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Smart Everything…But Does It Matter to You?

Marion Debruyne

Marion Debruyne, author of Customer Innovation, reflects on the recent Consumer Electronics Show and outlines three key mistakes marketers should avoid.

When a new year launches, so does the yearly ritual of the Consumer Electronics Show. It is the event of the year where everybody who is anybody in the consumer electronics industry gathers to flaunt their latest innovations. Covered by business press, industry watchers and bloggers around the world, it is the opportunity to see what companies have been working on and which new products will soon be on the market. Products like the sleep device that not just monitors your own sleep but also that of your entire family. The pacifier that measures your baby's temperature at the same time. The patch that measures your calorie consumption during a workout. The 4K television. Marvels of smart technology. But also marvels of consumer insight? Does your teenage son really want you to monitor his sleep pattern? Do you really want an electronic gadget in your baby's mouth?

Here are 3 key mistakes to avoid:

  1. Feature bloat: This is the phenomenon where features are being piled on in an effort to differentiate from competition. The resulting feature creep eventually leads to feature fatigue with customers. The digital camera leaders learned this lesson the hard way when they were beaten by a start-up company that launched a cheap, small and simple camera on the market that was in many ways inferior to the existing products.(1) But instead of having to read manuals the size of a “Russian novel”, users could use this camera right away. Two years after its launch, the Flip camera captured 20% of the market, taking incumbents with much more sophisticated products by total surprise. 
  2. Overshooting: Overshooting is the phenomenon where companies enhance products on features which already exceed the requirements of the majority of the market. A key signal of overshooting is when companies improve on features but customers are increasingly unwilling to pay premium prices. Another signal of overshooting is when the high-end segment of the market seems to become smaller and smaller. 
  3. Mistaking features for benefits: When all obvious options are maxed out, the way to still differentiate products is by searching for even the slightest difference that can distinguish you from competitors. This often leads to value presumption: when we the seller possesses an attribute that is different from competitors, we automatically assume that customers will care about it.

Let's see next year which of the innovations presented at CES actually made it in the market and became a bestseller. And which suffered from the 3DTV syndrome. Called the "darling of CES" in 2010, 3DTV was written off by 2012. Will 4k television go the same route?


Marion Debruyne's Customer Innovation has been shortlisted for the CMI's prestigious Management Book of the Year award. To learn more about the award and Kogan Page books which have been nominated, please visit our CMI page.

(1)  New York Times, Start-Up Releases Smaller Version of Flip Camcorder, June ‘, 2008.


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