Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Marketing Must Consider Ease of Use
When Developing Technology Products

Marketing it seems to me has a responsibility for developing products that customers can use. But in her thesis of the Technical University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Elke den Ouden discovered sad evidence that we are failing the mark.

When you consider the number of "new technology" products that now fill the shelves -- MP3 players, home cinema systems with remote controls so complex we can't figure out how to TiVo a program, home security systems that go beep in the middle of the night, computerized this and computerized that ... we get a bit overwhelmed. But it is our job as marketers to make these things so they work simply and easily.

E;le's thesis project revealed that the average consumer in the United States will struggle for 20 minutes to get a device working, before giving up.

Product developers, brought in to witness the struggles of average consumers, were astounded by the havoc they created.

She also gave new products to a group of managers from consumer electronics company Philips, asking them to use them over the weekend. The managers returned frustrated because they could not get the devices to work properly.

Most of the flaws, she discovered, were originated in the first phase of the design process: product definition. This shows marketing to be out of touch with the customer. Then we wonder why our promotions don't work, why sales don't hit the goal, why customers get angry.


At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. With technology on the rise, product developers forget that people don't want to have to learn a device in order to benefit from what it's got to offer. If you've got a product that is simple, then people will flock to it. I am currently a student and learning new technologies daily. There is such a huge world of possibilities, but if the public can't access them or learn to work them in a few minutes, they are doomed.

Costumers won’t give a product a chance if they have to think about the considerable investment of time required to educate themselves. That is something consumers do not want. If marketers forget that, they have lost touch with their public. As you mentioned, if this happens (which it usually does in the beginning phases of the design process), an organization spends countless amounts of money on a product that was hopeless to begin with.

Baby steps. I think an important message for many tech. marketers is that you have to start with user-friendly products before you move to products with more complicated instructions.

Good Post,
Emily Melton

At 1:09 AM, Anonymous Sarah said...

I will have to share this post with my mom. She will find it refreshing to know that most people spend 20 minutes trying to get a device working before giving up. Whenever I'm home, she has me put music on her mini Ipod because she has no idea how to do it herself.

I don't understand what marketers are thinking when they make these products. I also don't understand why they package products the way they do. If a CD is meant to be played, why is it sealed in layers of plastic that need scissors, time and energy to open it?

Ease and convenience are important reasons for buying a product. For example, TiVo let's us skip through the commercials and watch our favorite shows at times that are convenient for us. However, what good is TiVo is the consumer can't work the remote control? My dad has even labeled all the TV boxes and remotes to make it easier for my mom, but it's no use. She gets so frustrated trying to work TiVo (and the TV and remotes) that she just gives up. This isn't the effect marketers should wish upon their consumers.

A product may be cutting-edge and look "cool," but that's not enough. Ensuring the consumer's comfort with a product should be a primary concern.

It is important for marketers to know their audience before making products that are going to drive the audience in the other direction.

At 2:32 PM, Blogger amy said...

I agree with Elke's thesis. The technology that is constantly growing and become more and more detailed is something that is typically over the heads of the majority of the market. Most of public that is is out there with money to spend is older and typically less familiar with computers, ipods, and any other new technology that has developed recently. The problem is the younger members of the market have the knowlege and experience with this technology, but the older members are the ones with the money. Marketers need to find a way to build a bridge over this gap. They need to be more willing to take the time to inform the older members of the market on what these new products are, what they are used for, and how they are used. If they do not observe this problem soon, then I predict they will begin to suffer in their sales.

At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Amanda said...

As someone who is not the most techno-savvy person, I found your post most interesting. Sometimes I feel that new product developers focus on getting the newest and neatest product features into their product without remembering that not everyone is that up-to-speed.

For instance, we started using a tv with a cable box. The remote control for the new gadget has so many buttons that it took all four girls in our house to figure it out. Emily is right. Marketers and developers have got to remember their publics. They should spend money on making a product usable for everyone, not on making it the neatest technology out there.

Directions are also of key importance. There are some people, like my dad, who never read the instructions. But then there are others, like my mom, who will read the VCR and digital instructions front to back. If instructions are clear cut and concise, people might not have such a hard time using new technology products.

Marketers need to find ways to present techonology as being user-friendly (and make sure that the product really is!) And make sure you have clear directions for use!

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Heather said...

Dale, I enjoyed your post about Elke den Ouden's discoveries because I can relate to this problem. It seems to me that every day a new technology product is coming out. My generation is supposed to be more technology savy than the previous generation, and I do understand the majority of the things that are on the shelves in stores. But there is that small percentage of products that I need help with understanding or getting to work.

My parents' generation and grandparents' generation are a different story. My mom just bought a DVD player this past Christmas. It is still sitting in the box at my house because she is waiting for me to come home and set it up for her. She fits into this group of consumers that will give the product a chance and struggle with it for awhile, then give up. My grandparents are also a little behind schedule when it comes to technology. My grandmother got a cell phone in the last year and is always asking me or my brother how to turn the volume up or turn it off because she can not figure it out.

The majority of people who try out a new product they are unfamiliar with will get frustrated within a certain time frame because they could not get it to work. They get angry at themselves because they think they should know how to work new technology. It is the job of a marketing department to clearly define the product, what it can do and how a consumer can use it in their promotions. New technology needs to be marketed as user-friendly for different generations so they will want to buy it because they can actually use it. If the design process gets better then there won't be as many angry consumers out there who can't operate a DVD player.


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