Creating new successful products is tough. There’s absolutely no debating that. Virtually every Product Manager I know has worked on some new product that — despite their best efforts to research the market, develop and test the offering, position it well and launch it successfully — has failed.
And when you ask people why their product failed to live up to expectations, the answers usually revolve around not understanding the market or problem space well enough, or not being able to address changing market dynamics.
I wrote about this problem in the post entitled Product Success is not easy – part 2. Even at Proctor and Gamble, they see a 40% failure rate as acceptable.
So what does this have to do with American Idol?
Quite bluntly, American Idol is about creating successful products.
They use the medium of television and the model of a talent/popularity contest to do it.
By the end of each season, the eventual winner has had several months of nationwide, if not international, exposure, a base of somewhat loyal fans, guaranteed additional exposure on talk shows, radio programs, entertainment news, the American Idol finalists tour and of course their debut album.
Yet, even with all of this, there is no guarantee of successful record sales.
If you look at the history of the winners of American Idol, you’d expect every winner from each of the 7 seasons (not including the recently completed 8th season) to c0nsistently have gold and platinum records. Each winner is clearly very talented and very popular.
Yet, if you look at this table, it’s clear that while some winners such as Kelly Clarkson (Season 1) and Kerry Underwood (Season 4) have done very well, others such as Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks have struggled after a promising first album.
The point here is even with great talent, broad name recognition and market popularity, success for these performers is not necessarily guaranteed or repeatable.
The same is true with any kind of new product development. Despite all the best efforts at requirements gathering, market analysis, early user testing etc. there are absolutely no guarantees for success.
The remedy? Understand that failure is an option, build that into your development and business plans, constantly test new ideas and define ways to decide how to determine potential winners and losers early in your process. Feed those that look like winners, and starve those that don’t.
Now I wouldn’t apply this literally to the contestants at American Idol, but if you look at their audition and screening process, it does follow that pattern. And in the end, while there are no guarantees, when you get a success like Kelly Clarkson or Kerry Underwood, that makes up for a lot of underachievers that never made it to the finals.