Diagnosing the tech industry

by havoc

According to an an
article in today’s paper
Clayton Christensen took a stand for
design over
in last month’s Harvard Business Review. I’ll have to
find a copy.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen is trying to
shake up the marketing establishment with a deceptively simple
proposition that flies in the face of conventional wisdom:
People hire a product to get a job done.

Sometimes the job is functional: I need to send this document from
here to there as fast as possible. Other times it is emotional: Help
me escape the chaos in my world. And often it’s aspirational: I need
to feel pampered. Different products — Federal Express, Apple’s iPod,
and Gucci’s handbags — are retained for these different tasks.

Marketers, however, ply their trade in a whirl of product extensions
and customer segmentation increasingly divorced from the realities of
needs and jobs. They focus on bells and whistles, features and
options, baby boomers, soccer moms, and upwardly mobile young
professionals with disposable income.

Employing customers or products as the fundamental unit of analysis —
rather than jobs — amounts to ”marketing malpractice,” Christensen
and a pair of coauthors contend in a provocative essay in last month’s
Harvard Business Review.

Christensen, in an interview, said product managers should spend less
time on market research and more time walking around and observing how
people live their lives — their habits, behavior, and cycles.

That last paragraph especially points toward ethnography-driven
product design… something one can get a college degree in, or at
least read stacks of books about. And something one can have natural
talent for (or not – I don’t). How many product managers have this
kind of skill? How many tech companies have both a product management
and a design/usability function, and does that make any sense?
Seth Godin might go
further and wonder why marketing is also separate, since he argues the
core of marketing is the product/service offering itself.

(Caveat, the title “product manager” can apply to lots of jobs,
I’m referring to a product manager who designs and specifies the
details of a new product, not one who’s a project manager, customer
request manager, logistics specialist, or partner relationship manager
for example. “Marketing” of course also includes a lot of different

There was also a great
from Walter Mossberg a couple days ago.

In fact, the industry operates on a false model of the
U.S. computer-using population. It imagines the world is divided
between “consumers,” who lie around at home playing games and
listening to music, with the occasional homework assignment or tax
form thrown in; and “enterprises,” large corporations where computing
is controlled by IT departments and only mission-critical tasks are

If these models acknowledge small businesses at all, they get lumped
into a category called SMB, for small and medium businesses, where the
minimum size is something like 500 employees and an IT staff rules.

In fact, the most accurate way to divide the computer-using world is
into two segments: the one controlled by an IT department and the one
controlled by the people who actually use the computers, be they
consumers or small-business folks. A vast amount of business crucial
to the U.S. economy is conducted every day in the non-IT part of the
computing world.

The computer industry loves, and caters to, the IT segment because it
buys machines in large quantities and is run by a geeky priesthood
that speaks the industry language. By contrast, the non-IT camp, even
though it is larger in the aggregate, buys one, two or three machines
at a time and tends to be nontechnical.

Speculation: if the industry favors selling to industry “insiders” – e.g. IT
departments and developers – this is in part because an
engineering/IT-driven organization, as many tech companies are, will
have a much easier time figuring out how to build and market a product
for other people like themselves.

There are other, more mundane
explanations too though I imagine. As demanding as they are, a few
large enterprise deals can be a lot easier for a small software
company to manage than a couple bucks from each of thousands of
consumer customers.

(This post was originally found at http://log.ometer.com/2006-01.html#1.2)

My Twitter account is @havocp.
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