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Digital innovation: does your market segment care ?

Tech-savvy entrepreneurs love to imagine solutions to digitalize our world and change consumers’ usages. Adoption is usually the problem that occurs. It’s therefore essential to ask you this question beforehand: “do your target customers care enough to change their habits” ?

To illustrate the problem, let me tell you a story. The story of my 80-year old mother-in-law.

My mother-in-law writes phone numbers on the back of her cell phone

In spite of her age she’s still very active and owns two cell phones that she uses to make inland phone calls. She has some very recurring habits. She doesn’t know how to register phone numbers and dials them all the time. To remember her most frequent numbers she wrote them on the back of her cell phone (I assure you this is no joke).

My wife would love to send her text messages. She has tried to teach her how to open sms for 2 years. Last summer she spent one hour practicing with her. This summer the exact same scene happened. One afternoon they sat in the living room and my wife patiently explained her once again the very same steps. My mother-in-law wrote them down on a sheet of paper. After 5 minutes came the time to practice and guess what … she wasn’t able to make sense of the instructions she just received.

No innovation can solve this problem

Let’s do a little bit of ethnography. My mother-in-law has no memory problems, she’s in extreme good shape for her age, gets interested in a lot of things. So why can’t she remember how to open a sms? This isn’t difficult, is it? I know quite a few tech-savvy entrepreneurs who’d jump on the problem to find innovative solutions : new interface, voice-recognition to open up the menus, ….

All that wouldn’t have worked for one simple reason.

I asked my mother-in-law a simple question: “do you care about sms?”. Her answer was immediate : “No I don’t”. This is why she doesn’t remember how to navigate the menu. The problem is not about the interface or her technological literacy. It’s just that she doesn’t care and won’t invest any second of her time to make it work.

Conclusions for entrepreneurs

This anecdote made me reflect on how ineffective innovation can be when consumers’ needs are misunderstood. Qualitative market research would have helped identify that one market segment just won’t use any type of sms-related system because the need is just not there.

This is a lesson that entrepreneurs should remember when they think they have identified a market need to tackle.

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Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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