Monday, May 4, 2009

We give ourselves too much credit

Yesterday I posted how we don't give our customers enough credit. That we underestimate the role our brand plays in their lives. This should not be confused with the other side of the equation. That is - that we over estimate the role our products play in the lives of our customers.

We love the products we make. We're pretty sure that everyone else who uses them feels the same. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this.
1) We are all very poor judges of what other people think is important (don't pretend otherwise).
2) Our competitors love the products they make, and think everyone else feels the same way.
3) Our shared customer base is not buying your product. They are buying the product that fits them at that particular moment in time. To them it's not so much a choice, as social availability: its what I want at this time and it fits my current standards.

When we focus on our product our messaging changes to focus on immediacy, exploiting the weakness of the old or building a mountain of value around what is shiny and new. This increases sales by nudging consumers into a state of inadequacy. What used to pass as 'great' drops down in their standards to 'useless'. We shift their focus to filling that void with our new product. Unfortunately, this focus does nothing to build trust in a consumer base. It does nothing to stand out from our competitors. It fails to be truly different.

This may sound crazy, but people tend to enjoy feeling confident. They enjoy being praised for their decisions or comforted by their peers. The role your product plays in their lives is only as good as the narrow promise that product can make to them. Chances are, someone else's product can make a comparable promise (I mean comparable in the mind of your consumer - yes, I know your product is different, holds more value, blah, blah, blah). Shift that focus to your brand - as my last post describes - and you change the game to a relationship strategy over a product strategy. One where whoever has the most fans wins.

Of course to do this, you require significant confidence in what you are selling. Your product needs to be great. Your people need to be better. Every measure of consumer interaction has to be held to that brand promise. In the long run, this strategy will win. In the short run, you'll definitly piss off at least a couple of sales and product managers - but it will be worth it.