In the daily lives of consumers, hassles are everywhere. But people with the clarity of vision to understand them and the tenacious creativity to fix them are few and far between. That’s why it may take decades more for the digital information revolution to achieve its full potential.
Today we’re witnessing the start of a transformation of the digital landscape driven by a handful of pioneers who recognize the crucial importance of hassle map thinking. In the process, they are creating incredible floods of demand for their magnetic, life-changing, hassle-reducing products . . . as well as changing the rules of the high-tech industry game.
Hassle map thinking has a way of turning traditional perspectives upside down. Accordingly, the transformation of our digital world by masters of the hassle map has produced business outcomes that look like startling anomalies.
In this transformed world, a computer company (Apple) makes the best cellphones and leads the music distribution business. An online company (Netflix) is the most powerful emerging rival for the demand currently flowing to the television networks and the cable companies. Another online company (Amazon) is the world’s second most valuable retailer (despite having no retail stores), one of the most innovative makers of electronic devices, and an increasingly powerful player in book publishing. And a data technology company (Bloomberg) is a major force in the media universe once dominated by companies like NBC, the New York Times, and Dow Jones.
These outcomes make little sense when we try to sort companies under neat, familiar labels like “computer company,” “media company,” “telecom company,” and “consumer electronics company.” But they make perfect sense when we consider all of them under the heading of “hassle-fixers.” The companies that are creating the greatest demand streams in today’s high-tech world are the ones that do the best job of fixing customer hassles by using technology from any source—regardless of labels. Today’s digital hassle-fixers are reaching beyond individual technologies like the PC or the cellphone, redesigning these devices and the infrastructure that surrounds them to make them more responsive to customer needs.
Sometimes this involves merging technologies; in other cases, it involves connecting the dots among devices or information streams; in still other cases, it involves creating new tools, technology-based or otherwise, that make digital devices more convenient to use. But in every case, the hassle-fixers understand that the new key to success is developing innovations that are centered on customer problems, not device capabilities.
The emerging result of this new, customer-centric approach is the erasure of the neat divisions that once separated technologies from one another. We’re now moving rapidly toward a One-Click World in which customers take for granted easy, instant, ubiquitous access to digital products and services—and in which the industry boundaries that once defined demand spaces are no longer operative.
Hundreds of companies are now grappling in the resulting worldwide scrum. Yet only a few seem to fully understand what is happening. Consider, for example, the contrasting paths of two great corporations—Sony and Apple.
Sony could have been an early player in the one-click game. It had expertise and experience in all the industries that today are merging. Starting as a consumer electronics company, Sony took positions in the computer industry (Vaio), the telecom industry (Sony Ericsson cellphones), and the media industry (Columbia Pictures, music, games). But all these positions were “siloed”—that is, there were no links between these businesses that would benefit or even impact a consumer’s experience. Owning a Vaio laptop had nothing to do with using a Sony Walkman to listen to music or watching a movie from Columbia. Sony owned places in all four industries, but (despite the much-discussed notion of “synergy” among these positions) it didn’t integrate them for the consumer or create new tools to improve anybody’s hassle map.
By contrast, Apple’s Steve Jobs has been a pioneer of One-Click World. When he entered the consumer electronics world with the iPod, he integrated the iPod with iTunes, the world’s first (and still its best) system of software and online retailing for buying, organizing, and enjoying music and video. Then he entered the telecom space with the iPhone and integrated that product into an even bigger and more powerful system of apps and services (including iTunes). Today the iPad is connecting touch-screen technology with video created by movie and television producers, digital content from book and magazine publishers, and many other sources of information and entertainment.
Rather than simply participating in four separate industries, Apple integrated them. Even more important, it connected the dots between the digital technologies and a world of desirable content, redrawing the consumer’s hassle map and providing a seamless, unique, and powerfully magnetic experience.
The business result: an extreme and unforeseen reversal of fortune. In December, 2000, Sony had a market value of $63 billion, Apple less than $5 billion. Today,they’ve swapped positions. Apple’s value (as of March, 2011) is $330 billion, while Sony’s is just $36 billion. The demand result: Consumers the world over associate the name Apple with products and services that are not only cool, elegant, and powerful, but also intuitive, easy, and fun to use—hassle-fixers par excellence.
In One-Click World, we customers increasingly assume that products will ignore technological boundaries to bring us convenience, accessibility, and fun. When offerings remain trapped within traditional technological or corporate walls, we are poised to reject them—and more so with every passing month.
Another example: The first version of Sony’s Reader, launched in the United States in September 2006, was a well-designed, even revolutionary consumer electronics device, using E Ink technology to create the best-looking digital book reader anyone had ever seen. But you almost certainly didn’t buy one. Why? Because Sony didn’t find a way to merge that wonderful technology with affordable, instantaneous, ultraconvenient wireless access to most of the world’s favorite books. Fourteen months later, Amazon’s Kindle made that connection happen, making Amazon the early winner in the e-reader race.
The e-reader contest illustrates the Curse of the Incomplete Product. The rule is simple: In One-Click World, a new product that offers only part of what customers want will miss the target.
Imagine the iPhone without the App Store and the thousands of loyal software developers creating cool, useful tools to enhance the phone’s value—it would be just another cellphone (though well designed) for people to complain about rather than a lifestyle accessory people fall in love with.
And mentioning Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Kindle, and other successful one-click demand creators suggests a second reality of the new competitive universe—the Three Dimensions of Design. In One-Click World, design has become ten times more important—in terms of device design, yes, but also in terms of experience design and the design of the business system that supports it.
The great one-click companies take the physical design of products very seriously. You know about Apple’s superlative aesthetics. But did you know that Netflix ran through over 150 redesigns of its iconic red mailing envelope before finding the design that served its customers most effectively? Have you ever really examined the brilliant combination of form and function that is the Amazon website (and which Netflix frankly admits it imitated when creating its own superb pages)? Or noticed all the subtle differences, such as perfectly positioned buttons, that made the Kindle easier and more fun to use than the original Sony Reader?
Even more important than device design, however, is the artistry that these companies deploy in designing the experiential connections between them and us, their customers. Think in terms of hundreds of adjustments, large and small—in systems, interfaces, information flows, service protocols, intercompany alliances—each of which reduces the amount of time wasted, effort expended, or frustration experienced by customers by a fraction of a percent. Add up all those differences and you have a (practically) hassle-free experience that we customers love and will happily pay for, rather than one we remain indifferent to.
And then there’s the third dimension—the design of the business, which nails the difference between success and failure. Successful One-Click companies understand that a world-class business design is not available ready-made but must be custom-built with at least as much creativity as an innovative new product, including a value proposition that’s unique, a profit model that captures a share of the value delivered to buyers, and strategic control to protect those profits.
So the emergence of One-Click World is a fascinating phenomenon with all kinds of implications for the future of demand. But it starts in a very simple place—with a few unusual people who share both a clear-eyed focus on customer hassles and an unrelenting determination to eliminate them, no matter what technological boundaries they must violate in the process.