Friday, September 10, 2010

Check list marketing, or why vendors put useless features into their products

Yesterday, I wrote a post about Pentax's new K-r DSLR. Like all new DSLRs, it has a video mode, but the K-r's is fixed at 720P at 25 fps. Fine for Europe, but completely useless in the U.S. Pentax isn't the only offender, of course; it's virtually impossible to find a DSLR from anyone that has usable audio, which is why the Zoom H4n audio recorder is so popular.

Why do manufacturers add features to their products that don't work or are useless? It's usually due to "check list marketing." You've probably seen the comparison lists that show how the features and functions of various products compare. The lists are almost always put together by a vendor to show how much better their products are than the competition's. No one wants to look bad on one of these check lists, so the sales team or product managers will push the engineering team to add features. The engineering team will usually resist, but sales and product management will insist that engineering implement the features in some way, so that they can add them to their check lists.

That's probably how the K-r got its video mode. The website and data sheet for the camera boast that it has HD video. Yes, at the lowest resolution that can be called HD, with a frame rate that's useless in North America. They don't say that in the headline, of course; you have to read down to the specifications to find out the bad news. The check list only says "HD video". Canon? Check. Panasonic? Check. Nikon? Check. Sony? Check. Pentax? Check. It didn't say "HD video that you can actually use," or "HD video that you can edit," or "HD video that won't make you throw your camera through a plate glass window." There would be some checks missing on that list, and not just for Pentax.

I'd rather see companies implement features the right way, and have the courage to leave out features that can't be done well, rather than implement useless features simply to fill out a check list. If Pentax's engineers didn't have to implement video mode, could they have used that time and those resources to make the still features of the camera even better? There are many photographers who buy DSLRs for their ability to shoot stills and couldn't care less about video. It would have been a retro step by Pentax, but in this case, it would have been the right thing to do.
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