September 24, 2018

Are you overwhelmed by technological change?

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We seem to be in an era where, on the one hand, new technologies are making many complex tasks much more straightforward, while on the other, only one person in the household has the technical know-how to turn on the TV.

Microchip e microciop

Microchip e microciop (Photo credit: Un ragazzo chiamato Bi)

Take research, for example. Gone are the days of visiting the library to trawl through big, heavy volumes of journals for a relevant article; a quick database search from the comfort of your own desk will suffice. Then of course there are the endless possibilities of the Internet and the world’s information at your fingertips.

On the flip side, all this information can be overwhelming, especially as a consumer. The internet makes comparing products relatively easy; a survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers last year found that the majority of people go online to research anything from books to clothes before buying. But what happens if you don’t diligently compare alternatives before a purchase? Do you feel you may somehow be missing a trick, or getting a poor deal? Was life simpler when we didn’t know what we didn’t know?

In addition, advances in technology have contributed to the complexity of products. First, there’s the issue of ‘feature creep’. As more and more new features are added to a product, they can detract from its functionality and appeal. It’s a fine line; marketers don’t want their product to appear stagnant, but new features aren’t always helpful either. Can you think of an example?

Additionally, there’s the issue of ‘planned obsolescence’. A recent article about planned obsolescence points out that customers may feel pushed into upgrades because old models soon stop working properly (worn down batteries, incompatible software etc.) or instead they’re pulled by the desire (stimulated by marketers of course) to have the latest gadget because old versions suddenly seem ‘uncool’.

What can marketers of hi-tech products do to enhance their offering and simplify consumers’ lives? First, I think marketers should be clear and transparent about their product’s position in the market. If you are competing on price, make it plain, without confusing messages and hidden extras (think mobile phone tariffs that never cost what you expect each month, or broadband packages with low headline prices but complicated additional line rental and installation fees).

If you aren’t competing on price, what is the one benefit consumers will gain from choosing your product over another? I would argue most people aren’t interested in features, and don’t understand a lot of them anyway. Marketers should focus on the solutions provided by features, and promote benefits delivered (from both physical and perceptual elements).

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the pace of technological change, and do you think marketers will need to adapt in the future to prevent disgruntled customers?

Jane Priest, Teaching Fellow About Jane Priest, Teaching Fellow

Teaching Fellow at Edinburgh Business School. Part of the Marketing teaching team, focusing on the Consumer Behaviour elective.