Aug 31, 2007

Are you unknowingly trying to resurrect failed concepts from the past?

Imagine this nightmare scenario.

You are excited about your brand new product or service that you are about to launch. As far as you know, it is something new and innovative that hasn’t ever been tried before. Then, right after launching it, you run into all kinds of horrible problems that eventually cause management to pull the plug. The old guy down the hall that has had it in for you for a long time starts doing his “I told you so” routine and begins circulating old press releases from other companies that tried to do the same thing a long time ago, and failed, mostly for the same reasons. You have unknowingly been trying to resurrect other people’s failed marketing concepts.

Fortunately, the web makes it much easier to avoid this kind of thing today. You can certainly attempt something that lots of other people have failed at; but at least you can be aware of what has been tried before and why those approaches failed and yours will not.

But what to make of this article on Pay By Touch’s plans to deploy loyalty coupon kiosks? I have seen the same thing tried before and it has often failed. Maybe there are no traces of those failed attempts? Out of curiosity (and as a test of my memory) I did a Google search on “coupon kiosk” and found lots of relatively old stuff on pilots that are no longer around. Coupon kiosks were a 1990’s thing that never really took off. A couple articles from back then give hints of the major flaws in these products, although the flaws weren’t clearly understood at the time. An article from 1991 starts with the following sentence, “Kmart is testing an automated electronic couponing kiosk in nine stores through which shoppers can receive coupons for as many as 24 different products.” Another article, from 1994, talks about a touch screen kiosk offering coupons on 32 products.

In May 2000, long after Kmart’s attempts, another company resurrected the concept and boldly announced that they “have designed the world’s first interactive multimedia coupon kiosk”, completely oblivious to the fact that identical products had been launched a decade earlier.

There are lots of problems with coupon kiosks. It’s easier to look through the Sunday paper and clip the coupons you want out of a selection that is far greater than anything a single company could reasonably negotiate for their kiosks. A kiosk would need to offer potentially hundreds of coupons, much more than the 24 or 32 offered on earlier generation products. That’s especially true if the coupons are targeted! Pay By Touch is going to have to fundamentally transform their organization if they expect to constantly update their kiosk with new offers on hundreds of products. Anther problem, this one even more fatal, is that nobody wants to wait in line at a kiosk before going into the store. The Google search also identified another issue to deal with: patents. I wish Pay By Touch luck navigating through those waters.

I don't know exactly why some of these concepts keep popping up again through the decades. My best guess is that it comes from a technologist's mindset, the old "solution looking for a problem" thing.

You can avoid all this by doing a simple Google search and being humble enough to ask why all those other people (many of them very smart) failed and how your project is so different that it will not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seems like I recall (via email lookup) that Price Chopper rolled out a product called I-Save Coupon Kiosk...