Sometimes Your Customers Just Want The Box

October 26, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

The holidays are coming! And do you know what that means?

It means you’re about to spend the next two months stressing over what to get your little one. You’re going to take that trip down memory lane to recall what you wanted at that special age. You’re going to get up early in the morning and get elbow-happy knocking down other parents in the toy aisle of Kmart. And then, when you’ve finally secured the perfect gift, exactly what you wanted at age three/five/ten, you will watch in horror as your child tosses it aside and spends the rest of the day playing inside the cardboard box it came in. It happens every year.

And worse, it happens every day in business when business owners convince themselves that they know best. When they’re so sure that they’re the ones best to solve customers’ problems, that they know better what people want, and when they dumbly think that their customers will use their products how they were designed instead of how they want.

Being that stupid in business is expensive.

There was a really great article in the NYT yesterday about how Twitter Serves Up Ideas From Its Users. It detailed how some of Twitter’s best features – retweets, hashtags and @’ing – were created by watching how people used the site and the little hacks they were creating all by themselves. Over time, Twitter noticed all the ways users had made the site better and began integrating them as new features.

Truth: Your customers are hacking your products the same way.

During BlogWorldExpo, Darren Rowse talked about the two products he sells via his site – the ProBlogger Community and the various books he’s written. Both of these were created because people asked for them. His community wanted a way to interact with another and they wanted a way to make the knowledge Darren shared every day more portable. Darren created products that addressed their needs and frustrations.

Truth: Your customers are also telling you what they want.

The best way to do this marketing “thing” is to sell people things they already want. Because then you’re not really “selling” them. You’re giving it to them, even if there’s a price tag.Even if you don’t think these truths are correct for your business, I promise that they are.

  • Your customers are hacking your product every day to use them more efficiently. Don’t believe me, do a Google search for [what you do + hack].
  • They’re typing clues into your site search box about what they wish your product did/offered.
  • They’re writing blog posts and tweeting about the frustrations and roadblocks you’re unknowingly causing them.
  • They’re using complementary services that also make sense for your business (think the drive-thru).
  • They’re abandoning your site on the same page because you’re not telling them what they need to hear. (Check your analytics.)
  • They’re calling and emailing you asking for X or complaining about Y.

Buying your children elaborate gifts when all they want is the box is relatively harmless as a parent. It also makes for some great photos and family memories. However, doing the same in business is inefficient. And you want to be efficient, because there’s money in efficiency. There’s success there.

Instead of coming up with products no one wants, figure out what they do want. That means making note of how people are hacking your product so that you can integrate them into the next go around. It means finding out where their frustrations lie so that you can take them away. It means seeing how they’re interacting with your site in order to get a deeper understanding of it. It means outright asking what your customers want. It means noticing that they’re using X with your Y and then finding a way to build X right into the dashboard.

What’s interesting is that customers usually don’t want the elaborate and costly new features we think they do. They don’t want something new or more complicated. They just want you to make what they already have better. They want it to be simpler. Because as nice as bells and whistles are, not having to think or hack something is universally better.

The product you create isn’t “your”, it’s “ours”. And that means that often your customers are the ones with the better grasp on how it’s going to be used. Stop guessing what they want and realize that they’re telling you in a whole bunch of ways. Use your analytics, your site logs and the many behavioral cues they’re giving you to give THEM what they want.

I mean, it’s possible they want that supercharged robot that speaks 5 languages, sings a medley of songs, dances and can spout out random trivia questions while doing back flips. But maybe they just want the box so they can turn it into the rocket ship they’ve always dreamed of. It’s a lot easier to sell someone what they already want than trying to create a need they never had.

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