Customers don’t want a 1/4-inch drill; they want a 1/4-inch hole.
So said Ted Levitt and his article, “Marketing Myopia,” stands as a classic.
In my own experience at Hewlett-Packard Medical Electronics, our engineers were positively charmed by their inventions, but what the savvier marketing folks understood was that the patient’s vital signs were not the central reason the equipment was purchased – although it was very important – but more to the point, the physicians and staff wanted a trend line.
We “hire” products to do jobs.
Some years ago there was the “CB craze.” The Citizen’s Band radios were all the rage, especially among truckers. Driving an 18-wheeler, alone, over miles of interstate can be a lonely life and the CB radio became an instant fixture. There was even a hit single about truckers called “Convoy” where the CB radio was a “star.”
CB is still around, but the cellular phone has largely supplanted it. Today, a strong signal and the stored phone numbers of good friends are important, but it the days of the CB, people talked pretty much to strangers.
The CB radio of old was bedecked with knobs that could be twisted and turned and tuned. At the time a CB could be purchased for about $39.99 – and it could be tweaked for hours on end.
A group of bright engineers decided that all this was too much work and they came up with a one-button electronic CB radio. Simply press the button and the electronics would zoom, lock the signal, and voila!
It was listed at $200 and word has it that exactly 3 were ever sold. Perhaps it was bad marketing, poor distribution channels, or too high a price to pay.
However, I think that what happened was that the engineers had all the fun and took the fun away from the guys on the long haul who filled the miles of road twisting, tweaking, and tuning the knobs.