Time to Trade-In the Trade-Off?

By Jason Martin, Innovation Consultant, Idea Development

Ever since reading Kevin Maney’s great book Trade-Off last year, his ideas around consumer behavior have been stuck in my head. His thesis is simple: a product’s market success is based on one of two base attributes, either that of fidelity (a high-quality consumer experience) or that of convenience (how easy it is to obtain and use a product). Almost every decision we make as consumers is determined by the appeal of one of these two propositions. I use this mental model a lot when working on innovation projects in the office, but it’s also something I do just for fun to justify all kinds of life decisions: Amazon.com…shopping from the couch is certainly convenient; Blue Bottle coffee…$5 for the performance art version of coffee brewing. It’s an easy, addictive, and an accurate way to understand why certain innovations fail and others succeed.

Products fail, Maney says, when companies fall into a ‘fidelity mirage’ and start chasing both propositions – ultimately achieving neither. So imagine my surprise when, on a recent diving trip in Mexico, I discovered a product that seems to elude Maney’s theory: the GoPro Hero HD camera and accessories kit. The product is a tiny, indestructible, go-anywhere sports camera that combines beautiful hi-res images with a ridiculously easy to use platform and an approachable price point that seems to make no trade-off’s whatsoever.

It does something no other camera does. Not only does it capture broadcast-quality 1080p HD video and stunning still images, but the POV’s generated make you feel like you’re seeing the world in a completely new way. Mount it on the nose of your surfboard, the seat tube of your mountain bike or your BASE jump helmet and you can pretty much guarantee that this tiny package will show you things you’ve never seen before. Just look at this:

And it’s not just about great rider POVs. The other high-fidelity feature is the way you can use it to analyze and improve your own performance. Just point the camera back at you and you can see your technique up close and personal. Like this:

On the convenience front, it doesn’t show any signs of compromise. The proposition is crazy simple: mount and record. That’s it. With a one-button interface and a simple set of mounting hardware you can capture anything, anywhere. I love this aspect of the product line; all the brackets, mounts and straps really appeal to the gear-head part of me. And with such an easy to use platform, it was only a matter of time before the product was co-opted for a bunch of other great uses. Like this:

So, unlike the iPod (which crunches your audio quality so you can put 5000 songs in your pocket), or an Elton John concert (where, for $300 and a mountain of transportation headaches you can hear “Rocket Man” live) the GoPro makes no such trade-offs. You can have your surfboard and ride it too. I don’t want to run roughshod over Kevin’s beautiful theory—he’s still 99% right: most successful products really are defined by fidelity or convenience. Try to do both and you’re setting yourself up for failure. But it has got me thinking that there might be others out there. And as I continue to search for those enigmas that do both well, I’ll happily continue to use Maney’s Trade-Off theory to justify my expensive coffee habit and online shopping addiction—it’s all in the name of innovation.

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