Lemons are Good

A ‘Lemon’ is an American slang for a defective car which is identified as defective only after it has been purchased. In this world of social media, lemons cannot remain undetected for long. And when they are identified, they can tarnish the image of any company exponentially. The word can also be used to describe a product that may have failed despite all efforts.
 Reputed companies try and maintain quality and provide good products to their customers. They put in a lot of research and spend lot of money in segmentation, targeting, positioning and developing their products. But product development takes time as technologies are to be developed, prototyped and tested before they can be launched. If a company does not keep track of the dynamics of a fast moving market, it may land up with products that people do not want anymore. In other words, a company may land up with a lemon even if not intentionally.

These lemons, however, offer the companies a chance to pause and study the market again. To introspect and determine whether they understood their customers wrongly or if they had biases and pitched their products using the wrong tagline. These products give the companies opportunities to understand the changed environment and go back to the drawing board. They get an opportunity to innovate. These innovations may create new markets, new segments or new products which may become game changers.  

One of the biggest lemons launched was the Ford’s 
Edsel models. These cars were designed and positioned after detailed market research. The company introduced a number of innovative technologies in the car also. It was expected to be a great success by Ford, but the cars bombed on the market and production stopped within three years of commencing. Ford realised that something was happening in the automobile market that was against all assumptions made by automobile companies for designing and marketing their products. This change was that the market could no longer be segmented as per price range of vehicles. Vehicles were becoming an integral part of the people, as a result, people wanted these vehicles to be an extension of their lifestyle. This encouraged Ford to segment the market as per lifestyle and one of the products of this segmentation was the Pony Car, the Ford Mustang. This model is still in production and has become an icon in the automobile industry.

Second example is of the Tata Nano. It is an extremely innovative product using lean and economical manufacturing techniques. But it also did not do as well as the company expected. Reasons? Though the intention was good, to provide affordable  personal transport to masses, the company did not take into consideration that in India, as in any growing market, the car is an aspirational product. It is a symbol of prosperity. 
Marketing it as a poor man’s automobile robbed it of this aspiration. The company is now rebranding the product as a lifestyle product for perky young people. There has been a rethink at Tata Motors also and the slew of new products being launched are expected to meet these aspirations. The sales numbers of Zest are a testimony to this.

What is important here is that neither of the two products were bad, in fact both the cars were very well engineered.

As the response of both the companies show, failure of good products make the companies sit up and take stock of what else can go wrong. This pause helps them to identify new opportunities which help them grow further.

Lemons in a way… are Good!