Just because it tastes "better," it doesn't mean you should change it.
Sometimes, the best lessons on what to do, is from learning from massive failures on what NOT to do. One of this biggest example is to epic failure of New Coke. The massive failure of New Coke has been well documented. So why am I digging it up decades later. The simple reason is that Microsoft made nearly the same mistakes Coca Cola did decades later with Windows 8. Countless other companies have also made and will continue to make similar mistakes.
In 1985 Coca Cola made a bold move to win the cola wars once in for all. After numerous formulations and countless taste tests, the team at Coca Cola decided they had a winning formula to defeat Pepsi. The new formula won hands down during all of the pre-launch taste tests. Unfortunately, what happened after is in the marketing history books of "what not to do".
After 40,000 letters, phone calls, and complaints, Coca Cola gave in and brought back the original and named it "Coke Classic" and renamed “New Coke” to Coke II, which was later discontinued all together in 2002.
So why did New Coke fail, even though it was successful in taste tests?
Coke dominated the cola market already and is the de facto number one cola in the world. More importantly, Coke had a massive loyal following that have enjoyed the timeless taste of Coke. So why were they worrying about tasting like Pepsi? (This is hard for me to type because I have always been a Pepsi fan, but that's not the point here)
Don't get me wrong. Staying ahead of competition is important, but ignoring why your fan base loves you is a major mistake.
The loyal drinkers of Coke did not ask for change, they did not want it. It didn’t matter that in blind taste tests it was preferred over Pepsi or original Coke. The drinkers of Coke loved the original formula and were used to it. Frankly, they swear by it. By discontinuing their beloved soda and launching a new formula, Coke essentially ignored their entire base of customers that helped them to be #1 in the world.
The irony is If Coke actually launched Coke II as Coke II or under another name, and never tampered with original Coke, they may have actually achieved their goal of taking away some of the drinkers who preferred Pepsi, while keeping their loyal original Coke customer base. Unfortunately for Coke, we will never know.
Nearly three decades later, Microsoft dramatically changed the user interface of their oft-maligned Windows OS. In a dramatic move to develop an OS that bridges the gap between desktop and mobile devices, Windows 8 was born.
Windows 8 was a touch screen friendly "one for all" OS that replaced the familiar start button with large desktop icons for its apps. So how was it received?
Like me, many users who wondered where the start button went and had difficult time navigating the new desktop. Like Coke, there was an outcry from users. They asked for the return of the start button and traditional navigation.
The response was so poor, laptop and desktop makers had to offer Windows 7 versions or a "downgrade" to Windows 7 to ensure devices were sold. PC users wanted their new PCs to run on Windows 7 and not Windows 8.
In a move to distance itself from Windows 8, Microsoft launched the new Windows OS by skipping the number 9 all together and went to Windows 10. Windows 10 brought back many of the familiarities of Windows 7, including the start button, and it was touted as a more device specific, rather than one size fits all.
So where did it all go wrong?
Windows users have been used to the layout of previous Windows versions. For starters, the disappearance of the start button created mass confusion for its users. It’s like when you get into a rental car and couldn’t find where anything was. Instead of the turning on the wipers, you turned on cruise control.
Another major problem was Microsoft ignored the fact a large base of users for Windows are desktop and enterprise users. While being friendly to touch screens users, Windows 8 was frustrating to use for non-touch screen users, myself included. Desktop users do not want a tablet experience. They want a desktop experience. Personally, It was the final push for me to get a Mac and I won't be going back.
Like Coke, Windows is the number one OS in the world. But Microsoft ignored its base of loyal users and made advances they did not ask for.
So how do these marketing and product development history lessons have anything to do with your agency? It’s about the approach to innovation and process improvements.
Don’t get me wrong. The point of this blog is not telling you not to innovate. The best companies and best agencies continue to innovate to stay ahead of the game. The key is to give your customers and target market what they want, not what you think they want.
Being innovative isn't about ignoring what got you there, but rather providing it in a better manner than you did previously.
This starts by consistently talking to your customers and obtaining feedback. Creating a feedback loop. This can happen informally as you speak to them during renewals, servicing calls and updates, or formally through surveys, interviews, and new client on-boarding. The key is to ask what they want or would like improvements on, and developing innovative ways to achieve that by delivering what they want, while supporting your agency’s goals.
At the same time, remember to ask them what they like or love about you. Essentially, why they do business with you. These are your core foundations to build upon. These are the lessons that Coke and Microsoft forgot when they launched their new products.
Bottom line, while continued innovation is important to ongoing success, the innovation must occur with your customers in mind. Give them what they want, not what just you want to build. Don’t be a lesson on what “not to do” for other agencies.