Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Apple vs. Aztec: Ask Consumers For The Questions, Not For The Answers.

We talk about Apple a lot in the IMC program.  As over 5 milliion iPhone 4S users can attest, the company makes delightfully intuitive products.  They work right out of the box, no instructions needed. One can argue that using a phone is pretty simple, but the difference between my old Droid and my new iPhone is remarkable.  Yes, the Droid worked.  But I had to adapt to it, not the other way around.  Same difference between my new MacAir and my old PC laptop.  How does Apple know me so well?  The company claims to design for themselves, not their customers, no market research needed.  Are the developers in Cuppertino that good?  Do they really share the exact same taste as all of the self-described Mac geeks of the world? And why would a program like IMC, that is driven on consumer insights and data, want to study them? Maybe they aren’t doing formal research, but they are definitely asking the right questions and answering them well. 


Henry Ford was famously quoted as saying, “if I asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.” Or, as Pontiac discovered some 70 years later, they would’ve asked for the Aztec. The car fell famously flat, selling about 3,000 units short of its required breakeven number and failed to meet projected demand by 30,000 cars.  Yet all consumer testing and focus groups were off-the-charts-positive. The product was designed using sophisticated computer data modeling, tweaked to satisfy each and every potential SUV owner in the market.  Unfortunately, trying to please everyone usually has the opposite result. While numbers don’t lie, people sometimes do, often unconsciously. Good marketers must be able to interpret the data, but also to take a step back, ignore their egos and other biases, and think about whether this new product or campaign actually makes sense- for the company and for the consumer.  It takes courage to ask the right question, and if the answer is no, even more to speak up.

Of course customers wouldn’t have described a Model-T.  Invention is not their job.  While the Ford quote does acknowledge that the customer wanted to go faster, it ignores the other need that Ford noticed; horses were inconvenient. His solution, the “horseless carriage,” made sense. People could wrap their heads around a product that did the same thing as a carriage, but with the advantage of being horseless.  Sometimes the right questions are not asked, but observed.  Intuition comes from paying attention and reading between the lines.  The purpose of research should be to uncover the consumer’s tension, to reveal the problem that needs to be solved and to confirm that you actually solved it.  That said, it takes judgment to make sure that your solution hasn’t created new problems, for instance, creating an ugly car that few people really want. The iPhone developers asked important “what if” questions- what if there was no keyboard (touch screen), how can we make searching for things more convenient (Siri). Other Smartphone makers seem to be asking themselves “how can I make an iPhone that doesn’t violate copyright laws.”  Instead, they should be trying to solve problems that the iPhone might not solve for certain segments of users.  It’s amazing what they might discover if they only asked and observed.

Amanda Weller


M.S. Candidate 2011 | Integrated Marketing Communications
Twitter: @amandaweller|email

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