Researching New Technologies within Context

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It seems intuitive to some but we encounter numerous situations where new products or new technologies are launched into the marketplace without a thorough understanding of the context in which they will be used. An all too familiar occurrence with technology transfer situations, the failure to understand the processes that drive the use of a product will leave the product open to misinterpretation, misuse and competitive displacement.

It’s the old “build it and they will come” mentality; only now, the need to understand usage context is even more important. From games to electric cars to home crafts, creating competitive advantage is, more often than not, a function of designing to use.  As the world goes flat and technology foundations are easily replicated (read your favorite off-shore manufacturing country), competitive advantage goes to the company who understands the customer’s behavior and understands the time, place and manner of product need. Is an Apple IPad really that technologically different? There are at least a dozen major companies chasing them with knockoff products. The difference, and any Apple user will tell you, is in the intuitive use of the product; in the cover design that easily stands up as a monitor; in the fact that there is only one cord for virtually any connection; in that the product doesn’t have a hoard of connections, each accompanied by a cadre of drivers, connections and ultimately problems.

People don’t like to change. Fit a product within that context and you stand a much better chance of creating a successful product. I hate buying gas. I loathe the fact that my money contributes to the excess of Dubai.  Yet, I will not buy an electric car until it will last one normal day of driving and will recharge when I park it in the garage. Don’t change my normal daily pattern and I am an immediate buyer. Before I get attacked for my lack of environmental concern, consider that the entire history of market behavior and all the academic research is on my side. It is what it is.

When PlazaBridge Group is asked to do market research, we gravitate to the context of the product. In doing so, we gain an understanding that makes future design and feature priority decisions much easier to get right.  Don’t talk to customers about your product. Ask them about their day; ask them about when things go right and when they go wrong. Ask them how they like to buy and how they go about beginning to use it. The first impression in a product is critical; just look at the return rates of clothing.

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