Why “Set It and Forget It” Never Works for Products

Let’s say you’re making a new toothbrush; it has glowing bristles to remind people when to brush their teeth. You might go through prototyping, testing with focus groups, launching the product, and marketing it. Then you cross your fingers and hope everyone buys it and tells their friends!

With a digital product, you also might go through prototyping and testing, but the difference is that when you launch and observe how people interact with it, you can continuously make changes. These changes will be influenced by how people interact with your product in market. The user responses will be influenced by what they want, need and expect. What they want, need and expect is influenced by the other things they interact with every day. With every beautifully designed experience that someone has, their expectations are elevated.

(Bloomberg in 1999)

Let’s take a look at Bloomberg.com in 1999 vs. today. The purpose has not changed; it is still a news resource. But it has evolved to meet the standards of today’s consumer. The benefit and challenge of digital is that it can begin looking like one thing and then change into another — right in front of everyone’s eyes. This means that you don’t have to be right, right away. But it does mean that you have to listen, learn, and be willing to change.

Take YouTube for example. What began as a video dating site now serves 6 billion hours of content a month. The dating aspect of YouTube was not what people loved. But uploading silly videos? Now that was fun. Founders were able to learn this in market based on what people were and were not doing. Today, YouTube has over 1 billion users and is maintaining a value true to what they learned: “Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world.”

Staying relevant takes work

Consumer expectations are constantly evolving and so must the digital products they use. Consider infinite scroll. It became the norm due to changes that social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest implemented. These design changes were then adopted by other applications. As people interacted with these products day in and day out, their expectations about what was “normal” changed. Now, a required “click to read more” seems annoying.

We can also see this happening with voice-activated technology. Siri’s always been kind of a bad listener — but she was a breakthrough. There was no other feature to compare her to on a daily basis. So she was pretty cool and impressed everyone. Now that Alexa is around, our irritation with Siri has grown. We expect that because Alexa can understand, Siri should be able to understand. When she doesn’t, it’s more irritating. New and better design and technology is always evolving, replacing the past.

(Bloomberg in 2016)

Due to these changes in consumer expectations, it’s important to continually grow your product in market. If you aren’t working on your product, you are at risk of becoming outdated, irritating — and as a result — eventually obsolete. Even if consumers like what you have to offer and give great feedback out of the gate, you still have to work to keep growing your relevance. Could you imagine if Bloomberg.com had never updated their experience? Would you visit that site from 1999 today? Even if you made it to the site, you would likely question its credibility. Because obviously it’s outdated.

Knowing is just the beginning

Knowing that you have to continually grow is only part of the battle. In fact, I would argue that knowing is, at best, a fraction of the battle. You’re likely aware that you need to keep your digital product alive. To do that you need a team, time, and budget. It’s nearly impossible to keep something alive and well without having the resources to do so.

So what can you do to turn your knowledge into power and use it to power your product?

  1. Show and tell the people in your organization that striving to be innovative is not simply an optional path, it is the ONLY way to stay alive in today’s world. Use relevant examples to educate the higher ups inside your company whose support you need to nurture your digital product. Inspire them to support your cause by using examples that are relevant to their daily lives!
  2. Share data that supports the investment you are already making. Even if you are only allocated a small budget or a few people part-time, be sure to invest in making changes and track the impact of those changes. How does that new feature contribute to more leads or more time spent or more sales? Use evidence to build a case.
  3. Don’t give up the good fight! Perseverance is required because change takes time. If you feel stuck in the past, know that you are not alone. Your organization probably has a long history of doing things one way and it may take time for people to understand your point of view. That’s why #1 and #2 are critical.

Lab Notes is a publication of GoKart Labs

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