Do you make a software product that requires customers to use a proprietary data format? Then keeping your customers’ trust has to be your highest priority, because your business depends on that trust!
This week I (and seemingly everyone else on the Internet) wrote about the self-inflicted wound that is Apple’s Final Cut Pro X product launch and the lessons to be learned about product transition management. I expect that Apple will ultimately regroup and come up with a plan that is somewhat less of a finger in the eye to professional video editing firms that have staked their businesses on Final Cut Studio and have invested years of time creating content with it. Why? Simple: the cost of continuing to sell and support Final Cut Studio 7 during a transition period is certainly lower than the cost of the PR hammering Apple is currently enduring, and before much more time has passed, some executive at Apple will realize that and cause the company to change course.
The core reason that the negative reaction to the launch of Final Cut Pro X has been so intense is that Final Cut Pro X doesn’t provide backward compatibility with project files created with previous versions, and Apple simultaneously pulled Final Cut Studio 7 from the market without any advance warning to customers. If you’re a professional video editing firm that is growing and just hired a new employee and needs them to edit some of your customers’ older files, Apple just yanked the rug out from underneath you. You can’t use Final Cut Pro X to edit that file, and you can’t buy an extra license for Final Cut Studio 7 so the new employee can edit on their new machine. Understandably, professional video editing firms are incensed.
These firms are doubly incensed because by doing this, Apple has violated the trust the firms placed in Apple when they decided to commit to using Final Cut Studio. Final Cut Studio creates video projects in Apple’s proprietary file format. As far as I know, Final Cut Studio is the only tool in the world at its price point that supports editing of files in that format with full compatibility. So when firms decided to make Final Cut Studio their standard tool for editing customer video content, they were placing a big bet that:
- Apple would remain in business.
- Apple would choose to continue supporting and improving Final Cut Studio over the long term.
- Apple would preserve backward compatibility with existing content as it upgraded the product over time.
If I’m a document editor who uses a tool to edit HTML files and the tool vendor creates a product upgrade that no longer meets my needs, I can easily switch to using another tool. HTML is an industry-standard file format so there are many tools I can choose from. But if I’m a professional video editor who chooses to create videos using Final Cut Studio, Final Cut Studio is the only tool that will let me open that video project file and make further changes to the project. (Yes, you can export the finished video to AVI and edit the finished video with another tool, but that loses all of the metadata and structure that are critical for productive individual or shared group editing of a video project and maintenance, enhancement, and editing of content over time. It’s like the difference between an Adobe Photoshop file and an exported JPEG.)
For both rational and emotional reasons, people respond far more intensely when they feel their trust has been violated than when they feel that someone made an innocent mistake. This explains the ferocity of the backlash that Apple is currently enduring.
Apple has apparently committed that a future release of Final Cut Pro X will provide full backward compatibility with existing Final Cut Studio project files. That’s a step in the right direction. But since the current release of Final Cut Pro X doesn’t provide that compatibility, Apple needs to continue selling Final Cut Studio 7 in the meantime so that its customers can continue to operate and grow their businesses during the transition period.
The main takeaway: if you are asking customers to pay money for your product and your product requires customers to create and maintain data in a proprietary file format, your business depends on customer trust. That trust is easily lost and hard to regain. Learn from Apple’s mistakes on the Final Cut Pro X launch. Earn and keep your customers’ trust!