Couple of days back, I read that Flipkart’s online music service Flyte is shutting down. Flipkart is the biggest e-commerce website in India. Flyte was supposed to cash in on Flipkart’s brand equity and sell music. So what went wrong?
Remember this logo? It’s Google Wave – The revolutionary internet tool that was supposed to replace email, the de-facto communication tool of every person. Google thought that users would ride the wave and make it their first choice tool for messaging. It had a great start, but soon Google had to rework their strategy and discontinue the product.
It was little bit of email, little bit of chat and little bit of everything else. The curiosity value it had, made the users adoption easy. When Google announced that they were discontinuing the tool, thousands of users’ protested for discontinuing the tool. Was Google wrong in gauging users’ needs? Were the users not ready for this tool – was the product way ahead of its time? Can this be a case of Google making assumptions about user behavior and extrapolating the test results? Perhaps, there were business reasons too to discontinue the service.
Kelloggs Corn Flakes
Consider the case of Battle Creek (MI) based company, the brand we all are familiar with – Kelloggs. The cereal giant’s focus on Indian breakfast table has not generated enthusiastic response. It is a difficult proposition to enter into Indian food market for any American brand, that too in the breakfast category. It’s not just the ‘Indian-ness’ that is crucial to the brand adoption, the consumer / user needs to be probed deeper. India is a complex geography for business; anyone entering this market new or anew often takes cautious steps. Curious minds can refer to these books – ‘We are like that only‘ by Rama Bijapurkar & ‘It happened in India‘ by Kishore Biyani.
Hero Honda Street
The Indo-Japanese automotive venture, Hero Honda (now Hero Motors) slowly gained traction in India with its 4-stroke bikes. Thirteen years after it started (in 1984) and gaining great insights, it launched a rotary-gear 4-stroke motorcycle named Street. It was truly a revolutionary technology for urban commuters, the ease of riding, low maintenance and the Hero Honda trust factor – all these points stacked up to make it a success. I was one of the enthusiastic buyers :). I still drive one to this day. But the bike did not excite larger audience. Positioning of the product was not that great. The company discontinued the production in few years.
Aren’t consumers ready to experiment? Do they really know what they want? Equations like these are difficult to comprehend – there could be insights gathered from market research. But this research (user research) can also be done before the product is designed, right?
So what makes users buy any product? Their association of the brand is important. The ‘status’ the product imparts, may be important – having an iPhone or any cutting edge smart-phone may matter to some users. Some users may be looking only for the utilitarian value of the product. For many years, Hero Honda’s slogan for the bikes was “Fill it. Shut it. Forget it”. That was indeed sensing the pulse of Indian urban commuters.
Buying cars & bikes is different from shopping online. Buying apps is different from renting movies. Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, eBay care about your online presence and try to construct what you want based on your browsing history – looking at the activities, products you bought, things you recommended to your friends. There are massive data engines that slice and dice your online data to produce a unique persona – your persona that is marketable to other brands. Your persona defines what you buy, when you buy, for whom you buy, what do you do at the day time, what apps do you download, do you listen to the music in transit, etc.
This book might be a good reference to understand the psyche of buyers- ‘Buy.ology’ by Martin Lindstorm.
Steve Portigal of Portigal consulting has just released his new book – ‘Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights’. It is a great starting point for anyone who wants to understand the nuances and benefits of conducting user interviews.
Does gathering user insights really help? Yes.
Can you base line your decisions based on the gathered insights. May be.
Yes, may be. A decision maker may be of two types – one who wants to take a decision with a hint of data and one who go by the data. Gut-feel is always complemented with varying levels of data.
India’s mobile telephony market began its journey in 1994/95. Many operators were planning to enter the market and resorted to user and market research. One of the leading telecom operators did an exhaustive study covering many metros and arrived at one greatest insight that give them sleepless nights – ‘India is not ready for mobile service’.
Users did not feel the need to carry a phone everywhere they went. It was more of a distraction in their personal lives. Pagers were popular and sufficed the need for urgent communications. Carphones never made it to the Indian market. So what would a mobile make a difference?
The telecom operator decided to put aside the research report and launched the service. BPL Mobile (now branded as Loop Mobile) launched its mobile service in 1995 and became the first mobile service provider in India.
In 2004, I was undergoing certification from IDC IIT Mumbai in Human Computer Interaction (HCI). One of the subjects was contextual study – going to the users’ place of work, observing them, interviewing them and gathering insights. Our instructor told us that not to underestimate the power of ‘observation’ & ‘questioning’. His mantra was simple and I admired it – if you ask garbage questions you will get garbage answers :).
My friend Ninad and I chose to interview the laundry owner. Our objective was to understand how he conducted his business and see an opportunity of designing any product / service for him. We were surprised to see that the laundry owner was using the Nokia 3310 mobile (one of the most popular mobile at that time).
A little background about mobile – in 2004, mobile phone was not ubiquitous as it is now in India. The incoming and outgoing call charges were huge and the mobile usage was limited to very few.
While talking to the laundry owner, we discovered his daily activities, how he managed the business, etc. He was a literate person but he did not understand English (being native of Pune and Marathi being the first language). He then stumped us – he actually demonstrated how he used the mobile – Nokia 3310, which had English as the only language of operation.
He opened the texting application (Messages), went to the drafts folder, selected a message “Your clothes are ready for pickup”, typed in a customer mobile number and sent the message :).
He had learnt this from his son; a teenager and he understood that technology can do wonders to his business :).