So, in a market where your customer may value the experience more than the product, how do you know that your product improves their experience? How do they find out it will? Why should they associate your product with the experience? What, exactly, is the experience you are improving?
Let me tell you a story
Every summer, a local winery (Chateau St. Michelle) holds a series of concerts. Various combinations of my friends and family go to see, typically, one to three concerts there.
You can reserve some really uncomfortable plastic chairs a little closer to the stage, but we always buy cheaper tickets for the festival seating. Below is a picture of what it looks like at a typical concert. The picture below is taken from the back of the festival seating area. You can see the stage and the uncomfortable, white plastic chairs in front.
Now, it might be that you don’t want to be this far from the stage. If that’s the case it’s either the higher priced, uncomfortable plastic chairs or getting there early. The gates open at 5PM for a 7PM show start. But people start lining up at, well, I don’t know, noon. They bring their chairs, food and drink, blankets, and various other picnicking accouterments, some of which are profoundly clever. The closer to the front of the line you are, the better your space can be when you’re let in. I think the correct strategy is to give a blanket to mark out your spot to whoever is youngest and quickest and send them sprinting as soon as their ticket is taken.
You can rent chairs inside, but not outside. We had always tended to show up about 4pm, mostly because we didn’t want to stand in that line for hours or sit on our blanket. Waiting in that line was just an inconvenience we had to deal with to see the concert. We had our food, drink, blanket and picnic accouterments with us, but no chairs.
But last summer, after the chateau upgraded the chairs they rented, I bought three of the identical chairs.
Having those chairs was magical. It completely changed the experience. Now, waiting in that line was part of the experience rather than an inconvenience to be endured. We sat down and joined the party that was going on below our waists. People were talking, laughing, and sharing. Instead of arriving at 4PM and ending up with mediocre seats, it was no problem to get there about three or earlier and end up closer to the stage with a better view.
I didn’t know it was going to happen that way. I was just tired of standing and liked the chairs they were renting once you got inside the venue.
Building on the questions I asked at the beginning of this article let’s ask where your customer uses a product. No, that’s the wrong question. Where do they get value that distinguishes the product? Way better question.
It’s not that I’ll only use these chairs for the summer concerts, but having them for those concerts was the reason to buy them. It was enough reason to buy them even if I don’t use them for anything else.
I could have bought other chairs. But I saw this chair being used the way I wanted to use it in a place I wanted to use it, so that was the one I bought. And then, having met my need, I was further surprised by the unexpected benefit I got.
What do your customers do with your product that makes it necessary to them? To put it another way, what experience does it improve? If you can answer that question meaningfully, you have a chance to differentiate your product.
The product doesn’t have to be one that improves the experience all the time. I’d go so far as to say that you may no longer want to position your product as something you can use all or most of the time. That doesn’t really align with an experience.
The experiences where your customer uses your product and it produces a clear and hopefully even surprising benefit have to be defined. For me it was having a better time at a concert with friends. Now, that’s not all that exciting. It’s definitely not getting more air in a halfpipe, or being tubed on a 25 foot wave. But it got me to buy the product.
There are a couple of follow on issues to bring up here. First, I didn’t really know I’d get the benefit I got when I bought the chairs. It was subtle (though obvious in hindsight) and unexpected. The holy grail of marketing is to get a customer to buy a product and then have them get even more out of it than they expected. That may be what it takes to get brand loyalty these days.
Your job is to figure out distinct experiences your customer uses your product for. Hold that thought and I’ll get back to it.
We’ve always been aspirational as an industry. I suppose we always will be to some extent. We’ve always admitted that 90% of our customers (or is that 99%?) don’t participate in the experiences at the level we’ve historically shown in our marketing. It occurs to me that if you focus is on the experiences your customer has and uses the product for, and they aren’t likely to find themselves in the tube of a 20 foot wave, then maybe the roll of team riders, brand ambassadors, or whatever you call them has changed.
The fact that some call them brand ambassadors rather than team riders means the change is underway. I guess, maybe, there’s still some brand credibility to be gained showing these riders/ambassadors doing remarkable things we’ll never be able to. But I’m thinking the product really gets sold when they are shown having an experience and using your product in a way your potential customer can use it. Maybe, just maybe, “rider driven” shouldn’t be given the priority in product development it historically has been.
Look, the truth is I’ve figured out that no matter what kind of basketball shoes I wear, I still can’t jump, so I look to buy my b-ball shoes on sale. But those damned chairs- it’s not that I didn’t check prices but they were more or less the same everywhere and I would probably have bought them if they were more expensive. And if I’d known in advance how much difference they would make, I’d of paid even more if necessary.
I said above, “Your job is to figure out distinct experiences your customer uses your product for. “ Earlier, I asked, “Where do they [your customer] get value that distinguishes the product?”
I’m starting to have some ideas on how to recognize these experiences and identify the value your customer gets even when they may not be able to identify it themselves- like my experience with the chairs. One thing should already be obvious. The social media discussion around where and how your product is used, and what people are doing when they use it, should be the source of a lot of good information.
Let me know if you think my analysis is valid, and really tell me if you think I’m off base. I’d suggest getting your design, marketing, and sales people together and talking about these ideas. It may be time to ask some different questions to be experience focused and figure out where your product can really add value.