“If only we could get more customers, this thing would really take off.”
Why hasn’t that happened yet? Well, it’s partly because no matter how cool your product is, there are forces conspiring against you.
The Four Forces
There are four forces at play when someone makes a decision to buy or use your product (shown above).
Many companies make an implicit assumption that if their new product has more/better features than a competing product, customers will transition to them. That’s simply not true; features aren’t nearly enough. You need:
Push: The consumer needs to have some problem or dissatisfaction with the solution they’re using now.
Pull: Your product needs to have a compelling feature set, ideally one that speaks to the problem they’re having.
To address Anxiety: Customers won’t implicitly trust you and your offering, and will worry about what bugs/issues they’ll run into.
To address Inertia: People have built up habits that will be hard to break. Installed base, existing integrations and behavior habits are all working against you.
Let’s step though an example to see how this works.
Switching from Android to Windows Phone
Microsoft realizes they’re behind in the smartphone race, and that many new users of Windows Phone will have to be former Android or iOS users. Android seems like the better target, with 22% of Android users surveyed in September 2012 saying they would switch to the iPhone 5 when it was released.
With this in mind, Microsoft released an Android app that scans what’s installed on your phone and recommends a substitute app for Windows Phone. In doing so, they’re addressing the forces of Inertia (“can I do what I’m used to with my phone?”) and Anxiety (“what will I be giving up?”).
So here’s one way the forces could play out:
Push: “This old Android phone as a very glitchy touchscreen.”
Pull: “Wow…this new Nokia is really elegant. It’s very smooth to go from screen to screen.”
To address Anxiety: “I wonder how good the reception is. I’ll keep an eye on that.”
To address Inertia: “Ah, perfect…I can still use Pandora to listen to music.”
If the Push and the Pull are greater than the combined Anxiety and Inertia, then the customer will switch from Android to Windows Phone. If not, they don’t switch. This example also illustrates how the forces play out differently for every individual.
Placing Your Bets
Even though each person experiences the forces in their own way, most of the time you will only release one product. So how do you position your offering for maximum switching?
The good news is, you will almost always see patterns in customer behavior (“everyone hates the glitchy screen”), and you can have some confidence you’re investing in the right areas. Even better, the patterns can emerge with less than 10 customer interviews. But the only way to tease out those patterns is by talking to customers.
You can’t rely on traditional market research, since it focuses on people’s feelings towards the product/brand and does not dive into usage patterns. Interviewing or observing customers is the only way to reliably map out the Push, Inertia and Anxiety your product will face as it enters the market. Don’t you want to know what you’re up against?
In Econ 101 terms, this comes down to understanding everything around the demand for your product. Framing this in terms of supply and demand also helps you see why you shouldn’t iterate your way through this problem. It’s wasteful to simply build something and obtain feedback, since that’s focusing on what you can supply instead of the demand. To gauge the demand, you can focus that more precisely. Figure out what people are doing now.