How to Create Products Customers Love

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Did you know that research has shown that the emotion of “likeability” is the measure most predictive of whether an advertisement will increase a brand’s sales?

Yet most of us still talk about what we offer more like BlackBerry’s CEO than Steve Jobs:

When Jobs promoted the iPhone he talked about tangible pleasures – the ability to search Paris maps, listen to Bob Dylan, play video games, and tap cameras that captured the world. When Lazaridis talked about RIM’s phones, you needed an engineering degree to parse his words. Unveiling RIM’s Bold phone at a conference in Orlando, Florida, in May 2008, he began with a spiel ripped from a product manual: “3G tri-band HSDPA. Quad band Edge. Wi-Fi A, B, and G. GPS. 624 megahertz strong-armed with MMX. Powerhouse processing. Bold. Brilliant, strong colour display. The best keyboard we’ve ever made.”

Losing the Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff

When someone buys a product, the technological aspects are a tiny part of the appeal. Here’s what I’ve learned from helping companies use emotion in design.

Certain emotions are linked to certain actions

If you haven’t designed a product before, your first port of call will probably be to dig into metrics. That means burying yourself in data, and oftentimes coming to some fairly random conclusions. When you’ve designed a few, you’ll hopefully start looking more at the emotions you want to create.

Over the years, I’ve learned one simple thing: products have to both perform brilliantly and allow us to develop an emotional attachment to our brand. Why? Because we want people to continue to buy from us and share their experiences with others.

When you put a product in someone’s hands, the only person that knows about it is that person, unless they share their experience with someone else.

That means you need to think while you are designing your product or service about the specific emotions you want to create. Ideally, you need to ask yourself “Which actions do we want the user to take? Which emotions would encourage or discourage these actions? How can they be encouraged or avoided?”

Volkswagen ran an unusual campaign a few years ago called “The Fun Theory” which used a series of experiments, captured on video, to find out if making the world more fun can improve people’s behaviour. This is a great example of how evoking a certain emotion (fun) can evoke certain behaviours (compliance). This also injects some fun into the shopping experience.

Define success criteria for each stage

The biggest benefit of thinking about emotion from the outset is that you can attach emotional criteria to functional criteria. In general, you’ll be able to form a positive impression at every stage.

Think about going on a date: you want the whole experience to go well, from first handshake to goodbye kiss. Wowing your date with your command of the wine menu isn’t going to be enough to rescue a bad date.

Now, you can’t just cram your product with every feature under the sun and hope the market will like it. Nor can you tag on emotional appeal at the end. A cold, unresponsive date isn’t going to be rescued by a big emotional finish.

No, the huge benefit of putting a product in someone’s hand is emotional branding. Why? Because someone has the chance to touch, feel, and see your work, and interact with you.

For example, I’m typing this blog post from the Shoreditch Ace Hotel. Every time I come down here, I don’t just work, but I get to meet many of the local entrepreneurs and marketers. We take pictures, we have a drink, and we party. How do you want people to be partying with your product?

If you want people to love your product, you have to think about the emotions you want to generate at every stage. You can’t just create a product and dump it on the market. You have to think about how people are going to use it and design for every stage of that experience.

For instance, look at this unboxing video from camera manufacturer Leica. It’s so interesting that Leica produced this video itself, and speaks volumes (in a good way) about its approach.

What emotions do you think Leica was going for here? Surprise? Relaxation? Excitement?

The way emotion and joy has been designed into the process is really beautiful.

What kind of testing should you do?

Through experience, I’ve learned some of the best ways to test for emotion, and which ones to avoid.

If you’re able to, there’s no substitute for putting your product or service in someone’s hand. Instead of listening to what people say though (which is often self-censored), watch for changes in facial expression and changes in tone of voice.

Steve Jobs’ “What is this piece of junk?” facial expressions in the video below are very revealing. It’s very hard for even master presenters to disguise facial expressions.

Does this mean that you should stop listening to your focus groups? Of course not! They are still great and a source of valuable feedback.

Over time, if you listen enough, you’ll get a feel for the emotional response generated by your product. You’ll hopefully find by this point that you are miles ahead of your competitors.

I use a great product called Silverback, which captures what users do on the screen, but also uses the webcam built into the laptop to capture facial expressions of a user during the task.

One of my criticisms of the whole “Inbound Marketing” movement is that it often pays scant attention to the emotions of the user browsing the site. Sometimes, it’s taken me showing the CEO a video of someone interacting with their site for them to see the problems with it!

Is it worth creating products customers love?

As you can see from the above examples, it definitely is. I’d go as far as to say that it’s essential.

In addition to generating income from marketing your products, you can also generate income from other people doing your marketing for you.

Once you hit a certain critical mass, you’ll notice that people are in love with not just your product, but everything you stand for.

Of the things I own, my Sonos speaker is the thing I have the biggest personal attachment to. To have a customer love your brand is in many ways the ultimate validation of your approach.

If you want people to love your product, keep in mind that it’ll need to be a consideration from the very start of your design process, and that no amount of tagging it on at the end will do. No interaction is too small to consider.

Or, you can just cram in features and hope for the best. Look how that worked for BlackBerry.

Content Marketing Is A Mess

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It’s gotten a lot easier to have a voice, but hard to find anything worth reading.

Everyone’s doing social now, everyone’s on LinkedIn, and everyone’s talking to themselves. Therefore we’re flooded with crap by people playing armchair thought leader, and the rest of us are trying to make sense of what to do with it.

Logging onto LinkedIn is like a reflex now. I rarely see anything good. Same for Twitter. Networks like these used to be a conversation, now they’re a way of tapping in to what’s happening at a given moment.

So it’s hard to know where to look now. No one is willing to invest the time to create anything really great, because they’re scared of falling silent even for a moment.

This is the paradox. When everyone else is shouting loud, you need to constantly shout loud to get heard, but if everyone shouts, no one gets heard.

People feel the need to share stuff just to stay visible, so you see the same stuff being shared and written by different people, and you find it hard to say anything new.

Hot startups come and go. I signed up for Clear based on a recommendation in The Next Web just to be stuck in its bullshit growth hackery “queue” three weeks later. 3509. I could “move up the queue” if I talked about it on Facebook. Sure..

Even (especially?) when something’s blowing up at this point, I’m still looking to people I actually trust to tell me if it’s worth me investing my time in.

I can read a puff thought leader piece on TechCrunch and be interested in it, but still know that I’m being sold to, or that there could be “editorial” considerations to putting the piece in.

This is the Internet of Things for me. I’ve read that Gartner quote about the number of connected devices so many times now and can’t work it out. Why do I care how many connected devices there are going to be? Why does anyone care? Is it a situation where my whole home is connected? Is it a case where I have one or two connected devices (have that now, works fine, life hasn’t changed that much).

You’re going to have to bring me something more than there’s a lot of them.

So yeah, if you want to play startups, you have to be freaking good. Anyone can start a blog now, most people can write, but you’ve got to offer me something new, which gets me above the noise. Because my default position is do not care.

And that freaking sucks, I know. But every time I log onto LinkedIn I see 50 man hours of stuff pumped into stuff that most people are never going to read.

15,000 companies are invested in content marketing now through HubSpot alone, and most of them are staffing their companies with juniors who frankly don’t have the experience or context to see what’s big and what isn’t.

So my default position is that I don’t care. There has to be a shakeout at some point, when people who aren’t really invested in quality and just care about noise realize it’s not returning them anything.

But more than anything we need to exercise our critical faculties. Stop mindlessly lining up content that we haven’t even read that sounds good.

Because at the moment I’m looking at you to be my filter. We don’t have the filters we had before. Everyone’s a publisher and everyone’s being encouraged to publish more. And yeah, some of it is terrible.

It’s really hard to get people to care about you. It’s even harder to be good.

Some day we’ll clean up the mess, and we’ll get back to quality.

The global 1% who get to have their voices heard will wind up being smaller than before.

If you’re going to get there, you’re going to have to be good.

The Importance of Customer Wants

A lot like many young startup founders, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about numbers in the past year. A cottage industry has grown up around social media measurement and analytics, with things like market intelligence, competitor analysis and customer research all thrown into the mix. Having spent a good proportion of the last five years with my head in spreadsheets, or preparing presentations with key metrics in, any criticism of a ‘data-driven’ approach tends to hit me pretty hard.

At the same time, I’ve seen businesses make tremendous strategic mistakes by focusing too heavily on the competition and data analysis.

The digital industry has grown up so much in the past five years, and there’s now an intellectual rigour that just wasn’t there before. Ad industry ‘creative’ that isn’t backed up by solid numbers just doesn’t fly anymore. But I also think there’s a sense in which we’ve lost our way. Businesses (particularly in the B2B sector) who don’t really seem to stand for anything anymore.

Products that seem to have been drawn up from a checklist written by analysts, rather than intelligent decisions about what a user wants. Content websites that seem to have forgotten that there’s a user who actually wants to read content, not navigate through hundreds of share buttons and related articles. It’s an easy road to get caught into following the competition, but what you end up with is a Digital Times Square where everyone is shouting and no-one’s cutting through.

So many people make the mistake of trying to create things people need instead of things people want. Customers not only need our products to do the job, but to say something about them, demonstrate their values and taste and communicate status relative to everyone else.

After all, when customers buy products, they’re often not buying it for what it does. They’re buying for what it says about them. Any kind of purchasing decision we make is borne out a need to communicate who we are and what our image is. This goes right up to the level of buying companies – how many acquisition press releases talk about a ‘shared vision’? Sometimes that story may even want to be a story we want to tell ourselves, about the kind of person we are.

Businesses have paid the price for following their competitors down a garden path. Margins have been cut, corners have been cut on customer experience, and businesses routinely fail to connect with their customers. Crap is so routinely layered on HTML / CSS websites nowadays that people have turned to the walled garden of the app store and their social accounts to avoid it. The reason why Facebook Instant Articles will do so well is because content websites have failed the customer so badly.

Through looking at dozens of case studies of brands that seem to be doing it right, all of them manage to help us communicate something about ourselves within the context of a group. The essential wisdom of the phrase “No one got fired for buying IBM” is an expression of that conformity, and sense of buying in.

HubSpot is another modern success story – 15,000 customers who by buying, are buying into a ‘way’ of doing things. The decision to fly business class and choosing to fly RyanAir are both signifiers. Apple dedicate a huge amount of each product launch to their product design philosophy. Samsung’s feature packed presentations just don’t pack the same punch.

The choice customers make is so rarely based on features that you should think carefully about adding new ones. Focus your energy on identifying what matters to your customer, sharing their aspirations and demonstrating their capabilities and you will suddenly stand out.

Human nature dictates that brands need to decide what they really stand for and capture them in a way that can be communicated easily to customers. This isn’t about creating endless PowerPoint presentations that reflect a carefully co-ordinated brand image. It’s about creating a wonderful customer experience, and letting the rest speak for itself.

Key points

– An obsession with data has hurt customer experience

– Focus on building things that the customer wants, not what the customer needs

– Know what matters to your customer, and what they want their purchase to say about them

– Make your customer’s life easy by matching your product to the story they want to tell

– Ditch the mission statements on the wall and focus on delivering a great customer experience