Legacy effects

Earlier this week Seth Godin blogged about legacy issues. He stated that “The faster your industry moves, the more likely others are willing to live without the legacy stuff and create a solution that’s going to eclipse what you’ve got, legacies and all.”

That might be true, but legacy effects are just as prevalent on the consumer side as the production side, and they should be recognised and incorporated as far as possible.

For instance, early digital cameras didn’t contain a shutter sound. After all, it doesn’t need one – the noise was merely a byproduct of the analogue mechanism. Nevertheless, early users felt a disconnect – the noise had let them know when their photo had been taken. Hence digital cameras all now have the option for the shutter sound to be incorporated.

Legacy effects are also present in our naming conventions – records, films and so on. I suspect this may also soon apply to the device we carry around in our pockets and handbags.

Our contracts and pay as you go credits are currently with phone companies, and so the “mobile phone” name still makes sense, even when on smartphones the phone is “just another app” (and not a regularly used one at that). But with Google looking at unlocked handsets, and the introduction of cashless payments through NFC, the business models may soon be changing. I suspect that if Visa starts selling devices that allow you to make payments as well as contact people, they will initially call it a “mobile phone” rather than a “mobile wallet”.

Behaviours are also subject to legacy effects – our habitual purchases that we continue to make without consideration. Some companies (like AOL) benefit from it, while others can suffer. For instance, I have only recently purchased a Spotify subscription and am considering a Love Film trial. From a purely economic standpoint I should have done this a long time ago, but I’ve been wedded to the idea of needing to own something tangible. Digital distribution means this isn’t necessarily the best option anymore (I type this as I look at shelves full of DVDs that I will need to transport when moving flat).

Consumers on the business-to-business side aren’t immune from this either – witness the continued reliance on focus groups or a thirty-second spot. These are undoubtedly still effective in the right circumstances, but some budget holders can be extremely reticent to leave traditional tried and trusted methods even when faced with reliable evidence than an alternative could prove more effective.

So while some companies can benefit from removing their legacy attributes early, doing so too early may be counterproductive. The comfort of sticking with what one knows can be very powerful, no matter how irrational it can seem.

sk

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