Jobs to be Done | Obstacles: What Holds New Ideas Back

By Stephen Wunker, Jessica Wattman, David Farber
May 24, 2017

While researching the food and beverage sector a few years back, we came across a young woman…

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While researching the food and beverage sector a few years back, we came across a young woman living in what she described as a “unique” apartment. It had no kitchen. We don’t mean that the apartment had a small kitchen, or that the kitchen wasn’t separated with walls. We mean that there was no kitchen. No oven. No burners. No kitchen sink. You get the idea. When we talked to her about the idea of moving, she acknowledged that she had planned to find a new place, but after a while she didn’t really mind the quirks so much. Plus, moving is such a hassle. Other things came up, and the idea of moving became much less of a priority.While researching the food and beverage sector a few years back, we came across a young woman living in what she described as a “unique” apartment. It had no kitchen. We don’t mean that the apartment had a small kitchen, or that the kitchen wasn’t separated with walls. We mean that there was no kitchen. No oven. No burners. No kitchen sink. You get the idea. When we talked to her about the idea of moving, she acknowledged that she had planned to find a new place, but after a while she didn’t really mind the quirks so much. Plus, moving is such a hassle. Other things came up, and the idea of moving became much less of a priority.

The spread of new products works in a similar way. There may be some early adopters who are excited about the new offering, but many people will sit back and wait until their circumstances dictate a change. Beyond general inertia, specific obstacles to adoption and use can also depress new product sales. Had our client released an oven-prepared meal, our kitchenless friend wouldn’t have purchased it. While the lack of a kitchen may be a somewhat atypical hurdle, it also serves to illustrate some of the more common factors that stop customers from buying or using enticing new products.

The Fight Against Inertia 


Just because there is a better product or a better way of doing something, it doesn’t mean that customers will embrace the new solution. If a new offering doesn’t fit with engrained behaviors and expectations, customers will be reluctant to change and will look for reasons not to shift to a new solution. Companies will be forced to invest resources fighting both actual and perceived obstacles.

In many parts of the world, mopeds are a popular way of navigating congested urban areas. Despite similar traffic and hassles in many U.S. cities, mopeds have never really taken off in the States. Part of that can be attributed to perception. When you think about mopeds in other parts of the world, you often think of old, loud, dirty contraptions that—while practical—aren’t particularly comfortable or esteemed. We think of them being used to carry families of four down dusty roads in South America or through crowded traffic jams in India. Back in America, we just don’t see the need. If we want to get around the city, public transportation is typically good enough to get the job done. When it’s not, cars are becoming more and more luxurious. Cars give us the option to turn on our seat warmers, sip our coffee, make a phone call or two and belt out the lyrics to the newest Taylor Swift song completely free of judgment. You can’t do that on a moped. And with favorable lease terms, a car can actually be pretty affordable.

But things are changing, and cars aren’t always ideal. Parking costs are starting to soar. Gas is getting more expensive, and people are becoming more environmentally conscious. Cities—though historically designed around cars in the United States—are making strides to be friendlier for bikes and mopeds. People are getting married later, delaying the move out of urban areas. Even families are choosing cities over suburbs with increasing frequency. As urban areas become even more densely populated, cars begin to make less sense. And when you need to carry groceries or bulky items home from the store, public transportation is less than ideal. There’s clearly a market opening for mopeds in U.S. cities, but consumers are going to need to be convinced. They’re not going to shoulder the burden of determining why mopeds are actually a good idea. Companies need to be well aware of stubborn behaviors that can impede the successful uptake of their new product and think, from the very outset of the design process, how they can excite people out of their comfort zone.

GenZe has taken a number of steps to fight inertia and nonconsumption, in hopes that its new electric scooter will take off among younger, urban consumers in the United States. Before launching its new bike (the GenZe 2.0), company employees traveled to cities around the country to talk to people about how they were commuting today, where they were experiencing pain points and what they were trying to get done in their commutes. Using that knowledge, they designed a bike that accounts for the jobs and job drivers of their target demographic. It offers cargo units to carry briefcases, groceries and other personal items. Those units are even rainproof for people in cities with less forgiving climates. The scooters are environmentally friendly, allowing riders to save on fuel costs and feel as though they’re doing their part for the environment. The scooters are also visually appealing and tech-heavy, featuring a 7-inch touch-screen control panel. Consumers don’t choose the GenZe 2.0 because they can’t afford something better; they choose it to make a statement. The bike also helps lower the barriers to adoption by introducing features that make it safer and easier to use, such as taller windscreens and a special driving mode for those still learning to ride. While it remains to be seen how well the GenZe 2.0 will do in the United States, GenZe’s dedication to customer centricity and its focus on defeating traditional purchase obstacles will give it the best possible chance to succeed.

Fighting inertia means lowering the barriers to trying a new product. While some companies continually “wow” their loyal customers with a parade of shiny new products, most do not. This latter group has to work hard to induce trial. Other obstacles may also stand in the way of customers adopting or using your new product. The next two sections identify 10 of the most common obstacles that slow the spread of your new product.

Learn the proven, practical approach for building and marketing products that sell.

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About the Authors

  • Stephen Wunker is a leading consultant on growth and innovation. He founded New Markets Advisors in 2009 and advises innovative companies across industries, including Nestlé, Boston Scientific, Cognizant and Nike. An entrepreneur and corporate venturer, Stephen has been a pioneer in the development and use of smartphones. He led the team creating one of the first, in the late 1990s, and since then he created trailblazing companies in mobile marketing, commerce and social networking.

  • Jessica Wattman is a veteran at creating strategies for environments in rapid flux. Her work has been predominantly
    in the public and nonprofit sectors, where she deployed Jobs to be Done and other innovation methodologies to create a wide range of trail-blazing programs in conflict and other unstable environments. She is director of social innovation at New Markets Advisors.

  • David Farber is a manager specializing in growth strategy and innovation at New Markets Advisors. His work focuses on helping companies find organic sources of growth and capture value through new business models. He has extensive experience employing the Jobs to be Done methodology in his client engagements. He is also a licensed Massachusetts attorney.


Categories:  Leadership


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