It is often the small things that we neglect to notice as we build our world-changing products and companies and raise ever larger amounts of funding. I have heard over and over in sales pitches, job interviews, panel discussions and the like, why this product is the next big thing and why current and future users will love it only for said product to never reach awareness and adoption beyond the pioneers largely comprised of members of the tech industry.
In so many cases at least in my humble opinion it has nothing to do with the product being a problem but rather the packaging and the message. Often when I am presented a new brand or product, I ask the person representing the brand to sell it to me in an elevator pitch. More often than not I hear something to the effect of;
- “xxxxxbrand is like the wellknownbrand of whatever the industry they are trying to capture” or
- “xxxxxbrand is the best and superlative adjective way to do x task”
Now the latter has been a sales pitch since the time of the dinosaurs and the former has become the fad of the last few years in tech to ride another company’s success. However that sales pitch may speak well to tech media (of which I am very guilty myself), tech savvy VCs and early adopter/tech customers but really does nothing for the mass market. Because if you think about it why would you care to use a product from an industry who you have no interest in unless it actually benefited your life.
Let’s look at a couple of examples of recent times of 2 tech companies and products that clearly could benefit a mainstream audience; one that penetrated the mass market and one that has not; (I also want to be fair and look at two tech products that are still live today and where future is still unknown because it always easy to look in hindsight at product that has succeeded or failed in long run)
Dropbox gained early acclaim and usage from the tech industry via a viral video created by one of its founders showing how seamless the ability to share files across devices was regardless of the operating system be it Mac, Windows, iOS or Android. They took a highly technical problem and created a user experience that was similar to one most people do every day with moving files between folders. The rest is history but the reason Dropbox is so widely used by mainstream folks is not because of that viral video or even because of their product innovation. It is because now parents and kids and friends across the globe can share large amounts of photos with each other that the practical limits of email did not allow and was not condusive to social media. In other words the first experience most mainstream users often had with Dropbox was to receive or send vacation or event pics to a loved one easily. I don’t know Dropbox’s marketing plan but the fact that they now autoprompt you to synch your photos with Dropbox every time you connect your smartphone or digital camera to your computer suggests they realize their initial drawing power too.
The funny thing about including Google+ here is that “officially” it probably has more users than Dropbox and may even have more mainstream name recognition because of the growth of the Android platform, the dominance of Google search and gmail as well as the Google brand and ability to promote its own products. I am talking about it as its general ambition as a mainstream social network and the reality is the hardcore advocates of Google+ as platform and social network outside of Google itself largely are within the tech industry. The fundamental reason being is, Google’s strongly persuaded online prompts not withstanding, is the average person doesn’t understand either Google+ is supposed to and more importantly what value it brings them. Facebook in their minds is the go to place to interact and share with friends and Twitter is their go to place to share with the wider world but Google+ general pitch is to both those things better. Arguably it does do that as arguably Bing produces better search results than Google but as Microsoft has found out with Bing and as I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t matter if the product is better by a matter of degrees, people wont use or buy something they see ads no real value to them beyond their current habits.
The black box truth is if you go to a tech event where you are exposed to a lot of new products and technology you will see a lot of cool things, smart people and innovative ideas. The reality for most of us is that just like if you go to an auto show, bridal show or even a local bookstore, most of what you observe regardless of your reaction at the time will be forgotten in a few days at most.
The reason for this is not because the product or idea is not great, it is because we in the industry forget that unless we understand and solve someone else’s problem and then present it in that light to them, then all we are really doing is trying to impress our peers.
PS: I understand the irony of me dooming Google+ as a Social Network in the long run and having a +1 share link below this post but hey Google is search and it represents one of the many signals of their algorithm 🙂