First, I’ll tell you a story, and then I’ll tell you how it applies to marketing and product management.
Yesterday, the highway drive from my office in Saint John to my home in Moncton (about 150km) was a MESS. There was snow, rain, freezing rain, sleet, hail, and ice pellets. (Canadian readers will know there’s a difference between those last 4 items.) Most sane individuals had already abandoned any idea of driving through this crap, and those that were still on the road were going painfully slow – about 40km/h. And there were many motorists going nowhere, because they had slid off the road.
I, however, was gleefully cruising along at the speed limit – 110km/h. My Audi S4 has Quattro all-wheel drive. This is a suspension/computer system that dominated the European rally racing circuit in the early ‘80s because it was so good – Audi won nearly all the races. After learning in my youth how to winter-drive in conventional front-engine, real-wheel-drive vehicles; the difference in an S4 is shocking. In any road condition, at any speed, it feels like you are glued to the road. My car probably saved my life yesterday.
Now to my point. Thirty/forty years ago, people expected their cars to be unmanageable in snow, to break down periodically, to rust out after a few years, to be expensive to maintain, and to be sold by unscrupulous hucksters. Because of the entry of QUALITY vehicles into the North American market, all this changed. Now all vehicles are expected to be well-made, easy to service, reliable, and available through honest distributors; whether they’re from Japan, Korea, Germany, Sweden, or Detroit.
Did the automobile industry increase their focus on quality, causing consumers to upgrade their expectations; or did consumers begin to realize that cars could be well-made, and start to demand it? Probably a little of both, but it was marketers who gauged the public expectations, and product managers who made the changes to their products. Chicken and egg, I know, but who cares? The lesson is that QUALITY became more important. I think this is a transferrable concept. Designing/making/selling/maintaining a higher quality product will almost always lead to success with your market.