In an industrialized, capitalistic nation like ours, competition drives everything we do. Our market is in transition, from industry to technology. How are products developed now and how will this change our markets?
A colleague of mine recently described the importance of not only knowing my competition, but building personal relationships with the people who drive them. I have worked in product development, building brands and just churning out product. I have been a part of the decision making that fuels short lived products and markets directly to children. I have fought for shelf space at Walmart. I know the ugliness and I see the beauty in each product.
Here is my real question:
Why do you need a new dishwasher, again?
It is because of people like me. I design products with your buying habits in mind. Yes, I want you to have clean dishes. More important to my life however, is that you buy the latest. I need to feed and clothe my children. I need you to buy into the idea that the marketers push – YOU ARE BETTER WITH MY NEW DISHWASHER! If you don’t believe it, I don’t have a job. Marketers drive your natural competitive urges to have more and be better than your neighbor. I design a product that looks different and has more features than the last, so your urges feel validated. Operations negotiates and beats down manufacturing so that you pay the lowest price possible. The sales team elbows my product onto the sales floor. Retailers place my product and you see it. When you buy that product, you are feeding me, my children, the marketers, operations team, manufacturers, sales teams and retailers (and their families).
This sounds good, right? You are supporting all sorts of people when you do what comes naturally, right? Here is where it goes wrong . . .
If you look in the middle of that cycle you see designers adding more while operations are cutting costs. How does that work? How can you have more but spend less? The reality is you can’t. Consumers think it is the greed of manufacturers that has lowered the quality of our goods. The truth is more a grey mess in the middle of well-intentioned competition.
The designers and the operations teams are simultaneously working for the end consumer, but in different ways. Marketing teams and upper management are trying to delicately balance the efforts. Keep consumers happy with great product, but keep consumers happy with quick turnaround and low prices. How little can we put out before consumers give up on us? Know your competition is a rule of business for a reason. If all manufacturing quality lowers, who will recollect the quality of the past anyway?
Working with building products I have seen how wood, over time has lost its strength. Wood! Fast growth trees are more profitable, and people only live so long. Manufacturers are putting lifetime warrantees on treated fast growth wood products because they know it drives sales AND babies are not buying their products. Financially comfortable consumers who may have another 30 years left are an easy gamble. They will die before the chemicals protecting their wood wears off or starts to poison their children. Who cares if the house those windows are going in will stand for another 200 years. It is all about the purchase today, and maybe another purchase 20 years from now when that exterior permanent color is out of fashion.
Regulations will not stop this downward spiral. Taxes and tariffs will not change it. Crowd-funding is an attempt to change. Zealot, new-idea entrepreneurs will throw a wrench in the system. But entrepreneurs are motivated by money, so this may only be a diversion.
It is up to consumers and manufacturers to simultaneously realize new ways of doing things. How little can manufacturers put out before consumers give up? How can consumers give up if they are properly trained to keep buying?
We need to harness our competitive drives to improve ourselves in real and meaningful ways. Technology will be a part of it, but technology is only a part. Smart objects cost more, and consumers accept this. When technology is in our toilet paper, perhaps that is the new beginning. The quality of the physical object combined with the intelligence of its technology. How do you see this transition from industry to technology working for you?