Craig, think there may be a problem of perception here. You know that the people in Africa that don`t wear shoes don`t do so because they don`t have the means to afford them, that being the case there is no viable market. And you are right, it would be darn near impossible to sell shoes to somebody who can`t afford lunch. The example was there to illustrate a point. Let`s make it instead a wealthy society, instead of shoe-less Africa the US in the 70`s, Sony created the walk-man and introduced it as a new product, although that version of the portable music device is long defunct, it`s current incarnation the iPod is selling by the tens of millions.
The same can be said of (like scpurgeon said) cable-tv or radio subscription as well as many others from bottled water to sleeping aids such as the soothing sounds of dripping water on cd`s. Often times prior to new product introduction there is the perception that this new product is not needed, hence the so-called "new product resistance" effect. For instance, when the microwave was first introduced many didn`t like it, the complaints went from "have you tried to cook a steak in that?!" to "it will make you sterile" (I believe somebody even filed a lawsuit claiming such a thing), today over 95% of US households have at least one microwave oven. Often times the introduction of new technologies or methods require that we educated our future customers, customers that until they were educated to the benefits of this new technology did not know they needed it and even actively resisted using the technology.
As I`ve been pondering it, the problem revolves around the concept of "perception."
No, it isn`t that the people in Africa don`t wear shoes because they
can`t afford them. It`s that it just never occurred to them that shoes
existed. Same with cable TV. We just accepted the limited channels and
many commercials simply because we couldn`t imagine a better way. Or,
we could, but it was so complicated, no single person could make the
When we say "perception of a problem" that`s a multi-stage event. We
observe something painful or unpleasant. Maybe it takes too long to do
something, it hurts to do it, or it`s utterly boring doing that thing.
Our perception at that stage is, "I don`t like this at all!" But so
what? We have no solution.
Over time, the next stage after repeating the same actions is, "I wonder if there`s some way I can stop or avoid doing this?"
After that comes, "There`s gotta be a better way!"
At that point, we have inspired ideas. Think about LegalZoom. We know
(or believe) we need legal documents. We know it`s a drag. We know we
can hire a lawyer. We know we have to pay lots of money. That`s just
life...it`s just the way it is.
Then someone proposes doing it by the numbers, production line for some
things, or whatever. Who has the resources to launch a full-scale
company? When someone comes along who does have the resources, they
invent a design that solves at least some of that pain and aggravation.
They lay it out and people go, "ah Hah! THAT`s what I`m talkin` about!"
In those cases, it takes no education because lots of people have
already experienced the pain and aggravation. But suppose the invention
or new product is something like introducing shoes to a culture wherein
nobody`s ever seen shoes? Their feet are already well-protected with
heavy skin. Why would they want shoes?
This is like the problem the Catholic missionaries had, attempting to
introduce the religion into non-European cultures. They first had to
"explain" the problem, that without the new product (God), people would
lose their "souls." Nobody knew what`s a soul, what`s "Hell," and
what`s God. It wasn`t until the missionaries began using other forms of
persuasion that these cultures "learned" how valuable was the product.