Does It Make Sense to Ignore Consumer Interest When Designing Technology Products?

Amazon débuted yet another smart phone targeted to the broad consumer market, this one named the “Fire Phone”, in mid June 2014. In an interview with Greg Bensinger, which was published by the Wall Street Journal, titled Amazon’s Bezos on How the Fire Phone Is Like Chocolate Ice Cream, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO expressed his opinion on whether ISVs should listen to consumers, and, subsequently, produce products, within their reach, to satisfy consumer needs.

This nugget popped up in the middle of Mr. Bezos’ reply to a broad question posed by Mr. Bensinger, the core of which amounted to “why are you sill diversifying products, horizontally, with a hardware device?”

Bezos replied as follows: “It’s easy to do something unique if you’re not constraining yourself by customer interest.” This short sentence of fourteen words nicely sums up several variations on what this writer calls “engineering driven product marketing”.

In the 1980s this approach provided the operating juice behind “solution without a problem” products.

In the first decade of this century (and even, perhaps, to this day) this notion provided the core of “ready, fire, aim” product design for ISVs, who, unfortunately, confused the intended benefit of this product development method (which is to reduce time to market, while insulating a very early stage business from a poorly timed decision to deeply commit to a wrong product notion), with a laissez-faire product design mandate.

Mr. Bezos’s point, in the opinion of this writer, should not be taken as a recommended product marketing methodology by early stage ISVs, who may have a lot technical heft, but little understanding of what markets are looking for, simply because they either

  • haven’t sampled consumer interests, and requirements, or
  • have focused on, as Mr. Bezos’s notes in his statement, “building something unique”

The question of whether “uniqueness” amounts to anything, at all, as regards the potential of a specific product for a specific market can not be broadly answered. Commodity markets, like the smart phone market to which Mr. Bezos has introduced the Fire Phone have not reacted well to so-called “unique” products in the past. For example, the Ford Edsel was a big failure, as was “new Coke”.

Early stage ISVs, in this writer’s opinion, will do better in commodity markets by either lowering their cost of product manufacturing/consumer acquisition, or rethinking product platforms to truly meet unmet consumer needs.

Ira Michael Blonder

© IMB Enterprises, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder, 2014 All Rights Reserved

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