Published on: July 20, 2010by Michael Sansolo
According to one popular business philosophy, if things aren’t broken…break them. In other words, change is good, the status quo is bad. And in most cases, I’d agree, but there are few rules that work every time.
Given how often we talk about the need to innovate and change here at MNB, it might seem somewhat contradictory to say this, but at times innovation can be a bad idea. Because unless you are making a product, store or service better, sometimes the innovation does little more than turn loyal consumers into annoyed customers. And no one wants that.
Possibly the single best example of this is facing an enormous portion of you MNB readers today. Unless statistics are wrong, there are many of you are reading this on-line newsletter on computers running a program that should have been dumped long ago. That program is Microsoft Windows XP.
The Wall Street Journal reported recently that nine-year-old XP remains the program of choice at many businesses. Unbelievably, that is a statement that might actually be true four or five years from now. Microsoft announced recently that it will continue to allow computer buyers to downgrade to XP for two years after the shipping of whatever program follows Windows 7. Technology experts says that means XP will be running through at least the first half of this decade - when it could be 13 years old.
To put that in perspective, quickly think about the cell phone you had 13 years ago and imagine if you were using it today. But XP is widely expected to hang on because the products introduced to replace it - primarily Vista - failed in their mission. In other words, Microsoft, one of the best companies on earth, messed up by bringing out an innovation that most consumers saw as worthless. (We have one computer in my house that runs Vista and worthless would be the kindest word to describe it. Somehow my wife knows how to run it. The rest of us run the other way.)
It’s another crystal clear lesson in value. Far too many new products or variety simply fail the test of bringing added value. And when that happens, the shopper isn’t happy.
Sadly, the examples clutter the aisles of many supermarkets. One of the most curious was reported by the Journal: Shopper outrage at new and improved razors. Apparently, many men are hoarding blades for older razors offered by Gillette or Schick because they don’t see the value in the innovations offered by replacement products. It’s a situation worth watching.
Truth be told, I like the innovation in razors almost as much as I hate shaving. I’ve been around long enough to move from safety razors to twin blades (and all their improvements), triple blades (and their improvements), four blades and now five blades. I can honestly say the shaving experience has improved and my uncooperative facial hair looks better.
But the question men are asking is whether the improvement justify the costs. In the midst of a tough economy, many are saying they aren’t so sure and are stocking up on currently available blades just to be sure.
XP and razors remind us that the consumer, while fickle and fashionable in so many ways, isn’t always ready to simply move on. The notion that newer is always better can run into the show-me mentality. And when that happens, what’s new isn’t always going to win. Value can trump price, convenience and more. Apparently, it can also beat innovation.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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