Christensen on Why Tech Marketing Fails

From a Gartner Group interview with Clayton “Disruptive Innovation” Christensen. In the snippet he is discussing failures in technology marketing, specifically why marketers wrongly apply consumer products principles to tech markets, leading them to value buyer characteristics over buyer needs — and leading them to focus on sustaining innovations over disruptive ones.

Christensen has a point, but I also think this is something of a straw man argument, one that makes an overly sharp distinction between selling technology and marketing technology. Many technology buyers don’t know they want something until they see it. Just think of the Internet. In 1990, what was the unfilled need that the Internet satisfied? Good luck getting data to satisfy management on that one.

I was talking to Scott Cook about this, who is the founder and Chairman of Intuit. And Intuit has done it occasionally, with their QuickBooks product and Turbo Tax. Scott said, “Looking back on it, whenever we failed with a new product, we followed a conventional marketing paradigm, of segmenting by a product attribute, or customer demographic.” And assuming I’ve got it right, I asked Scott, “Why does everybody get it wrong?”

And one of the puzzles is that, at the Harvard Business School, the god of marketing 30 years ago, was a guy named Ted Leavitt [sic], who wrote this article called Marketing Myopia and so on. He taught this in his classes. He said, “People don’t buy a quarter-inch drill. They buy a quarter-inch hole. You’ve got to study the hole, not the drill. The drill is just a solution for it.” It’s the very same concept, but why is it that the concept, although everybody knows it’s right, never gets traction?

Scott said maybe one reason why is that many of today’s leading edge marketing techniques were perfected by companies like P&G, where Scott used to work. In many of their markets, there’s almost a 1:1 correspondence between the demographic group and the job to be done. Feminine hygiene products, for example, if you understand the customer, you understand the job, in many ways.

But then when you move outside of that realm, where there’s not a 1:1 correspondence between job and demographic segment, then you end up misapplying the technique.


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