August 5, 2014

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The Changing Doctrines of Product Development

Product development, the bedrock of progress, has always been dependent on technology and its evolution. As science and technology evolves, the type, nature and quality of products across industry spectrums has become better. From maglev technology to open source programs, product development in every domain has depended on research and continuous experimentation for the next best thing. Today, however, the doctrines of product development have changed. It is no longer technology that principally drives product development. It is customer experience.

User experience is paramount

Product development is no longer only about implementing certain features and testing their usability. Every industry is investing a lot in understanding its users’ needs and coming up with a product which resonates with the customer. Product innovations today and the growth they generate are often incremental, slender and short-lived. For smartphones, TVs or PCs, every competitor swiftly matches the latest features, speed and memory. Global competition, market saturation and technological dispersion results in competitors rapidly catching up with most improvements. In such a scenario, the user experience being offered by the product will be crucial in preventing a consumer from switching to the next alluring offering in the market.

The Brand connection

Even brands are now going beyond the discrete product or service to reimagine the customer’s journey by crafting a customer experience. Every brand is conscious of what customers think of their products. Superiority of technology and pricing advantage will remain the primary differences between products but what will eventually drive the development of a product will be customer experience. A product should provide an experience or service that adds value by considering how the user ‘feels’ as well as the way it ‘works’.

You can gauge this, when you see an iPhone advertisement emphasizing how you can reach from the bottom left corner of the screen to the top right corner using one swipe of your finger. Arguably the world’s most powerful smart phone doesn’t choose to emphasize on its processing power, battery backup or the features it offers but on how convenient it is for customers to use the phone. The focus has shifted to the app store and the millions of games and apps that can be downloaded without a fuss. It is no longer about hard specs or how developed a new technology is. If you take a glimpse of the automobile industry, safety and connectivity, add-on features and visual finesse are sold more aggressively than the horsepower or the mileage. Nike has changed its branding strategy from the design of its sneakers to enabling fitness, which has spurred its sales.

The reality is that customers don’t just expect a product for the money they spend. Almost everyone is looking for an experience - an experience that will be valuable, convenient and better than what has been encountered already. Thus, the focus is not on how it will be better but if it is going to offer more value. Brands have become conscious about this and so have investors who pump in the money for the progress of technology. It may not be premature to foresee that every major company will devise what is wanted by its customers. Focusing on the customer experience doesn’t mean being commanded by customers but it means coming up with ideas that customers need or want but haven’t hitherto imagined.

Harness internal strengths

Organizations need to think ‘outside’ of what the consumer has today and link this with their own strengths. Apple introduced the iPod although Sony was the biggest player in the music industry; Philips now dominates the healthcare market after starting as a consumer brand while IBM, once a major computer manufacturer, is making its presence felt in the consulting business. Businesses have come up with Messaging Apps based on pictures, understanding that images convey emotions quicker than the spoken word, thus, making life for the consumer more convenient. All these examples show that businesses need to understand what customers are really seeking after and then build products using their own internal strengths.