Lessons to learn from famous product fails

As 2018 draws to a close, it seems natural to look back and sum up the year we are leaving behind. In this spirit of reckoning and introspection, let’s devote this article to what we can learn from products that did not make it. Some of them are famous for failing spectacularly others for not living up to their pre-launch hype. It is well known that the vast majority of new products fail (cited numbers vary from 85% to 95% according to the niche market). Yet, some product fails are so surprising or spectacular that they go down in history as cautionary tales for entrepreneurs. Analyzing the failure of those who came before us is vital to understanding how to succeed in a market flooded with new technologies and goods.

Below are the top lessons that we should keep in mind when working on new product development:

Lesson #1: Solve a real problem

In order to gain an audience and succeed on the market, a new product should solve a real problem for the consumer. Numerous products launched under the assumption that the public will fall in love in their clever design soon found themselves in history’s dumpster. One of the most prominent examples from recent years was Juicero – a high-end juice producing machine that was launched in 2017. During its short life, the wi-fi equipped juicer became synonymous with silicon valley’s preference of sleek design over providing real value to customers. After it was revealed that the machine is not even necessary to squeeze the juice out of the patent bags customers were required to purchase separately, its failure was complete.

The lesson here is clear: even when you correctly recognize a consumer need, as Juicero did by targeting our obsession with health and nutrition, your product is worthless if you don’t provide a tangible solution that makes life easier.

Juice - apparently it can be made without costly equipment.
Juice – apparently it can be made without costly equipment.

Lesson #2: Make sure the market is ready

Good products fail too. It’s often the most innovative and advanced gadgets that can’t find an audience and justify the large developing costs invested in them. When we first heard about Google Glasses, for example, they were hailed as a step into the future. There was a lot of interest from the media and love from early adopters. However, the world just wasn’t ready to wearable electronics and in two years the glasses were pulled from the market to be relaunched later as an industrial tool. Their fate is a constant reminder of the importance of market research and user feedback. Without continually assessing the reaction of your audience to your product you can’t be sure all of your hard work will be worth it in the end.

Google Glasses were considered too creepy by people outside the tech industry.
Google Glasses were considered too creepy by people outside the tech industry.

Lesson #3: Don’t chase the success of others

Not every product is at the cutting edge of innovation and there are many who flourish by outsmarting others at their game. That said, your motivation for product development should never be beating the competition just for the sake of winning. One of the most glaring examples is the failure of Google+, the social network that Google tried, again and again, to make happen until finally announcing it will be shut down in 2019. Google executives admitted that the company’s main drive to push for Plus’s adoption was fear of losing the competition with Facebook and that they had no unique vision for this product.

Another, perhaps less glaring, example is Nook – an e-reader produced by bookseller Barnes&Nobel for the UK market. Initially moderately successful, it failed to gain an advantage on its widely popular rival – the Amazon Kindle. 4 years after it was initially launched in the UK it was discontinued. Since then there have been numerous reports that its creators B&N is struggling to survive in the age of E-commerce.

Lesson #4: Stay Innovative

Technology is constantly evolving and requiring that companies adapt. Dragging behind trends means you become outdated and irrelevant. Remember BlackBerry phones? Back in the 00’s, they were a must-have accessory for anyone with a busy schedule. In 2009, BlackBerry was named by Fortune magazine as the fastest growing company in the world. But as Apple and Google touch-screen mobile phones became prevalent they still insisted on producing phones with full keyboards When BlackBerry finally did launch a touchscreen device, it was seen as a poor imitation of the iPhone.

Keyboard phones made a lot of sense, until they didn't.
Keyboard phones made a lot of sense until they didn’t.

Lesson #5: Don’t mess with what works

It seems contradictory to recommend stagnation after discussing how important innovation is, but the important thing to understand is that consumers want new things that provide them with value, not for the sake of innovation itself. The most famous corporate failure story of them all – the New Coke travesty of 1985 is the most perfect example of this principle. The Coca-Cola company replaced the formula of their classic beverage with a new recipe that was rebranded as “New Coke”. Blind tests showed that the new flavor was better than classic Coke, buy the public reacted in rage to the rebranding and sales plummeted. This story may be almost as classic as Coke itself, but in the more marketing-savvy environment of 2019, customers are even more aware of unnecessary rebranding that’s presented to them as innovation. Despite the pressure to constantly launch new versions and updates, stay true to your product’s essence.

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