And a consideration of market leading companies should put this into perspective. the doctor was reminded of this while reading a recent piece over on the HBR Blogs on Apple Versus the Strategy Professors where the author noted that the how of Apple’s fall (or continued rise) will hinge on strategy — because strategy has driven its success.
In the article, the author referenced Michael Porter, famous for his five force analysis, W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, and their blue oceans, Clayton Christensen, and his disruption model, Michael Raynor, and his successful growth strategies (co-devised with Clayton Christensen), Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian, and their information economy, and Amar Bhide, and his hustle. He then illustrated how Apple has drawn on the teachings of all of these professors (of the Harvard Business School, INSEAD, UC Berkeley, and Tufts) to achieve their transformation and market leadership of the last decade.
It does a great job of demonstrating how strategy is key to success, and, more importantly, how strategy has to be taken beyond the classroom to be effective. Apple didn’t subscribe to any one philosophy or methodology, it borrowed from the teachings of all of the greatest management and strategy thinkers of our time and incorporated those that made sense. But it didn’t do so randomly.
What Apple really did, and what you need to do if you want to ensure consumer success, is figure out what your customers need and give it to them before they have figured out what they need. It took note of what it could do, and then searched for products that would fulfill what people wanted in blue oceans. For example, going back to the iPod, it realized that consumers wanted a portable music device that was easy to use AND easy to manage.
At the time, the mp3 players available were few, used different, proprietary operating systems, and were difficult to use. Furthermore, even if you weren’t a computer geek, getting music on and off was a pain in the backside, and the whole experience — compared to popping a cassette into a Sony Walkman — was unpleasant. Apple realized that people needed an end-to-end solution — a great device, a great software tool for managing the device, and, equally important, an easy way to acquire legally licensed music in the appropriate format. Hence, it developed, and released, in order, iTunes for easy mp3 (and device) management, the iPod, and, finally, the iTunes Store that negated the need to get music from third parties. It was an end-to-end solution that even the most novice of computer users could master — and it was cool. Market dominance was just a matter of time.
While your customer might not be able to tell you what they want when you ask, they know it when the see it and, if you listen, can give you lots of hints. For example, Apple’s future customers were saying things like: “I want my music on the go.”, “This portable music player is cr@p., and How do I manage a library when all I can see is 1 song at a time.” “I can’t figure out how to get the music files I buy from Mperia onto my mp3 player.” All they had to do was listen closely, come up with an entirely new solution that met all the most common wants, and find a way to make it desirable (cool, sexy, fun, etc.). Yes, that’s a tall order — but not that tall when you think about it.
And when you figure out not only what your customers want, but what you are going to give them to make them want your product over the competition, that’s when your supply chain can really give you an edge by getting involved early in the NPD (new product design) effort and finding creative and innovative ways to keep costs down, quality up, and value-add at the right level for maximum reward.