Never give up on your product?

The latest series of The Apprentice has hit the airwaves. As per usual, a bunch of somewhat boneheaded narcissists are running amok on BBC One, vying for £250,000 of investment into their business schemes. As expected, they’re all for spewing nuggets of business knowledge that probably comes with too many hours of browsing #entrepreneur on Instagram.

Nuggets of nonsense

Still, it’s somewhat surprising that perhaps the statement that raised the most question marks in mind was from Sir Alan Sugar himself. At the end of episode 2, with his handful of potential firees lined up in front of him, he attacked Natalie for giving up on the product she was working on. “Never give up on your product” he told her repeatedly.

The #entrepreneur watchers are nodding sagely at this context-less piece of bizdom.

Who needs an MBA when you can just read memes all day.

Who needs an MBA when you can just read memes all day.

Business is about strategy

Now, far be it from me to criticise Sir Alan. The man’s business prowess is admirable and his reputation is hugely respectable. However, “never give up on your product?”

This kind of unfettered, unquestioned faith in a business or product is exactly the kind of thing that lands many entrepreneurs in deep water over the years. Business is a game of strategy, not loyalty, dedication, and optimism.

It’s with some interest that Sir Alan continues to peddle this advice, considering his own mistakes in never giving up on a dud product.

Product and the marketing mix

When it comes to marketing, Jerome McCarthy coined the traditional Marketing Mix. The 4Ps. One of those Ps is product. A product should be built to meet end-user wants and needs. A product must be marketable. An effective product should have research poured into it before even its broadest details are clarified.

Sir Alan Sugar is no stranger to being blindly optimistic about a product, but ultimately marketing is a strategic game.

Sir Alan Sugar is no stranger to being blindly optimistic about a product, but ultimately marketing is a strategic game.

Ultimately, a product that hasn’t gone through a process of understanding how it meets user needs is not a product at all. It’s an experiment. There is no point in it existing from a marketing perspective. And to refrain from giving up on such a product would be beyond idiotic. You’d need deep, deep pockets and a will of iron to dedicate yourself senselessly to the marketing of a product that ultimately hasn’t understood the market, its segments, and end needs.

I would go as far as to say you should, without question, give up on that product, lest you want to spend your entire budget spraying and praying advertising all over the place. Or at the very least, reverse engineer the marketing process and hope to heck there’s potential for that product somewhere.

Technology and cannibalisation

In addition, markets never stand still. Even in the least tech-heavy industries, new innovations are sought and found everyday, and some of those innovations turn into marketable products that change the shape of the industry forever.

Chandy and Tellis published a paper in 1998 on product innovation discussing 'willingness to cannibalise'. In a nutshell, the concept explains how some companies fail to innovate for fear of eating into their own market share with their new innovations, whilst others willingly attack their current product offerings by releasing innovations. 

This is less about 'giving up' on your product, more about actively dismantling it and pushing your customer-base towards a new, better, and more competitive offering. 

Take the aforementioned Emailer Phone - a landline system that provided an email client and video chat. A strategic approach in the early 2000s would have been to begin sacrificing the landline system on the altar in exchange for a mobile friendly offering, complete with email services on-the-go and video calling to tie in with the launch of 3G networks. Instead, this was left wide open to Blackberry during this period, who remained relatively unchallenged until the iPhone and Android systems were first released. Meanwhile the Emailer Phone continued to perform poorly in the market and was canned after nearly a decade of the aforementioned blind optimism.

Businesses should be market oriented, not product oriented

This hammers home that businesses need to serve markets. It's their end goal. A product oriented company is one that is focused inwards. It's myopic, and it throws blind optimism behind company offerings.

Product orientation vs. Market orientation

A market oriented company is one that understands that product is one of the ways a company bridges the gap between itself and consumers, and optimising products for that market has a higher long-term rate of success.

The product oriented company is one that focuses too heavily on its product, believing it to be sellable. Ironically, they end up throwing stupendous amounts of money into marketing communications in order to try and shift stock. It's short-term, and cannot guarantee sustainable growth.

The market oriented company is one that is receptive and responsive to goings on outside of its own bubble. Marketing is its ethos, and thus it understands that there's a lot more to marketing than communications alone. The market oriented company will happily shed its previous products, and is focused on forward-thinking, strategic growth.

So do give up on your product if it doesn't serve your market. But for sustainable success, never give up on your market. You can stick that one on #entrepreneur.

Soooo inspiring.

Soooo inspiring.

Hope y'all enjoy the rest of The Apprentice. Drop me a comment below with any thoughts.