As the cost of computing technology has dropped and microprocessors have gotten smaller and smaller, the once fantastic idea of wearable technology (think Dick Tracy) is finally upon us. There’s been a lot of media hype recently about wearables, like Google Glass and the Nike FuelBand, as signifiers of a new cultural and computing era. The idea is that with the help of micro-computing technology, we are able to become a more optimized and efficient self.
But as this idea of the ‘digitized self’ becomes a reality and venture capitalists try to make bets on the next big thing, many new products are being developed that are not attuned to real-world consumer needs and concerns.
Privacy is a big issue that continually comes up in our qualitative research. Across categories – from healthcare, to banking, to in-store shopping, to gaming, to social media usage – most people want their information to be kept private (or at the least, not distributed without their consent). So far, businesses have ignored these desires with the justification that they have to share, use or sell consumer data to monetize a product or service. They rationalize this by saying that consumers like their product, it makes their life easier, and it’s a way to help continually optimize the consumer experience. But as wearables are becoming more integrated into our everyday lives, people are starting to be more vocal about their privacy concerns. An ingestible body sensor or digital diaper might be a terrific tool to help doctors diagnose patients, but where does that data wind up? What can businesses do to assure people that their digitized bodily data is protected and kept confidential – particularly with respect to patient/doctor privilege? Companies need to focus more time, money and thought into developing products that respect consumer’s real-world concerns.
Which brings me to my second point: companies are not listening to consumers. In the world of Silicon Valley, where the Lean Startup is king and the myth of Steve Jobs is woven into the cultural fabric, companies are creating a lot of new products that don’t actually solve people’s problems. These products have no “reason to be.” People are increasingly being bombarded with new apps, products, and services that are not solving for any real world need and thus not providing and real value to consumers. Companies need to be more strategic with their spending and new-product development initiatives. They must to spend more time with real people, finding out what their issues/challenges/problems are, and then innovate on that to produce solid solutions.
The common platitude used by champions of the lean startup is that market research is backwards-looking and uses dusty and contrived methodologies, like focus groups. If market research was like that, I wouldn’t want to be a part of it either. What is not understood by people working with the lean startup approach is that market research is not about testing ideas: it can and should be used to generate ideas. Crowd sourcing, co-creation and immersive anthropological techniques provide invaluable insights, guardrails and whitespace opportunities, that inspire new product and service solutions. Furthermore, research provides a powerful process for iterative innovation to optimize new products and services pre or post launch.
I’d like to think of this as Lean Startup 2.0. As opposed to just coming up with an idea – any idea – it’s about coming up with the best, most relevant and most impactful solution to a problem. At Kelton, some of our most exciting work is about marrying the potential of emerging technologies, with insights about real world consumer needs, to create meaningful solutions that have business impact.