Polaroid was a very early success story of high-tech in America. When it came to photography, Polaroid developed a dramatically different experience from the next best option at the time, which included taking photos and storing them on reels of film only for them to be developed days or weeks later. With a Polaroid camera, you could have that same photo in your hand seconds after you had pressed the button to capture it.
Polaroid dominated the market for decades, but by the late 1900s, they were heading towards bankruptcy, which eventually came in 2001. For a company that was so successful, how could things have gone so wrong?
Unfortunately, I see this same pattern in building software product businesses all the time. Do me a favor and ask yourself whether or not you have experienced any of the following:
- Despite staying true to our product strategy, sales are dropping or staying flat?
- We’re getting feedback that what we’re doing is working, but success isn’t being reported by our bottom line revenue?
- We’ve got loyal customers, but growth just isn’t what we hoped it would be.
As your product company evolves, what you must realize is that the same strategy that got you to where you are today may not get you to where you need to be tomorrow.
If you’ve found yourself in one of these situations before, what may be happening is that you are only listening to the feedback from the market that confirms your strategy.
These situations and what Polaroid experienced is referred to as the confirmation trap. The confirmation trap is what happens when you only listen to what you want to hear and not what you need to hear.
So now that we know what it is, how do we avoid falling into this trap with our product company?
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You need to process ALL market feedback
If you’re picking and choosing the feedback you base your product strategy on, stop immediately. What Polaroid did wrong, was they only used feedback that confirmed they should continue down a path of providing customers with physical photographs. What the market was actually telling them was that physical photos were becoming a thing of the past. What people really wanted at the time were digital photographs.
Trust but verify
There’s a fine line between staying the course and veering off course entirely. If you’re listening to the market and processing that feedback effectively then you’ll be less likely to take a wrong turn.
You can always get back on track
Even if you do veer off course, getting back on track isn’t as hard as it seems. In reality, we do lots of experimentation at a product company. This will eventually lead to some failed experiments. What matters most is measuring the impact we’ve had with those experiments and making adjustments accordingly.