Product Management advice from Ford

People can’t always tell you why they like something. And when they do, they often point to things they can describe—or feel comfortable describing—rather than the real reasons. Consider this from a Ford engineer Richard Parry-Jones:

Some in the company would say, “Richard why are you doing that? Spending all the money on chassis and steering? Customers never ask about things like that.” But they were wrong. People got into a Focus and said, “I really like driving it.” You’d ask why and they’d say, “I don’t know; I just do.” Understanding why they like it is our job. I tracked customer satisfaction against attributes like steering, brakes, spaciousness, and so on. To people’s amazement, I was able to prove that steering was the most strongly correlated, because bad steering is tiring.

David Ogilvy had some things to say about this, but it’s more than that: consumers aren’t subject matter experts. They may not have language to describe road feel, and they may not understand that steering feel is configurable.

The Ford company learned the hard way about ignoring customer taste, and the soft, non-functional attributes of their product. From author Jason Vuic:

Ford would produce fifteen million Models Ts but slowly lost market share because he refused to adapt to, or even consider, consumer taste. Ford’s “production-centered ethos,” wrote one scholar, was “unwavering … he almost drove his company to ruin by continuing to build economical machines and to advertise them as just that—and only that.”