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Anything They Can Do, You Can Do Better

The line between becoming a pioneer and a “me-too” flop can be unclear when you’re in the weeds of development. When in doubt, ask yourself if you’d use your new product instead of the market leader’s. If the answer is yes, keep going. If it’s no, then stop and rethink.

Anything They Can Do, You Can Do Better

 

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Take a look at the first-class section on any airplane
today; it’s full of corporate leaders lugging around Walter Isaacson’s Steve
Jobs
biography,
searching for insights they can use to make their companies as successful as
Apple.

Here’s all they need to know: when Jonathan Ive, leader of Apple’s
design team, was asked about
the company’s goals when setting out to build a new product, he answered
simply, “To design and make better products; if we can’t make something
that is better, we won’t do it.”

That’s the key: If you’re not trying to make something
better, then stop now and give your job to someone who will. (And it doesn’t
count if you’re trying to make something different for the sake of being
different, or so you can say, “We have one of those, too.”) However, if you are
truly interested in developing a product that has the chance to change your
industry and your company, here’s how:

  • Make it cheaper. Even if it’s
    lacking features present in the original, a lower-priced, basic, yet still
    useful, version of the product could very well solve user needs better and
    opens up the possibility of ownership to a whole new set of people. That’s the
    strategy behind the Kindle Fire. Amazon made a conscious decision to produce a
    lower-priced tablet with fewer
    bells and whistles
    than the iPad, banking on the assumption that
    consumers wanted to surf the web on a tablet, regardless of 3G connectivity,
    abundant internal storage, built-in camera and microphone, GPS technology or
    Bluetooth. And they were right. Analysts have estimated that
    in the fourth quarter of 2011, Amazon sold 6 million Kindle Fire tablets,
    accounting for more than half of all Android tablet shipments in the period.
  • Make it more convenient. One of the
    great promises of technology is that it will make our must-do tasks more
    convenient. Your car, for example, may soon drive
    itself
    .ZocDoc cuts out the hassle of making doctors’ appointments by phone. A robot vacuums your home by
    itself. I’m not suggesting you reinvent a household appliance or beat Google to
    the self-driving car, but you should consider what you can do to add
    convenience to the lives of your users. That’s exactly what FreshDirect did. It
    took going to the grocery store–which, for New York City-dwellers, often meant
    buying only as much as they could carry–and improved the experience by making
    it more convenient. Now, almost any New York-area shopper can go to FreshDirect.com or the iPhone and
    Android apps to schedule the delivery of groceries and household goods right to
    their doors.
  • Make it easier to use. Many
    successful products are harder to use than they should be. We work around their
    quirks every day, without even thinking about it. Perhaps, the first few times
    we used them, we struggled to get them to do what we wanted and it took time to
    figure out. If you create a product that’s less annoying to use than an
    existing one, but has the same general function, you’re making something
    better. Apple does it well. Dyson does, too; by eliminating vacuum bags,
    improving suction, and replacing wheels with a ball for ease in steering, James
    Dyson made vacuuming less annoying.
  • Make it more fun. We’re all
    emotional beings. If you can bring fun to your product experience, it will
    differentiate it from the competition by drawing people in and inspiring
    them to share their experiences with their friends. That’s what
    Virgin
    Airlines
    and JetBlue are doing when they compete on perks like the
    size of the TV screens on every seatback and the volume of content available.
    They’re vying to be the most fun airline, because fun is better.

The line between becoming a pioneer and a “me-too” flop can
be unclear when you’re in the weeds of development. Uncertainty is an easier
destination to arrive at than confidence, especially when the truth is, there’s
no such thing as making anything that’s really new. Everything is an evolution
of something else. But you can make something better. When in doubt, ask
yourself if you’d use your new product instead of the market leader’s. If the
answer is yes, keep going. If it’s no, then stop and rethink.

Aaron Shapiro is
CEO of
Huge, a global
digital agency based in Brooklyn, and author of
Users Not Customers.

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[Image: Flickr user Nicolas Janik]

About the author

Aaron Shapiro is CEO of Huge (www.hugeinc.com), where he helps some of the world's largest companies reimagine how they interact with their customers and manage their businesses in the digital economy. Since 2005, Aaron has grown the firm from a small startup into a full-service interactive agency operating out of the United States, Europe and Latin America.

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