The rate of failure for high-tech products is remarkably high. For every Facebook or YouTube, there are thousands of start-ups that have failed. Why? Were their products technologically inferior? Most of the time, no. They fail because they are more focused towards the technology they are trying to develop than the reason for which they are developing the technology. They are, what we can call, techno-centric companies.
Techno-centric high-tech companies are the ones that think of technology as the center of their universe. They focus on technological innovation in product development without considering the potential customers of their product. The strategy adopted by these companies is to let the engineers and designers come up with the product and then sell the product to the potential customers. But this approach has a major flaw. People are always a bit reluctant towards adapting new technology. In general, masses do not accept new technology unless it is absolutely required to solve some problem they are facing. Of course, there will be early adopters who like to be at the cutting edge of technology who will readily go for the innovation, but in general, the common person will not go out and buy an expensive gadget if it is not absolutely essential. This makes it harder to cross the chasm, making it even harder for the products to become mainstream.
On the other end of the spectrum are the companies that do product innovation focusing on the needs of the customer. These customer-centric companies identify the problems faced by the customer and then develop solutions for these problems using technological innovation. The basic difference here is that the product or the service which is delivered is addressing a need of the customer, making it comparitively easier for the product to get mass adoption. By being customer-centric, it also becomes easier for the companies to develop the complete solution, because the basic reason for development is solving the problem.
Of course, there are exceptions where companies have hit the jackpot by just concentrating on the technology and then marketing the product to the customer. This can be attributed to the right timing of these companies, the massive backing of the early adopters, or coincidence of the technological innovation addressing an important problem faced by the customer. But I think the probability of this happening is too low for anyone to bet their company’s future on it (unless you are one of the blue-chip companies with deep pockets and great R&D budget).
It is also important to make sure we understand that just by being customer-centric, the company will not attain the ultimate success. You will always find products which are developed focussing on customer requirements but are not very successful. Customer-centric innovation is just a piece, a really big piece, of the puzzle. Along with this, you need to get a lot of other things correct to make your product a real success. Some of the important ones are good marketing set-up, ease of adoption, competitive pricing stategy and great customer service.
Ted Levitt, author of the Marketing Imagination, once wrote, “When people buy quarter-inch drill bits, it’s not because they want the bits themselves…they want quarter-inch holes.” This summarizes the high-tech marketing success mantra in very simple words. To be successful in high-tech marketing, you need to identify what your customers want, or what problems they are trying to fix, use technology to address those problems and then make sure you market the solutions to the problems. That’s customer-centric techno-powered innovation bound to sell!