Many products in the marketplace have reached or surpassed their functionality saturation point – that point where new features largely go unused and are no longer used as a competitive differentiator. Phones, many software applications, copiers, watches, cars, baby products and many other product categories have reached that point.
When trying to uncover customer needs for those product categories, product managers need to think beyond the product itself because it isn’t the product itself that customers are buying anymore.
Take cell phones – some people are buying and using them as ultra-lightweight computing devices, comparing them to small notebooks when making a buying decision. Others are buying them as a fashion statement. In both cases it’s not the phone needs that will lead to successful new products, it’s all about understanding the current fashion trends and a user’s mobile computing needs .
Or take the copier market – most copiers will have the same feature set as most other copiers in that price range and most will have a similar lifespan and lifetime maintenance cost. A small business owner may make her buying decision based on the financing options and upgrade plans that are available – in essence turning the copier selection and buying process into a financial product selection and buying process.
And how many people do you think buy baby products for their “product” features? Most are basing their decisions on safety factors – essentially buying safety products with a twist of fashion.
When looking around at product offerings in these categories, there is evidence that some companies are getting it. But there is also a ton of evidence that many product managers are still operating in the dark ages of “feature-itis.”