Doug Hall, one of the keynote speakers at the recent Advanced Manufacturing Summit I attended at Purdue, has a mantra I can’t get out of my head: If you’re not unique, you’d better be cheap. Today, I want to write about a company that offers a prime example of out-of-the-box thinking – the kind of thinking required to offer a unique product in a crowded marketplace.
The company is Samsung, operating in conjunction with a U.S. company called TechnoBrands. What’s interesting here is the fact that Samsung is a competitor in one of the fastest-moving, price/performance-driven markets in the world: cell phones.
Put yourself in the place of the individual who manages the Samsung cell phone division and ask yourself what the primary product challenges would be. Is it screen size? Resolution? Battery life? Price point? Form factor? The answer is “correct” to all of the above, and probably half a dozen more. So, if you’re in the cell phone business, you’re essentially in a race to make your product incrementally better in at least some of these areas every six months or so and hope you can stay ahead of the competition.
Sound familiar? It should.
But Samsung has found a way not to play this game, with a product called Jitterbug. The headline for one of the ads reads: “It doesn’t play games, take pictures, or give you the weather.” In fact, it’s a cell phone specifically designed for a demographic group that’s been ignored by all the other cell phone manufacturers: baby boomers, who are just starting to turn sixty.
For starters, this phone features a big display and big buttons, so it can be easily used by someone who doesn’t happen to have their bifocals with them. It has louder-than-normal volume and is designed to be compatible with hearing aids. Equally important, it doesn’t have a lot of features that might be confusing (or irrelevant) to individuals who didn’t grow up playing video games. And users who encounter a problem can actually talk to a live human being – an old-fashioned operator!
Before going any further, I want to acknowledge that characterizing boomers as a group of people who are collectively confused by modern technology while going deaf and blind at the same time could be seen as offensive. There are, in fact, plenty of boomers not only using advanced technology but running technology companies, and frankly, I don’t know or care whether they wear glasses or hearing aids. That’s not the point.
The point is that somebody in a fiercely competitive market has come up with the idea of getting out of the price/performance race altogether (with this product line, at least) and they’ve made that idea work. That’s out-of-the-box thinking that goes totally against the grain. We need more of it.