The Better Product Fallacy

From a previous post there was a summarization of “Trout On Strategy“.  This is the kind of book that stays with you even though it is fairly short.  One of the ideas that has been floating around since reading it is that having a better product does not mean that it will be successful.  In other words, just because your product is perceived as being better inside the company, does not mean that customers will perceive it that way.

Jack Trout points out the only reality of what makes a product better exists within the mind of the consumer.  It is wrong to assume that building a superior product to the competition will be enough.  It is a mistake to think that by only pointing out the “truth” through sales and marketing will provide a market win.  The truth is that most consumers already think they know what is the best and that even though the products they use may be “inferior” there is little chance that they will change their minds.

Just think about Coke and Pepsi.  Pepsi fought for decades to convince people that Pepsi tasted better.  Instead of getting market dominance, they only got second place to Coke.  Later they realized that their opportunity came from targetting the “Pepsi Generation”.  So, it is not so much about direct comparison with an existing product that wins but rather positioning the product into an area that the current competing product was a weakness with.

It seems to be a common mistake for companies to focus on building a “better” product.  In the distant past Citrix was convinced that multiuser OS/2 applications was where the action was.  The engineering team worked very hard to produce what was in many ways better than the original OS/2 implementation.  They truly believed they had a product that could take on Unix for multiuser terminal users and win.  Unfortunately both the OS/2 and Unix market did not think so.  It was very difficult to convince people and even more difficult to translate this into revenue.  It was not until Citrix embraced supporting NetWare, DOS, and Windows 3.1 with remote applications that things began to turn around (WinView).  The turn around was largely based on customer feedback and the weaknesses of anyone else being able to produce a multiuser DOS and Windows system (without being based on DOS or Windows).

It is a hard lesson to learn with any company and even any product.  Engineers (and even executives) tend to fall in love with certain technologies and products.  This love can translate into the belief that it is the best possible solution.  The trouble comes from thinking that the battle is based solely on merit and that everyone thinks like an engineer.  Obviously this is not true.  People need to see what makes it different with a focus on an obvious weakness of the currently leading product.  What a producer sees as a difference that is better might not perceived that way by the customer.  For example, just by making it slightly faster or slightly cheaper is not going to get anyone that excited.  The difference has to be shocking and obvious.  Most likely it has to be a difference where the competition does not do anything even close to the same.

We tend to be most impressed by things that act differently (but better) than previous products.  Once our mind has latched onto that new product, we tend to shut out the newcomers unless they repeat the same pattern of being impressed.  For example, most Google users would not switch to Live search simply because they see no real benefit in doing so.  On the surface, they basically look the same.  It really isn’t about “better” if someone already has the mind share of that particular product space.  It’s more about ignoring the product strengths of competitors and targeting the weak spots extensively.  With Google, a number of weaknesses could be pinpointed if someone really wanted to attack their market.  The same is true of any product.  The key is becoming best at something the competitors cannot do or will not do.

I will end with a brief quote from Jack Trout that shows how difficult the challenge is to change minds:

The single most wasteful thing you can do in marketing today is to try to change a human mind. Once a mind is made up, it’s almost impossible to change.


Live near Brisbane, Australia. Software developer currently focused on iOS and Android. Avid Google Local Guide

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