Reading the market

As an electronics enthusiast, I started tracking videotape recorders in 1956, when Ampex introduced its first unit, which sold for $50,000. By the early 1970s, the arc of enabling technology suggested the feasibility of a consumer device within five years. I told my family that we would purchase a video recorder as soon as there was one on the market that met three key requirements: color recording with built-in tuner, at least two hours per tape, and available for less than $1,000. (Early recorders were black-and-white without tuners, and most movies on TV were more than one hour but less than two.)

In 1976 I asked the local electronics store manager if he would sell me the Quasar “Great Time Machine” for $999. He said yes, and we became early adopters of VCR technology. At the time, Sony had introduced their Betamax VCR but its recording capacity was limited to one hour. The Quasar was our VCR through early 1980, after which we shifted to a VCR based on Panasonic’s four-hour, market-winning VHS format. (Curiously, the history of VCRs never mentions the Quasar or its unique technology.)

Every product balances four factors: quality, quantity, timeliness, and cost. I may have been more explicit than most people in articulating my VCR-buying criteria, but every consumer has a mix in mind that will lead them to purchasing a new product.

It appears that Panasonic studied the market and set a target for their engineers – selling price under $1,000, color with built-in tuner, four hours of recording time, and a release date that didn’t allow Sony to lock up the market. (Panasonic felt that a major part of their initial market would be sports fans recording televised games, which would require four hours of taping capacity.)

Whenever you develop new products for your market, make the four factors – quality, quantity, timeliness and cost — explicit to your development team. Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad tablet computer failed in part because it was too little, too late for the price point HP tried to maintain. The developers of the Apple iPad, on the other hand, learned from the myriad of early attempts such as 2001’s Microsoft’s tablet PC. They got inside the “firing box” with screen size, weight, memory, battery life, user interface, and application environment.

Over the next three to five years, what new products will your market and technology enable? Can you set a “firing box” for your development team that will lead to the creation of a winning product? “Reading” the market successfully is easier when your company has a solid strategic plan.

Answering these questions should be an essential part of your annual strategic planning process. Your senior team should be prioritizing today’s actions based on a clear visualization of what products and markets they want to be part of the company’s future within five years.

If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and our program is right for you.

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