This is the second post in a series about why new products fail. Last week’s blog post revealed the four root causes of new product failure.
This week, we’re going to take a tour of the (hypothetical) Museum of New Product Failures to see some of the biggest flops in history and to find out what caused these products to fail.
The LaserDisc, introduced in 1980, had a number of benefits over the home video formats of the day, VHS and Beta. Most notably, it was superior in sound and picture quality.
However, the format never gained widespread use in North America outside of videophile circles. By 1998, 18 years after Laserdiscs were first introduced, only 2% of US households owned LaserDisc players. By the early 2000s, the LaserDisc had been completely replaced by the DVD in North America.
The Apple Newton
By today’s standards, the first product in the Newton line, the MessagePad, was a pretty basic PDA. It could take notes, store contacts, and manage calendars. You could use it to send a fax. Pretty basic.
In 1993, the first product in the Newton Line, the MessagePad, was introduced at the Boston Macworld Expo and took the show by storm.
But then word started getting out that the handwriting recognition didn’t work properly in the debut models. Handwriting recognition was supposed to be Newton’s killer feature, but it was the feature that probably ultimately killed the product.
The Newton Line didn’t sell in huge numbers. What’s more, Steve Jobs hated it. He raged against the device for its poor performance (and because it was Sculley’s innovation). And so when Jobs’ at last wrested back control of his company in 1997, he scuttled it.
The Segway, a two-wheeled, self-balancing battery electric vehicle, was launched in 2001. Inventor Dean Kamen pronounced that it was going to revolutionize transportation. He said that it “would be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy”. Kamen predicted that he would sell 50,000 Segways in the first year
The Segway failed to gain significant market acceptance. By mid 2003, the company had only sold 6,000 units in total.
Why did these products fail?
They were expensive.
- Laserdiscs cost up to 5 times as much as than VHS tapes and the players cost at least twice as much as a VCR.
- The Newton cost about $700 for the first model with later models costing up to $1000.
- The Segway retailed for $5,000. If you were looking for an alternative to a car, you could buy a high-end street safe scooter for less than half that amount.
The product designs were not user friendly.
- If you were watching a movie on a LaserDisc, you had to stop the disc and flip it to it’s other side.
- The MessagePad was roughly the size of videotape and weighed almost a pound. It was really too large and heavy to be considered pocketsize.
- The Segway was too small and too slow for riders to feel comfortable on roadways yet, too bulky and fast to be allowed on sidewalks in most cities.
They didn’t meet consumer expectations.
- You couldn’t record on a LaserDisc.
- The Apple MessagePad operated too slowly; certain actions, such as scrolling through notes, took too long and its handwriting recognition was fairly inaccurate.
- The Segway weighed more than 80 pounds and you could travel maybe 11 miles before you had to plug in and recharge.
Too high a price, product design that wasn’t user friendly, and product performance that did not live up to consumer expectations.
Did these products fail because of poor execution?
So, the root cause of these new product failures was poor execution, right? If these products had been priced more reasonably and didn’t have the product design problems they did, would they have been winners?
I doubt it. The Laserdisc, Apple Newton, and Segway did not fail simply because the companies made executional mistakes. The Laserdisc, Apple Newton, and Segway failed because of the product concepts themselves were fundamentally flawed. These products did not meet needs or solve problems for the consumer.
There is an almost perfect correlation between need and purchase interest. If consumers don’t think a product will meet a need or solve a problem for them, it is highly unlikely that they will purchase it.
- The inventors of the LaserDisc assumed that consumers of the early 1980’s were dissatisfied with the audio and video sound quality of their VHS tapes. They figured that the benefit of superior audio and video would outweigh the limitations and high price of the LaserDisc. They were wrong.
- Consumers of the early 1990’s certainly didn’t think they needed a $700 handheld device to keep track of notes, store contacts, or manage their calendar when notebooks, paper organizers, and address books were easier to use and carry around and cost less than $5.
- Finally, the Segway – there simply was no compelling need for anyone to buy a Segway. It couldn’t replace a car and because it couldn’t be used on the sidewalk, it couldn’t replace walking, either.
I challenge you to look at the products you are developing for 2016 and 2016 through the lens of consumer need. What consumer problem does your new product solve? Does your new product solve that problem better than the products that are on the market today? If the answer to those questions is “none” and “no”, you should seriously consider going back to the drawing board.
Remember, if consumers don’t think the product will meet a need or solve a problem for them, it is highly unlikely that they will purchase it.
And your product just might end up in the Museum of New Product Failures.