Hide Techdirt is off for the long weekend! We'll be back with our regular posts tomorrow.

It's Not The 'Good Enough' Revolution; It's Recognizing What The Consumer Really Wants

from the and-that's-good-enough dept

It’s hardly a new idea, but BullJustin points us to an article in Wired about what the author, Robert Capps, refers to as The Good Enough Revolution, in which he talks about various offerings that have succeeded in the marketplace, despite not having the “quality” of the leading products. So, he talks about the Flip Digital video cameras, compared to higher end camcorders, mp3s vs. CDs, and things like Zoho Writer vs. Microsoft Word. His explanation is that these “lower quality” products are “good enough,” and tend to offer certain features, such as easier accessibility, lower price and better ease of use.

I’d argue that the concept of “good enough” misses the point — and the real issue is that the actual quality is in those other characteristics that he discusses. The real problem is that some start to focus on the “quality” of some aspect of the product, rather than the quality of meeting what the consumer wants. It’s the same thing we’ve discussed over and over again, with a company (or industry) not really understanding its market. The first automobiles were a lot crappier than the fancy horse carriages you could buy — but they did the important thing better: getting you somewhere faster and cheaper.

The issue is that the focus on “quality” is on the wrong attribute. It’s also why many people falsely claim that the VHS beat Betamax, despite “lower quality.” Yes, it may have had lower quality of the recorded video, but that wasn’t the attribute people cared about. They wanted to be able to record longer videos, which the Betamax was not set up to do, but VHS was. In almost every one of these stories, you find that it really was an issue of quality — but the real question was what attribute the market cared about when it came to quality.

With the MP3 and the Flip Camera and Zoho Writer (and many others), it appears convenience is a driving attribute. So while all may seem to have less in terms of the type of “quality” that some like to focus on, they ignore what the market actually wants, which appears to be convenience.

This, too, is one of the reasons why it doesn’t make sense to get so focused on the product when you don’t know what the market actually wants. The people who create the initial products almost always assume that the most important attributes are the product itself, rather than the convenience it provides users. There will always be snobs who want to focus on the “highest quality” possible, but they’re part of a small market, rather than a mass market. And if that’s “good enough” for them, that’s fine — but it misses the real marketing opportunity.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “It's Not The 'Good Enough' Revolution; It's Recognizing What The Consumer Really Wants”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Jerome says:

Re: Sometimes "Cheap and Simple" is perfect

“I’d argue that the concept of “good enough” misses the point — and the real issue is that the actual quality is in those other characteristics that he discusses.”

Mike, you obviously failed to read the article in full. He does mention that ‘quality’ is in other characteristics rather than just what the leading brands assume to be the yardstick for comparison.

In other words, this article is redundant and a waste of time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sometimes "Cheap and Simple" is perfect

We’d love to but the people that write out checks don’t want ‘cheap and simple’. They see something “cheap and simple” but confuse the elegant tight manageable code as something any hack can make then start requesting weird stuff to be tacked on everywhere so they feel like they got worth out of us. If you can imagine designing a fuel efficient car then the car manufacturer saying “Well that’s nice but anyone can do that! You need to attach spoilers everywhere, flashing led lights randomly, spinning wheels, hide the ignition in the glove box and remove the side doors, the user has to get to the driver seat through the trunk.” that’s what we have to put up with.

bigpicture says:

Re: Sometimes "Cheap and Simple" is perfect

You don’t have to look at MS, they are doing just fine with producing aggravating crap all by themselves. Example: Vista.

The author is pointing at an issue that has got my attention for a long time. The word that he uses is “quality” which is probably not the correct word. A better description might be “feature set”.

He uses the analogy of a car where the basic “feature set” costs about say $20K, but the same vehicle with a full “feature set” costs say about $40K. If you look at the two vehicles side by side what you get for the additional $20K is not very visible. And that is simply because it cost much less to manufacture and install the additional $20K cost than it did for the first $20K.

This is the little trick that just about killed GM. The first $20K example is the “base or essential feature set” that every car MUST HAVE, the second $20K are non essential features that people LIKE TO HAVE. GM never learned to be cost effective on the MUST HAVE feature set manufacture, like Toyota, Honda etc. and were using the margins in the LIKE TO HAVE feature set to subsidize the MUST HAVE manufacture costs.

In the end their line up was heavy in $50K to $70K luxury SUVs and it was not long until the rest started eating their lunch in that niche. For instance Kia sells an equivalent to a $70K Escalade for $40K. The iPhone for example is just a Cadillac phone. How long will it be before the Chinese have a feature compatible knock off for half the price. Cell phones have a life of about 2 or 3 years and then they are obsolete throwaways anyway. What kind of “quality” is required for that? Why do I need to pay $300 to $400 for MS office when Open Office (the non-Cadillac) is available for free, or even use Google Docs where my stuff is available from anywhere without even the use of Citrix???

perezda says:

Right idea, wrong name.

>> I’d argue that the concept of “good enough” misses the
>> point — and the real issue is that the actual quality
>> is in those other characteristics that he discusses

I think that Capps gets it more than you think he does, but he chose the wrong name. And the name he chose is making you think he doesn’t get it.

From Capps –
“To some, it looks like the crapification of everything. But it’s really an improvement”

“Shirky’s point is crucial”

“In other words, companies that focus on traditional measures of quality—fidelity, resolution, features—can become myopic and fail to address other, now essential attributes like convenience and shareability. “

There are several more good quotes in the article that show does get it. But then he refers to it as “Good Enough” again…

chris (profile) says:

Re: Right idea, wrong name.

There are several more good quotes in the article that show does get it. But then he refers to it as “Good Enough” again..

the whole think kind of reminds me of “worse is better” where you get something that is not great, but widely distributed (unix and C compared to LISP, at the time the article was written) and once there is a large audience for than environment, and that audience doesn’t have high expectations for said environment, programmers will want to make improvements to the environment.

kind of explains the popularity of windows (relatively cheap, runs on most commodity PC hardware, relatively easy to use, large base of familiar users with generally low expectations) despite its shortcomings and the availability of supposedly better designed or cheaper ones.

if you follow that logic to the present, it’s kind of ironic that the wintel platform that rose up from the 90’s to displace mainframes and unix are now being displaced to an increasing degree by web applications.

also, like anything else in life there is an XKCD comic to cover it: http://www.xkcd.com/484

Steve Robertson (profile) says:

Desired features that work = quality

Pretty simple (yet elusive for many companies) to focus on what people really want and easy to get distracted by complexity in today’s market. I agree that Capp uses the wrong words to make the right argument. I have sat in meetings where “good enough” customer service was discussed as a cost reduction technique and that is not at all what I believe Capp is saying. BTW…that company’s market share plunged shortly thereafter.

Scote (profile) says:

I think that Capps gets it more than you think he does, but he chose the wrong name. And the name he chose is making you think he doesn’t get it.”

Perhaps, but I’d say giving it the wrong name, which emphasizes the wrong aspect shows he doesn’t get it. Hulu is listed as an example. Hulu isn’t “good enough,” Hulu is better quality than I used to get with my analog reception, with streaming that just works, fewer commercials, and lots of current content, including the Daily Show. That isn’t “good enough,” that is better than everyone else. Calling it “good enough” is to miss the point.

MBraedley (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Except you are missing the point. Hulu isn’t competing with over the air analog transmissions, which in and of itself is (or was in the US) good enough for many people. No, Hulu is competing with the likes of cable and digital TV, and downloads (iTunes, torrents, what have you), all of which offer higher resolutions and generally a consistent quality. Where Hulu beats them is on the convenience of watching, and ease of use. Shows on traditional TV are only on a certain times, it takes time to download shows from iTunes, and torrents can be difficult to find, especially legal ones (if they even exist yet). Hulu’s resolution is good enough considering you can watch whatever you want (within reason, it needs to be available), whenever you want, and it’s easy to do. Other offerings simply can’t do that.

Trails says:


It’s a oversimplification. A product’s value to a consumer is not unidimensional, and the notion of “quality” is subjective.

If I’m buying a pair of scissors, and I can choose between ones with high-grade alloy heat-tempered blades, and mahogany ergonomic handles designed by herman miller for $400 or dollar store scissors with plastic handles for $2, I’ll take the $2 pair, thank you very much. It does what I need perfectly. The $400 scissors are a waste of money for me. The additional quality has no value to me.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I agree. I think people often forget that competition does not mean meeting some absolute standard for “better.” It means meeting your consumer’s needs and wants. Before you add a new feature, ask yourself: “Do my consumers want that new feature?” I don’t want MP3s because they are “good enough.” I want MP3s because I want my music library on my hard drive to not take up the whole hard drive more than I want “CD-quality.” They meet my needs even though they do not meet some sort of abstract measure of what is “best.”

Jack Repenning (profile) says:

Oh, boy, 20:20 hindsight again!

I’ve never been part of a product team that didn’t make their central question “what does the customer want?” I’ve never been part of a team where that wasn’t a controversial and difficult question, but we did our best to find the answer, and to provide that product. And once the results are in, there’s always someone to point out how obvious the real customer wants are. There’s even someone, nearly always, who can say “see, I told you so!” But what’s missing is any method for seeing in advance, for reliably choosing among likely possibilities. Got thoughts on that?

kirillian (profile) says:

Re: Oh, boy, 20:20 hindsight again!

Yep…try asking…it seems too many companies are convinced they ALREADY know what the consumer wants. Or, they fix their own surveys by using a non-random sampling that skews their results and end up shoving products at people that they don’t want. Then they complain that people are cheating them because their business model doesn’t work.

Companies are ALWAYS faced with the dilemma of finding out what the consumer wants. It’s part of what separates the chaff from the wheat so to speak. Good companies figure it out, whether the first time, or in subsequent iterations. Bad companies fail and complain. The responsibility for that falls on the companies shoulders. Suck it up. Do whatever it takes to find out. Stop giving excuses. That’s unprofessional bull-crap…

BobinBaltimore (profile) says:

Nit Pick

Mike, I get the point and basically agree (though I think the author also makes the point you say he doesn’t). You do have a serious error in your horse versus automobile analogy, though. You write: “The first automobiles were a lot crappier than the fancy horse carriages you could buy — but they did the important thing better: getting you somewhere faster and cheaper. ” WRONG! The first automobiles were immensely expensive, for the most part, prone to breakdowns and suffered from an extreme lack of supporting infrastructure (passable roads, petrol/kerosene, etc.). I agree that when one was in an area with roads which were passable by a hard-rubber-tired car and the engine and chassis remained intact, it was faster than a horse, if you could make it to your destination before running out of fuel. But early autos were surely not less expensive (in cash or time) to operate or maintain. Early autos gained popularity as a status symbol or tinkerer’s delight, and almost in spite of their short comings. I know this doesn’t invalidate your point, but such boo-boos make a credible point less so.

chris (profile) says:

WRONG! The first automobiles were immensely expensive, for the most part, prone to breakdowns and suffered from an extreme lack of supporting infrastructure (passable roads, petrol/kerosene, etc.).

for what it’s worth, there was some talk here a few days ago about the cost of a horse and buggy being mostly the horse, or multiple horses in the case of daily or extended use:

an auto body, circa 1900, was very much like a buggy. In 1900, a typical buggy might have cost about fifty dollars– say, $2500 in modern money. That was small compared to the price of an automobile. It was also small compared to the cost of a horse and buggy. A good ninety percent of the cost of a horse and buggy was the horse, not the buggy. That especially meant the ongoing expense of the horse’s food. Someone who made his living riding or driving might require a herd of anything up to a hundred horses, in the case of heavy hauling or stagecoaches. RFD mail carriers, who had to go twenty-four miles a day, tended to keep several horses and change them annually, spending hundreds of 1900 dollars in the process each year (tens of thousands in modern money). A cowboy would have a “remuda” of ten horses. The horses wore out, and had to be changed frequently. (See James Bruns, _Motorized Mail_, Andy Adams, _Log of a Cowboy_).

i remember the comment because i had never thought of horses and buggies that way before and i had sort of marveled at just how the automobile managed to take off the way that it did.

vastrightwing (profile) says:

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

This subject was written about years ago. I subscribe to the idea that “quality” means “meets expectations”. Of course this can be hard to determine sometimes. The original article got it right, but worded it awkwardly. My clients do not care how much time I put in (read quality from my perspective); they only care about how much it costs and how it performs. To the extent I balance the cost and meet their expectations I’ve built a quality product. If I priced it too high, then the quality is not good no matter how much effort I put in. People need to look on both sides of the coin in order to understand the relationship of quality in a product or service. As one poster put it, I only need a $2.00 pair of scissors to cut paper. Anything more expensive (read higher quality) is useless to me.

PRMan (profile) says:


First, vastrightwing has it right that it’s about “meeting expectations”.

The guy that took over Olive Garden was a media darling for saving the company millions in operating costs. All he really did was change the olive oil used in all the cooking for soybean oil.

He looked great for a while, but now everyone I know “used” to go to Olive Garden. It’s just not quite as good as it used to be.

Hulu was “good enough” until they quit working on my PS3. Now I don’t watch them anymore. I’m not sure how killing of a sizeable portion of your viewer base on a free, ad-supported platform makes sense, but hey, whatever. It’s useless to me now.

This leads me to discussing how companies also need to avoid the danger of thinking their suppliers and corporate partners are their “customers”. Obviously, the Hulu move misses this point completely.

Microsoft just learned this lesson very well:

Vista – Listen to business partners but not end users – worst OS in a decade
Windows 7 – Listen to end users – Best OS ever

Dr Rod King (user link) says:

Good enough fidelity and minimum inconvenience vs. High fidelity and greater inconvenience

Several good comments have been made regarding the limitation of the caption, “Good Enough Revolution.” For me, a crucial word which is missing is ‘Fidelity’ so that the title should have been the ‘Good Enough Fidelity (GEF) Revolution.’

In his forthcoming book, “Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On and Others Don’t,” Kevin Maney defines Fidelity and provides a powerful framework that explains why some products that are good enough turn out to be ‘hits.’ My understanding is that ‘Fidelity’ is more than the quality of a product, service, or business model.

Fidelity can be summarized using the qualitative equation:

Fidelity = Quality + Social Aura/Cachet + Identity (Character)

Inconvenience is orthogonal to the Fidelity of a product and can be qualitatively summarized as:

Inconvenience = Cost (Price) + Inaccessibility/Unavailability + Complexity (Time)

Using the above framework, one could see that the essence of the Good Enough Fidelity (GEF) Revolution is moderate Fidelity (that is: good enough quality, social aura, and/or identity) coupled with low inconvenience (that is: low price; super-accessibility/availability; simplicity (24×7)). This ‘disruptive’ trade-off relationship looks a lot simpler when displayed on a graph of Fidelity vs. Inconvenience.

What customers ultimately want are high fidelity and low inconvenience (or super-convenience). Achieving this state of very low trade-off may be a holy grail in business. Or, as Kevin Maney notes a ‘Fidelity mirage.’ Businesses find it extremely hard to provide what customers ultimately want: Free, Perfect, Now. Google Search is a rare exception.

In conclusion, the title of the original article in Wired Magazine may be imperfect but the quality of the discussion, which it is generating, is more than ‘good enuf.’


Ilfar says:

Good enough for me

I don’t buy based on all the features it has, I buy based on the features I need. In terms of software, I want something that loads quickly, runs smoothly, and opens and saves in well-used file formats. Wordpad does fine for me. I could do with the ability to auto-generate contents pages like MS Word, but Word just loads too damned slowly (So does OpenOffice, before anyone says anything).

Look at all this damned software today, some of it loads slower in it’s current iteration than it did back when I used the old 486s in High School, loading of a network drive. They’ve got literally thousands more features than back then, and I use exactly… none of them. Netscape used to be a pretty quick loading browser, then I had to switch to Firefox, now I’m on to Chrome. I expect I’ll move on again when Chrome gets too cluttered as well.

My laptop? Got it for half the price it debuted at, two years later it still runs everything I need (after an extra gig of RAM, who the hell thought selling a Vista machine with half a gig of RAM was a good idea?!?).

Griff (profile) says:

It's a correction....

Take my Sony Ericsson J132 cheap as chips handset, that was 5 quid in PAYG form, I realise that I was buying it as a backlash to the previous phone that was stuffed with features and kept crashing. Somewhere along the line an appliance (a phone where you push buttons to dial a call) had morphed into a computer acting as a phone, so complex that it could take 30 seconds from cold to actually make a call and could actually crash on answering a call due to some untraceable OS corruption. The phone had stopped being good at actually being a phone.

I never actually met the person for whom Office 97 was not good enough (he/she exists ?), just the others for whom upgrading was rendered necessary just to be compatible with the Joneses.

The world has basically build up a bubble (to use stock market speak) of too much technology push and too little market pull (whether it be phones, cars, video cameras). And the quoted article is referring to what is basically the inevitable market correction. We’ve been told that we need a camera and an MP3 ringtone on our phone and for a few years we have all swallowed it but then finally everyone has started thinking “enough already”. But since the MSM make their living from continually promoting the next big thing, they couldn’t come out and say it.

So everyone quietly thought “it must just be me”.

When finally someone had the guts to say “I bet EVERYONE wants something simpler too” and launch a product, we all suddenly saw the light.
One week we’re buying simple phones that just make calls, next it’s netbooks that are as fast as a c2003 laptop, and before you know it the cat is completely out of the bag.

But there will always be products (iPhone) that get away with pure undulterated tech push. Unlikely to be a correction there anytime soon.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...