Performs as expected

I was at a session today where the speaker discussed customer evaluations of a product. He categorized customer responses into three binary sections 1) performs as expected 2) small and better changes to the baseline 3) thrilled. I believe that is an excellent way to differentiate the classes of products that are on the market from this company. However, this new industry they are seeking to come to works a bit differently, from what I have seen.

I used to work for the automobile industry. I had participated in similar discussions about product and product design. One key and baseline concept that seemed to be missing today was the idea that a car is more than a product. People form attachments to their cars. For many, as one of the first market insight managers I spoke to said, and as the others repeated often and loudly, a car is more than a purchase, in the same way a home is more than a purchase. It is a place to retreat to. For people in troubled marriages, for people who are being bullied at work or at home (or at both places), a car is the only resort for peace and a few treasured moments of solitude. Long commutes become less of a nightmare when it brings you privacy.

It may be a difficult concept for some to relate to. To me, it strongly resonated. I had faced a dire lack of privacy for the longest time. I had been living in places and with people where there was little to no respect for personal boundaries and solitude. My car, when I had first purchased it, had been only a tool to commute, to do my grocery shopping, to get places. Then it had turned into a zone of respite and retreat, where I had been able to think and read and be myself. I had enjoyed driving far away from people and sitting on the hood with my kindle or a book, under large trees in Berkeley, or even further in the wine country.  I have even a highly efficient writing configuration that I know by heart, where I can splay myself across the seats and get occasional spirited, inspired ideas onto paper, into words. I had lived in a situation where I had feared, occasionally, and perhaps unreasonably or illogically, about my personal safety. I had been reluctant, on some days, to end my commute, to come home, where home had lost all connotations of warmth and belonging that it had been once associated with. Things are different now. I have a greater degree of freedom in my life, even if I wish I had more freedom when it came to my life’s choices. Things are better, and even when I am overcome by an intense need to whinge, I cannot forget that. My car is now again a tool of transportation. I can’t forget what it had been though. It amazes me how the automobile industry understood that, how they had translated far more beyond what most businesses would do; beyond only considering associations to persona, career choices, and a statement of wealth.

Of course, that industry has been around for many decades. They are only building upon the shoulders of what was done before, and they have had the luxury of time and considerable periods of profits to learn and reap from. It is unfair to compare what they do to what modern businesses trying to enter their market is striving for. They are entrenched in the past, and have troubles on a multitude of fronts, starting with their supply chains and vendors, to the technological races they are losing out on. There is a new world now that their Superbowl ads aren’t reaching, that their product managers and marketing magicians can’t seem to fathom. The future won’t be kind to them, grasped as they are in a chokehold they have not been before, being forced to innovate and come to production at a pace they are not comfortable with, and failing inevitably, but I’ll think fondly of the few things that they had done right.