Jumping the Shark and the beginning of the end

fonzsharkjump-300x300Colgate once introduced a line of dinner entrees. Harley-Davidson rolled out their own perfume. The Fonz jumped his Shark.

And you may remember the tragic 77 days of mourning when New Coke was on the market. But Coca-Cola marketing executive Sergio Zyman couldn’t bear just one product disaster, so he then championed the release of OK Soda under the slogan “Things are going to be OK.” It never made it past test markets. Actually, we shouldn’t beat up on Mr. Zyman. He did, after all, have outstanding success with the incredibly popular Diet Coke, and even the decade-long run of Fruitopia (which appears to still enjoy a Canadian following on Facebook).

We have to test products and throw new ideas at wall to see what sticks. Innovation needs volume. But the right kind of volume and experimentation – the kind of innovation which is challenge-driven instead of idea-driven. Zyman started with the idea that “OK” was one of the most popular words in the English language and deducted that the word would therefore make for one of the most popular drinks in the world. Wrong.

Better product design starts with a deeper look at understanding the challenge and opportunity. Intuit uses “follow me home” studies, which allow product developers to get as close as possible to native user environments. By watching how people actually conduct their days, spend their time, and follow their preferences, Intuit designers get closer to understanding the ticks and quirks of their customers. This is different than starting with ideas and testing them in controlled environments, where things are structured, rigorous, and researchers are managing the perimeters.

Rule #1 of great companies: Better before cheaper. Quality and craftsmanship. Beauty and elegance. But better is hard. Cheaper is easy. Quality demands hard work and excellence. “But I have low-price overseas competitors!” you say. “But I could use inferior materials or fewer people and raise my profits!” you say.

So you start to look at costs. Cutting costs is a straight-forward, even tidy process. This is the beginning of the end of excellence. It’s tempting to go after the savings. The trouble is it compromises your product integrity. And when you compromise your product integrity, you compromise your brand. When you compromise your brand, your loyal customers head for the door.