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Why Your Marketing Approach Should be as Sophisticated as Your Digital Technology

We’re all in a hurry today to speed into the digital realm, where devices are increasingly interconnected and new value is created from big data and the ability to manage processes and people more effectively. And this change isn’t just happening in consumer devices. From machinery up-time on factory floors and smart grid energy savings to guaranteed production yields and real-time asset monitoring, digital applications have the potential to generate mountains of data and answer myriad questions in any industry. But, those mountains of data also create a slew of new problems to solve relating to its management and application, which in turn presents even more opportunities to innovate, and so on and so on. I’m sure you get the picture.

But before we forge ahead into this exciting new world, perhaps we should pause for a moment to ask ourselves, “do we really know what we’re getting ourselves into?” While we all wish we had unlimited time and budgets that would allow us to keep throwing innovations and ideas at the wall to see what sticks, the reality is that most of us don’t. And too often in the early stages of new product development OEM’s focus too heavily on the technology itself and the potential of their future data output. Unfortunately, this is often done without sufficient data input and/or with incorrect assumptions about the market for their innovations. In other words, we have far too many OEMs envisioning the sunny view from the top of the mountain without clearly identifying the best path to get there.

How then do we flip this flawed approach around? Maybe the answer is to pause and make sure that we’ve answered (or even considered!) some of the fundamental questions that have confronted OEMs from the start.

  • How much do we know about the market for the product? How has it changed? How will it change? How big is it?
  • Do we understand who our customers are (they may have changed)? How will they react to the product? How will they use it?
  • Do we understand what customers are willing to pay? Does that price impact how you should go to market?
  • How will we track awareness and perceptions over time to defend market share and respond to changes in what customers’ value?

As we take this pause – I assume now that you’re at a full-stop, contemplating your strategic direction – let’s take a closer look at some of these questions and why innovators should even care about them.

Discovering Your New World

Knowing the market for your device is more than knowing how things have historically worked. It also entails a thorough understanding of how the market has changed and what it may become. Rapid advancement in technology and connectivity has allowed new players to enter the game and ushered in new ways of doing things. At the same time, many of the familiar players may be seeing diminished, if not disappearing roles.

These changes are more than just academic and can impact the very structure of how OEMs go to market. Traditionally, the path for getting products to market has been clear and linear (Figure 1) as OEMs focused on design and production and allowed their channel partners, including distributors and dealers, to handle the infrastructure for getting products into their customers’ hands and providing service. In this scenario, OEMs were somewhat removed from their customer.

FIGURE 1: “Old” path from OEMs to customers

Path_from_OEMs_to_Customers_charts-01

In the digital world, OEMs find themselves perceptibly and very practically closer to their customers. Managing connected functionality and the data it generates is now in the hands of OEMs, resulting in opportunities beyond allowing channel partners to handle the details of distribution and service (Figure 2). OEMs may be faced with developing new capabilities and new service models to take advantage of opportunities to interact with customers directly for the first time.

Figure 2: “New” path from OEMs to customers

Path_from_OEMs_to_Customers_charts-02

To help illustrate this idea, let’s take a look an example of a product we all know – the lock on your front door (pick your poison – Schlage, Kwikset, etc.). Traditionally, these OEMs developed the locks, the distributor got them to retail partners and/or dealers and they retailers managed the customer relationship (sales, service, etc.). With the advent of connected locks, this model is disrupted and redefined. While the OEM may still utilize its channel partners to get products in stores, the data generated by the now-connected locks goes directly back to the OEM. It’s now the OEM who understands what the homeowner is experiencing. The OEM can now address customer needs and concerns remotely. The OEM may, in fact, come to know their homeowners more intimately than a retailer could ever hope. This shift in access to the customers using their products redefines the relationship and opens up additional opportunities for OEMs.

Failing to understand these changes to the market and how they impact not only the players in the game, but the size of the field, will make it difficult to maintain ground – let alone grow your business. Now is the time for OEMs to be asking themselves – “Who really is my customer now?” or better still “Who are my customers now?”

Knowing the People Who Live There

Knowing your target audience used to be a simpler matter. But, as mentioned above the notion of who and what constitutes a “customer” may be changing. In addition, the digital world has made formerly complex tasks and processes accessible to non-specialized, less-trained audiences. An understanding of the seasoned professional is no longer sufficient. Simplification of processes and devices for monitoring them now allows workers to take direct measurement in-field with small hand-held devices, or better still, to conduct all monitoring remotely in the safety of a central location. Problems are diagnosed in real-time and adjustments made on the fly for minimizing risk and optimizing performance. Each of these innovations is based on an understanding of who is part of the process, what they need and how they want to get it.

The players and their expectations for the commercial sector continues to change and the same trend can be seen in most industries. Innovators must do what they can to get inside the head of each of their expanding list of customers to understand both their emotional and rational needs. They must understand where and how value is created for them – whether that value can be monetized or not. Innovators must understand not only what customers need today, but also what they’ll need tomorrow.

Figuring Out What Those People Want

While understanding who your customers are and what they value is key to developing products that meet your customers’ needs, it will be necessary to test your new offering with them to truly understand its impact. Taking a “concept testing” approach will drive both an understanding of the broader appeal of the offering, as well as determining specific aspects that are most valuable to consumers. This is especially true as we deliver innovative ideas that change the very way we do things (look no further than the Apple iPod and digital music for a familiar example).

The value of utilizing data and testing concepts with your target market extends beyond the nuts and bolts of the product itself. Additional, yet fundamental, issues can also be addressed – how they’ll use the device, what adjacent services they might like and how they should be delivered, who they consider the competition to be, how much they’d be willing to pay, etc. Testing your innovations, refining your approach, prioritizing features, developing new delivery systems and services and then doing it over and over can be the key difference between something your customers will like and those they can’t live without.

Keeping Them Wanting More

Getting to market with your product and establishing a customer base is only part of the battle, especially in this connected and data-driven world. Maintaining hard-earned market share can be just as much a struggle, if not more. Managing your product lines and your brand are key to success in the market as new competitors continue to appear and customer demands continue to shift.

Any number of measures can be useful for managing your digital products, from market share to awareness and perceptions. The key is to continue tracking your place in the market, so that you can respond to competitive and customer-driven changes, proactively managing your path rather than responding only after it’s too late.

How do we, then, move forward into the digital future more strategically? The answer is one we’ve likely known most of our lives – we need to slow down and reflect, to gather information and to process it. Remember taking that strategic pause to get the right data will always take less time than the time it takes to unravel a bad business decision. You need good data in to get good data out.

 

 

Shawn Oreschnick
Director of Marketing & Analytics

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