Predicting technological success

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Forrester Research have a new product to sell its customers; a silver bullet solution called TechPotential to help reduce the risk of launching unsuccessful consumer products and services by being able to predict future sales.

The TechPotential methodology is based on examining three elements:

  • A prediction of consumer demand based on a sophisticated estimate (which I am sure will involve market research)
  • An assessment of the design and usability factors of the product, this is described as the key factors that encourage ‘word-of-mouth’ promotion
  • A realistic evaluation of other factors such as marketing and distribution

Forrester describes the kind of product benefit attributes that can be seen in successes such as the iPod:

  • The benefits need to outshine the technology, really successful technologies (like radio, television or electricity) become invisible
  • The benefits must be in line with costs – whilst Forrester defines the cost in purely monetary terms it would also be the amount of effort required to get the product up and running, for instance putting your contacts in a PDA or ripping your CDs to iTunes
  • Benefits must be simple extensions of existing behaviours – this explains why so many web 2.0 services will fail. Since users don’t see their relevance and they would require behavioural adjustment. However this doesn’t take account of the kind of behavioural changes that has made blogs and services like flickr so popular or really disruptive technologies.

Forrester then goes to illustrate how its approach predicts existing successes like Netflix.

Ok so what’s the value in this approach? Well, from a marketing person’s point of view the ability to point the finger of blame elsewhere that they’d done everything possible to ensure a successful product launch.

The thing of it is that even though companies may not apply this rigorous technique, their is often the internal wisdom that knows when there is a disaster in the making.

David Pogue in one of his columns for the New York Times discussed about how people within a company often know a disaster is in the making but don’t stop the project before launch because of three factors:

  • It would be rude to or rock the boat to say something
  • They need the money, so will keep the show (and their jobs) on the road for as long a possible
  • What if they were wrong, there is a still a certain element of senior management knows best

I’ve worked with people who have known a product or service is a dog, but has been driven on to the market by the will of a senior management champion. News of its failure is dampened internally and the search for the new, new thing starts again.

I guess that’s why Andy Kessler has been quoted as saying that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.