Is Your Understanding of Quality Frozen?
When I was growing up and for most of my adult life, Kodak film was the film of choice for almost all still photography consumers in the U.S. and many other countries. Professional or advanced amateur photographers used Japanese or German brands for some purposes, but for the average Joe, the word “film” was interchangeable with “Kodak”.
As Seth Godin recently wrote in his blog Misunderstanding quality:
“Kodak…ruled their world. They were as close to a monopoly as they could get, for generations.”
He goes on to posit that Kodak’s big mistake was misunderstanding how consumers’ attitudes to quality were changing over several generations. Instead of wanting higher and higher quality images, most consumers came to want cheaper, easier, and more readily distributable images.
Kodak served the professionals fairly well, but completely missed the boat on the masses. Seth’s conclusion from this is we should avoid the trap of equating product perfection with what the consumer always wants.
The upshot of that is that marketers need to tirelessly seek insight into how consumer preferences and needs are changing. Market research is a part of that process, but the real super stars are those who can anticipate what consumers want before the consumer even realizes it.
In most industries, that requires engineers, designers and marketers working together closely, and thinking out of the box.
In all industries, a company with a monopoly or near monopoly lock on a market is at tremendous risk of stumbling badly. Monopolies breed hubris, and hubris invites blindness into the leadership suite. That can result in a perfect storm.
Another essay which caught my attention on a somewhat related topic was written by Dr. Joe Webb, an analyst specializing in print media. Webb writes about U.S. consumer publisher Conde Nast, and the relative success they are having in fine-tuning and redefining how print fits into the multi-channel media mix, and what differentiates its attractiveness to consumers.
This is noteworthy because the magazine business has been in a funk since 2002, and many analysts have concluded that the death of print is inevitable.
Webb focuses on Conde Nast’s VOGUE as a success story of a magazine which has increased ad pages relative to industry averages by building on the strength of the brand and redefining the ways in which the print version is cross-leveraged and integrated with its other platforms.
Conde Nast spent US$1 million on research last year, focused largely on better understanding competitors as well as the consumer’s changing needs.
Webb’s conclusion is summed up in the title of the article:
He also observes:
“Vogue is in the fashion business. The research they do gives them a position where they can lead their audience in their thinking and their wants and needs. They set a trend. Is your business well-versed enough to counsel your client about what’s ahead in media and how you’re capable to help them understand it?”
Full disclosure: I’ve been involved in print and other forms of media for more than 40 years, so I am no doubt biased to some extent against the “death of print” prediction.
But I see parallels with the Kodak story. Are you and I taking less photos these days than in times past? No way. Quite the opposite. We’re just taking, sharing, editing and distributing them in very different ways.
Strong magazine brands which do the research and have the foresight to anticipate changing consumer tastes and preferences for content consumption on multiple platforms have a very bright future.
Those that fail to grasp this insight and deliver on the new quality equation will go the way of the dinosaurs. A big, powerful, arrogant dinosaur can still end up as a fossil on some remote hillside.
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