Durability – is it losing power as a customer driver?

by Dina on March 29, 2010 · 14 comments

in Market Insights

A while ago, a Client who is working on a project where she wanted evidence that durability is losing its power as a consumer driver in some product categories in India. Durability was always  It’s a tricky question really, as there are multiple India’s and each of them displays different drivers when purchasing and adopting products. However, for the most part, my feeling is that while it may still hold importance for some categories, it’s seen as a given – a hygiene-factor almost, that users expect from their products. Research I’ve done in the last few years indicates that neither a brand differentiator nor a purchase driver, as it was even just 7-8 years ago. I thought I’d share some of my notes here – with some great inputs from Manu:

  • Think of China phones – they are not seen as durable, but growing as a segment – look at the Karbonn advertising at the IPL – evidence enough?
  • In a study on brand choice for apparels, durability isn’t really mentioned anywhere. Similarly, you see the change in advertising for mass-brand shoes moving away moving away from durability plank into more young contemporary brand expressions.
  • A slightly outdated and tangential but interesting take on how technological advancements are changing people’s wants and desires from products and services in this article called The Good Enough Revolution in Wired. “So what happened? Well, in short, technology happened. The world has sped up, become more connected and a whole lot busier. As a result, what consumers want from the products and services they buy is fundamentally changing. We now favor flexibility over high fidelity, convenience over features, quick and dirty over slow and polished. Having it here and now is more important than having it perfect. These changes run so deep and wide, they’re actually altering what we mean when we describe a product as “high-quality.”
  • What about the age of pirated CDs and DVDs – they’re not durable – but quick releases, timely, fun etc.
  • Thinking thru current Ads on tv – only the infrastructure and paints guys seem to talk about Durability in their communication today.
  • Would also connect with the real time nature of things now – people aren’t looking for durability because trends change, and they don’t want to be saddled with something they can’t throw away because they’ve paid too much for it. It’s the age of twitter and facebook updates – once they’re off the front page, they’re forgotten
  • Another study – see Point 3.2 Durability on page 3 [pdf]- “Thirty four percent of the people consider durability to be a little important, six percent said it wasn’t important at all and twenty four percent consider durability to be an important factor. This indicates that when the shopper makes a decision to buy such a product, he/she does consider the product’s durability but does not attribute it with much power.”

Goutam Jain replied to my question on LinkedIn with these observations:

“Youth today upgrade faster than before, hence durability is not important. Some are glad when something breaks as they get a chance to upgrade. Technology/fashion changes prompt users to upgrade rendering ‘durability’ meaningless. Even items such as furniture which people usually expected to be durable or last many years now expect or change every few years. We are becoming a fast consumption society, recyclable items are abound, when something is going to be either used and recycled quickly or upgraded, durability isn’t a proposition I would buy into. Products today are looked upon as ‘toys’ – we use & and throw them like impatient children (even cars which the older generation used to purchase after saving a lot are used and sold in a few years for a better car.). Branded items outscoring over unbranded, six sigma/ISO processes, do we even question the durability of branded products today when we buy them? Isn’t this a given!”

Goutam also asks – are you just referring to ‘durability’ (strong and lasts a long time) or durability as a dimension of brand equity?  It’s a good question too – perhaps as a feature to speak of its losing its relevance, but it will endure in many categories as an intrinsic brand value. However, it won’t be the differentiator any more in most cases, with a few exceptions like paints, construction materials etc

Stuart adds to the discussion by moving from durability to efficiency ….

“My top of mine thought was  – we are moving from a world of durability to efficacy. We see this in examples from working hard to working smart. When I think durability I think of Maytag – the washing machines that go forever here. Yet today that “durable” isn’t expected to last 20 years and new features, energy efficiency etc are changing the definition. Contrast Efficacy! Years ago I worked on deodorants. At the time stick deodorants were mostly about “fragrance” and AP’s were just getting launched. It became a category that was about efficacy – 24 hour protection. No stain etc. People cared more about the protection than the fragrance. (There are some cultural differences globally of course!)

Does it work for mobile? “durability” is no longer broad enough. Increasingly it is about efficacy… yes it better not break on the job, the battery better last, and the shift to smarter phones is keeping me working in real-time, or entertained, manages my calendar, wakes me up. Eg the phone’s features are broadening my perceptions of the uses it’s put to.

IMHO efficacy is better as a term in combining the ideas of hardware and software. Efficacy is not a word you can promote to users, however it may be an important internal distinction where I imagine “durability” traces to and is defined as something tangible.

An extension might be… we expect durability and now we also expect it to be recyclable. The durable recyclable product is more efficacious. I suspect that  “software” and “updates” are an even more important part of the “durability” and how long things are now expected to last.  Efficacy as an internal discussion underpinning may broaden the evaluation criteria and increase understanding of the trade-offs.”

Do share your examples, case studies, links and your opinions on the central thought – Durability – is it losing power as a customer driver?
UPDATE: some great comments at this post that warranted another post on the same topic – so here’s Part 2. And Part 3.


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vinuth March 29, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Interesting Topic !!

I think it is a function of two things:

1. inversely proportional to Price of the Product.
2. Directly proportional to the Rate of change of the Product or range of available options/varieties.

1. Lower priced products tend to be changed more frequently than higher priced. Mobiles tend to be more frequently changed than cars. And dress materials and makeup materials even more than mobiles.

2. Products which rapidly change or have a very large option set to choose from also tend to be changed more frequently. There must be a justifiable difference between old and the new, for almost the same price point… either through better technology or a very different variety…

Based on these two factors each product has it’s own usage duration. Between this duration of discarding old to new, if the product goes broke, it really is frowned upon… no matter which product… so it is implicitly expected that the product lasts for at least this duration.

What say?

2 Karthik March 30, 2010 at 9:12 am

What a fascinating topic! Going a level or two above durability, aren’t we also collectively losing our attention span? I mean, even our attention span is not ‘durable’ these days. Is it to do with the overdose of information? Possibly.

Back in the 80s, I remember waiting all week for a 15 minute episode of Spiderman cartoon on Doordarshan, on Saturday noon. Now, I can see as many spidermans as I want.

So, is the loss of durability a factor of increased choice? Another example! When I started my music blog, Milliblog, people pounced on me for belittling Indian music soundtracks by doing a 100 word review. They said I was doing a disservice to all those musicians who toil to bring out a soundtrack. My blog is 5+ years old and going strong and now people say it helps them glance the soundtrack’s flavor fast and simple!

That said, do you recall the tag line, ‘Lasts long. Really long’? I don’t recall the brand, but I think it is Amaron car batteries. So, if people want car batteries to be durable, does that say anything about select products/ product categories that we still want the ‘durability’ factor? It is not decided by cost, for sure, but could it possibly be decided by the effort it takes to replace?

A car sure takes time and effort to replace, but the pay-off is showoff value and status symbol. But a battery? Who cares what battery I’m using in my car or mp3 player? I just want it to last as much as possible!

I’m sure this is a random ramble, but some food for thought, I suppose.

3 Syamant March 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm

The first thought was that durability was earlier referred to in the context of quality. Now that quality is given or at-least expected, there are perhaps other contexts..

1. In the context of relationship with the brand – More products from the brand portfolio being sold to the same customer.

2. It has now been built into tenure of use – Use xyz product for some number of days is an example. Another related example is Extended Service Packs. These provide extended relationships as well as assurance, but in a sense are related to the durability of experience.

3. Another example is in the context of consumption of fuel. Products are sold on the basis of how much more one can extract out of the fuel. So is this durability as you consume?

4 Anita Lobo March 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Hi Dina
Durability has got into bed with a fancier friend – resale value
While we may replace cars and other high-value purchases faster, we usually buy something that delivers ‘give-away’ value, when we decide to sell/ exchange/ recycle/ give away.
Anita Lobo

5 Sameer Patel March 31, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Great stuff, Dina
My sense is that you cant fight the trend since its customer driven. As I commented on twitter, this highlights the need for organizations to focus on durable ‘relationships’ with customers that can outlast their seemingly shorter experiences with a single product they purchase.
Inspiring me to write up a post on this 🙂

6 Dina March 31, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Thank you all for such wonderful thoughtful comments!! I’ve attempted to synthesize them, (and I hope I’m not killing the wonderful nuances they’ve shared), as each thought adds a unique and new facet to the many dimensions and interpretations of durability, in a rapidly-changing market like India. Thanks again! Here’s the synthesis – http://dinamehta.com/blog/2010/03/31/durability-is-it-losing-power-as-a-customer-driver-part-2/

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