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Tech Industry

Time for straight talk on technology

AMD exec Patrick Moorhead writes that the computer industry is cruising for a bruising by failing to put customers at the center of the technology conversation.

Considering all the "evident" benefits offered by personal computing devices, you might naturally assume that more people would want to enrich their lives with new technologies. Therefore, I'm surprised by the slowdown in technology adoption that many pundits are now blaming on the economy.

But I believe that conclusion misses a more fundamental reason. What if the rate of home and business technology innovation is outpacing its relevance to many consumers, leaving them to wonder if they even need the latest in technology? At that point, are the "evident" benefits of computing really so evident?

Do we really expect regular folks to buy a PC based on such gobbledygook?
I recently met with the Global Consumer Advisory Board, a highly respected group of consumer and small-business advocates from Asia, Canada, Europe, Japan, Latin America, Mexico and the United States, to explore this disconnect between technology innovation and adoption. We drew a conclusion: A "technology gap" indeed exists on a global level. Here's why:

The average person using technology often faces an unfamiliar vocabulary of acronyms and abstract high-tech terms that he or she doesn't understand. When purchasing, setting up and even using technology devices, this lack of understanding only serves to confuse, paralyze and frustrate. Even worse, as technology continues to innovate, the technology vocabulary constantly increases.

If people want to take full advantage of these newer technologies, they are often required to surrender personal information. That automatically raises concerns about privacy and security in this personal data "trade-off." These doubts only hold back the more widespread adoption of new products and services, such as certain portals, media players, wireless computing devices and e-commerce, which require the exchange of personal information.

According to IDC's 2001 consumer devices survey report, 41 percent of respondents said they do not own a PC because they have no need for one. This precisely characterizes the third issue causing the technology gap--the inability on the part of the industry to properly convey the values and benefits of new digital products or services.

Let's motivate people with a reason to buy targeted to solve their unique needs rather than with some cool technology feature.
The industry must realize that the values and relevancies of technologies are different for different people. Educational, cultural and geographic differences among consumers obviously exist. Yet when designing, marketing and supporting a product, the industry seems to take a one-size-fits-all approach.

Some may argue--and I would agree--that the need for trust, simplicity and relevance in marketing technology products is quite obvious. Yet so much of today's technology is sold on the features and not the benefits.

One line item in a typical Sunday ad circular about a PC and the information presented read as follows: "1.6 GHz, 256KB L2 cache, 64MB DDR SDRAM." Do we really expect regular folks to buy a PC based on such gobbledygook?

Another good example is that to understand wireless home networking, consumers need to know the difference between Bluetooth, IEEE, 802.11a and 802.11b. The industry has been talking to the same group of sophisticated consumers for 20 years. If you are a mainstream user of technology, it is very difficult to catch up and you have to be really motivated to invest the time and money.

So where do we go from here? How can we put the technology consumer back at the center of the technology discussion? How about starting by communicating in terms that explain the real benefits that people will receive from their technology investment. Let's motivate people with a reason to buy targeted to solve their unique needs rather than with some cool technology feature.

Consumers represent the most important factor in the technology food chain. After all, they are the ones who will ultimately decide the market success or failure of a technology.