Breaking old habits to sell more

August 25, 2015

Why have you not switched to Bing yet? Why didn’t people switch en masse to New Coke?

The explanation is pretty simple. Old habits die hard. No matter how hard some companies try to market their products, it is very difficult & sluggish to switch existing behaviours. The Holy Grail of course is when someone makes a breakthrough and then the force of transformation becomes inevitable.

Often, this change can be violent. Just ask former executives of Blockbuster or Kodak about market change. The word often used here is disruption famously coined by Clayton Christensen. The word itself carries some negative connotation. I believe that it is actually a force for positive change. Major market disruption usually brings about positive change from an economic perspective. Railroads, automobiles, internet, smartphones, they all brought about massive positive economic impact. No one today sheds a tear about horse buggies, dial up internet or flip phones.

To the victor go the spoils. That is why the world of startups and technology is so exciting. The market almost always decides.

Solutions in the search of problems

I’ve been curious lately about the challenge of product/market fit and how to seek it out effectively. The evolutionary Lean Startup movement has ameliorated many leaders’ thinking around this subject.

It’s not an easy game to play though. Even mega corporations struggle with breaking through and increasing their profits. For instance, Google Wallet and Apple Pay are the supposed harbingers of mobile payments. Both launched with much fanfare. But why aren’t we all using our phones to pay today? These companies own 95% of the operating systems and this *should have* translated to major market success. There are many different reasons but the main one in my opinion is that their solution does not solve a large enough pain point. Paying with your credit card in 2015 is still frictionless. Stopping for gas, taking out your credit card, tapping it once and then driving off is not an annoying experience.

Starbucks succeeded where others failed. 16% of purchases in the US are from mobile devices. The reason they were able to succeed is because they learned from failure. They failed, measured, learned before their last iteration which greatly improved the customer experience.

Enter the 10X

What thus causes a huge behavioural shift in our habits? Something that is 10X better than the previous operating model. For people to truly change their habits, the benefit of using the new thing has to be way better than the pain of switching from the old thing.

  • Digital cameras | 10X better than analog cameras
  • Google search | 10X better than all existing search engines of the time
  • First iPhone | 10X better than all phones of their time
  • Lightspeed POS | 10X better than clunky old POS systems
  • Uber | 10X better than the existing taxi experience

The scale of change

Is a 10X improvement always necessary in order to change behavior? I believe that it is directly correlated with the nature of the behavior in question.

The more complex the behavior, the more radical improvement necessary.

Mobile payment would be on the top right of the scale, a significant improvement is necessary to change our mindset around payments.

A productivity tool like Slack for instance would be in the middle. Email is less of an ingrained behavior because of the multitude of tools we already use on our computers. Thus, a neat new UX and feature improvements can cause widespread adoption.

Knowing where your product/service sits on this chart helps you understand how to break through.

Break on through to the other side

How do established leaders, startups and individuals create breakthrough change? That is the billion(s) dollar question. I’m going to approach it with one solution (among many other angles).

Solving a problem requires feedback and that is where market validation comes in. Qualitative and quantitative feedback is paramount to success. You can never talk enough with your customers, that data is imperative.

Even if you are building a product in a very young industry (VR or Bitcoin come to mind), there are many ways to gather customer feedback.

Optimizely: A/B test different concepts

Consumer surveys: online questionnaire to validate product ideas

Telephone: call your customers and ask them

Breaking through to a market requires strong understanding of what motivates customers to shift their behavior. Know thy customer better than you know thyself.