Applying the milkshake theory


In last month’s column I sounded off at a few of the crackpot ideas going around at the moment, like connected television. The point, if there was one, was that we seem to be overloaded at the moment with new technologies that exist solely for one of two reasons: that a bunch of engineers found they could do it, and/or a big manufacturer thought they could put a new logo on a product and bump the price up.
If you will indulge me, it is a theme to which I would like to return.
At the beginning of February, for rather dull reasons which need not concern us here, I travelled to Boston in a particularly cold snap to hear a man called Clayton M Christensen talk. He is a professor at the Harvard Business School, and has also written some of the better offerings in the business section of the airport bookshop, which we all rush past on our way to the Dan Browns.
The premise of his talk, he stated at the beginning, was “why is innovation such a crap shoot?” One of the reasons, he went on to suggest, was that people innovate in a vacuum rather than determining what people actually need. He told a fascinating story to illustrate this.
It appears that “a leading fast food chain in America” (he later let slip that it was McDonalds) wanted to increase the sales of its milkshakes. It did what would appear to be the right thing: it identified milkshake lovers and formed a focus group. The focus group debated what would make a better milkshake, and McDonalds took many of these ideas on board.
The new improved milkshake was launched. And made absolutely no measurable difference to sales.
It was at this point that Christensen was called in. Pause for a moment while we realign our prejudices: not only does McDonalds do serious research into product development, it engages Harvard professors, at a consultancy rate I can only dream of, to do it.
Rather than look at the product, Christensen looked at the customers. He did some raw research on why people bought a milkshake.
It turned out that more than 50% of milkshake sales were to lone customers, who bought nothing other than the milkshake, and bought it first thing in the morning. This seemed to him, as it did to me, completely counter-intuitive. Surely you buy the milkshake to take away the taste of the burger that you bought late at night when you thought you ought to eat something?
So he dug into the reason for buying. It turned out that these lone, early morning purchasers had a long and boring commute to work and they primarily needed something to occupy them on the journey, with a secondary requirement that it be (more or less) nutritious, or at least fill them up.
An apple would have been an alternative, but would not have lasted as long. An Egg McMuffin would have filled the time but is less convenient to eat while driving, and highly likely to leave an embarrassing stain down the front of the shirt. The competition for the McDonalds milkshake was not, then, a technically superior milkshake developed by a rival vendor, but seemingly different products: bagels, chocolate bars, bananas and so on.
Christensen drew two conclusions from this. First, there is a point where technology develops beyond what the user needs and can use. In this case the original milkshake formulation was perfectly good enough and did not need further development.
To put it in our terms, if you are as old as I am you will remember having to pause regularly when typing on early personal computers to wait for the processor to catch up. Today’s computers have already developed way beyond what we need them to do (the machine on which I am typing this has eight processors each running at 2.8GHz – not even I type that fast). And yet Mr Intel continues to create ever faster processors running in ever smaller packages for ever more powerful desktops and laptops.
The second conclusion is that before you can develop a product, you have to know what the user wants it for. He talked about “the job to be done”. In his example, the job to be done was not to titillate the tastebuds with the finest milkshake the world has ever known, but to give the commuter something to do with his or her hands when stuck in traffic, which would incidentally also stave off the pangs of hunger until lunchtime.
Exhibition season is upon us. I have already tramped the halls of Cabsat and BVE, and will soon be packing my bag to head off to NAB. I am sure many of you will be there, too. As you are pulled onto stand after stand by excited exhibitors claiming that their product is new and revolutionary, just ask yourself if it will genuinely help you get your job done.
Or are they just trying to improve a milkshake?

Tags: iss051 | milkshake | food chain | product development | cabsat | bve. nab | ibc | exhibition season | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

Read this article in the tv-bay digital magazine
Article Copyright tv-bay limited. All trademarks recognised.
Reproduction of the content strictly prohibited without written consent.

Articles
An Epiphany Moment
Peter Savage 2 I had been negotiating the sale of my company and had reached the really hard end of the bargain. We were close to agreeing the final sum after a lot of too-much-give-and-not-enough-take negotiation. The solicitors were calling me, keen for a deal. It had come down to one sticking point and, in my hard ball “I am the Wolf of Wall Street” guise, I wasn’t going to let it go. It would make a value difference of 1.5% on the total outcome. Not much, you might think, but I had already nearly fallen out with the solicitors over their fees and I was giving my advisors an extremely hard time because the corporate adviser couldn’t see how I had already given more than an inch and the buyers were taking more than a mile. I was not going to let them win.
Tags: iss134 | azule | finance | Peter Savage 2
Contributing Author Peter Savage 2 Click to read or download PDF
Using Wireless Transmission
Jeremy Benning Wireless acquisition is a staple of live sports, entertainment and reality shows where cable free capture permits shots not previously possible, for health and safety reasons, and gives the camera-operator greater artistic licence to roam. The same is increasingly true of narrative drama where cinematographers are keen to work handheld or Steadicam where that helps tell the story. Any equipment which frees their movement and time by being lighter, easier to use and reliable in performance is going to tick a lot of boxes.
Tags: iss134 | wireless | 4k | transmission | Jeremy Benning
Contributing Author Jeremy Benning Click to read or download PDF
Shedding Light on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4k BMCPP4K
Garth de Bruno Austin “What is it about light that has us craving it?” Is the question asked in the opening seconds of Garth de Bruno Austin’s latest short, The Colour of Light. Exploring this natural, human need as well as our innate desire to control it, Garth’s film showcases everyday people going about their lives in differing degrees of luminance, whether that be an artificial streetlight or a natural morning sunrise.
Tags: iss134 | blackmagic | cinema camera | 4k | cpp4k | Garth de Bruno Austin
Contributing Author Garth de Bruno Austin Click to read or download PDF
The brave new world of software based production
Boromy Ung In today’s rapidly evolving broadcast industry, the only constant media organizations can truly count on is change — and the need to adapt as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible. One of the biggest agents of change is the IP revolution, driving broadcasters to migrate their operations to all-software solutions running on commodity, IT-based technologies.
Tags: iss134 | chyronhego | graphics | sports | ott | Boromy Ung
Contributing Author Boromy Ung Click to read or download PDF
Sony HDC-4800 Review
Andy McKenzie First announced at NAB 2016, the Sony HDC-4800 is a studio camera system capable of shooting 4K/UHD at up to 8x or full HD at up to 16x. With a price point upwards of £250,000 it is a very high-end product with a wide feature set. In Sony's own words, "This is the future of live production, designed to satisfy the storytelling aspect of modern sports production.” Deliveries began in mid 2017 and, after careful preliminary evaluation, we invested in several systems for our hire fleet ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Tags: iss134 | review | hdc-4800 | sony | finepoint | Andy McKenzie
Contributing Author Andy McKenzie Click to read or download PDF