The “better mousetrap syndrome” is where a basic, cheap, functional and familiar product is reinvented with something that does the same thing, but is potentially better and costs more. It’s a recognized trap for product designers and companies, and yet it still occurs.
Here are two examples of this syndrome that I recently experienced:
1. I was assisting an associate respond to a request for tactical marketing support for a new product from a relatively established company entering the fiercely competitive mobile space. The more we discussed this the more it became apparent that this company had a solution but didn’t really know the problem they were trying to solve. Their solution provided certain advantages /benefits but they hadn’t found out if these were something that their mainstream customers really needed or wanted.
Having been actively involved with a startup that offers a new technology solution to an age old problem, I have spent much time exploring the benefits of minimum viable products and the use of business model frameworks to best test and define customer needs and value propositions. It is therefore mind blowing to see that companies don’t learn from this process before rushing blindly into product development, market extensions or new products; or more significantly, close their ears when being informed about the folly they are about to commit.
2. During a 2009 visit to Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona the following astute observations were made about the mobile business by a colleague from outside the industry:
- There’s a tendency to start with a technology and build it into a product, instead of starting with consumer behavior insight and creating a product to serve it.
- This industry tends to approach development in a sequential manner: firstly, system and network decisions are made to accommodate long infrastructure lead times. Then devices and user interfaces are developed, next applications and services are developed and, finally, a consumer proposition is made – but this is often late in the development cycle when critical decisions have already been made.
These perceptive observations returned to me as I attended a press conference at this year’s MWC in Barcelona, when the EU sponsored initiative to create 5G was announced. At this same conference, and indeed over the past 12 months, I have heard and read nothing but moans and groans about the sorry business situation of mobile operators as voice revenues decline, data volumes increase and over the top providers piggy back on their networks, providing the messaging services that consumers want instead of operator provided expensive text and picture messaging services.
Has this industry learned nothing over the last 6 years? The OTT and software startups see the need to create a product and are, in the main, testing and refining their product and pivoting in accordance with lessons learned from consumers. The mobile industry, on the other hand, seems hell bent on creating a better mouse trap without checking that it’s something that the customer wants or, more importantly, is willing to pay for.
There are mechanisms that can bring consumer understanding to the forefront of the product development process; there are also business model frameworks that force holistic thinking about the solution, value proposition, and customer experience across all the business touch points. In some cases they are freely available and in others they are proprietary, but they are there for companies to explore. In today’s connected world, solutions shouldn’t be continually created for no known problem or for no identified customer need.
To learn more about effective approaches to more successful product development, contact us at email@example.com
Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global