So, Apple released iOS 6 the other day. And, while the reviews for most elements of the upgrade have been solid, its Maps app is, well, a disaster — and not likely to get better soon.
Now, I’m not going to spend a lot of time breaking down the Maps app disaster; you’ve got plenty of other sources for that.
But what I am going to talk about is the key learning that you can take away from this mess for your business.
You see, iOS used to have a great map application in Google Maps. Mike Elgan at Cult of Mac suggests that Apple wanted to replace Google Maps with their own application to strike directly at Google, unwilling to share the wealth. I suspect it’s because Apple realizes how critical map searches are to the future of online advertising, local marketing and their revenues. But whatever the reason, as Mike says, “Google is out.”
I’ve managed the launch of dozens of major products throughout my career along with many, many more minor releases. And, on two memorable occasions, those launches didn’t go so well (not Apple Maps bad, but not great, either).
And the lesson I learned from those launches is the same one Apple’s living with today. It’s the same lesson that doctors learn and pledge to uphold: First, do no harm. While having the right products is core to your marketing strategy, the people who use those products are…. um, core-r. Apple, regardless of its reasons, took away something useful from its customers without offering a reasonable alternative or a rationale other than “Ours is better.” Which would be great, if only it were true.
But by breaking the rule “First, do no harm,” Apple has needlessly pissed off a bunch of customers and potentially pissed away years of goodwill for its products. I don’t expect they’ll take a big hit in the stock market right away. But they’re going to be swimming upstream against a flood of negative press for the near-to-mid term.
Now, if you subscribe to “First, do no harm,” does that mean you can never retire an older product? Of course not. You just have to be sure you either:
- Offer an upgrade path for customers of the older product; or
- Understand that you’re “firing” the customers of that older product.
And #2 on the list above is a valid option. In a former role, my team discovered that customers of our older product actually cost us more money than they brought in. We couldn’t get them to switch to our newer, more profitable product despite repeated efforts and attractive incentives. So, we simply announced a shutoff date and then pulled the plug. About a third of customers on the old product did, finally, move to the new service while the rest simply moved on. Net result? A big gain in revenues from the “switchers” and a much larger reduction in expenses following shutdown of the old product.
Apple didn’t offer its customers an attractive upgrade path, at least not in practice. Their desire to move customers to a “better” product has bitten them in the butt (if their new Maps app was that much better, why not offer Google Maps alongside and let consumers decide?) So, no matter your reason for upgrading your customers or offering them something new, remember the lesson: First, do no harm.
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