. Today, customers not only expect to be able to choose products easily, but they also expect to be able to quit them easily.

Your takeaway: the low cost of production (on the company side) combined with the low cost of change (on the customer side) means that there is an abundance of choice. Competition is constantly a threat. As a result, both initial and ongoing choice matters more in the world of digital products than anywhere else.

So what are the factors that drive choice?

 

User Experience vs. Features

Remember the Zune? Maybe you don’t, because the iPod crushed it. Zune was a media player that arguably had better features, quality and sound than the iPod. So how come it failed?

Zune assumed that “if you build it, they will come.” They loaded up on features and ignored the user’s experience. Their focus was fully internal — on the product itself or the problem to be solved. Apple obsessed about providing an exceptional user experience, and users rewarded them.

MapQuest suffered a similar fate. Although it was originally the dominant player in its field, Google Maps effectively put MapQuest out of business by adding a new click and drag functionality that significantly improved the user experience.

Even if the new product was inferior in many other aspects, this one feature made its users so much happier that it rapidly took market share. Waze then entered the market with crowdsourced data that outshone Google Maps and customers followed. Even though Google Maps had more advanced technology, Google bought Waze for $1.15 billion in order to neutralize it.

The lesson is clear: Your product requires an exceptional user experience, not an overabundance of features. If your product is intuitive and easy to use, the user may well value simplicity over something fancier or more complicated. A McKinsey study backs this up: companies that offer best-in-class customer experience grow faster and more profitably.


Performance vs. Features

Another common trap is focusing too much time on building new functionalities and not enough time perfecting existing features and ensuring optimal performance.

Performance refers to the ability of the software to instantaneously respond to a user's actions. If you build an internal system that every employee is forced to use, you might get away with solely focusing on requirements. Once users have a choice, they will quickly grow impatient with unresponsiveness and move on.

A recent report sponsored by Google found that 53% of all users will abandon a mobile website if it takes longer than three seconds to load. If that’s true for a simple mobile website, imagine how people respond to digital products. In our experience, users expect products to respond instantaneously.

The other aspect of performance is availability. Products that crash or become unavailable at peak load times are a sure way to alienate customers: research shows they are eight times less likely to return after a crash.

In 2007, Microsoft launched Windows Vista. To this day, it is widely recognized as one of Microsoft’s biggest failures. The problem? Performance. Users complained that their PCs felt slower and their internet connections were crashing. It got so bad that one of Microsoft’s biggest channel partners, Dell, went backward and began offering Vista’s predecessor, Windows XP, just a few months after Vista was introduced. In 2012, just five years after its original launch, Microsoft stopped supporting Vista. Poor performance led to quick failure.

Sometimes a single prevailing factor can drive users to their initial choice in a matter of seconds. Just as often, it's a combination of these factors. Remember, too, that some drivers —like social capital and a low barrier to start—typically don't last.

Your product needs to make a swift, strong case that it meets the user's need for utility and a concrete value proposition. That, above all else, is the key to success in today’s dizzying digital landscape.

David DeWolf is CEO of 3Pillar Global and co-author of “ The Product Mindset: Succeed in the Digital Economy by Changing the Way Your Organization Thinks.

Jessica Hall is Vice President of Product Strategy and Design at 3Pillar Global and co-author of “ The Product Mindset: Succeed in the Digital Economy by Changing the Way Your Organization Thinks.

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