I’ve run into the idea of product love several times recently. Just as it is in our personal lives, love of a product can be an elusive thing. It’s hard to find. It’s nearly impossible to manufacture. It doesn’t seem to follow logical rules.
It’s easy. All you need is love. (Lennon/McCartney)
At this year’s Product Development and Management Association (PDMA) conference the topic of loving a particular product came up several times. As a goal. As a thing that companies can do, but only if they’re really good.
- Mohan Sawhney, of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, talked about it as the top of the pyramid of sort of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for product development. We can build value into a product and create something that should do a fantastic job meeting a user’s needs, but is that enough?
- Mauro Mancini, Worldwide Director of Consumer and Business Design for 3M discussed product love as something that can allow a product to get past technical issues. “If you have someone in the office that you’re not fond of and they mess up it’s ‘They’re always doing that–stupid, stupid.’ If it’s someone you like, you forgive them. You say, ‘Oh, that’s okay, we all make mistakes.”
In their book, Built to Love: Creating Products that Captivate Customers, Peter Boatwright and Jonathan Cagan propose a model for understanding the appropriate emotions a product should engender, crafting a strategy for bringing those emotions about and translating that strategy into the appropriate features.
Getting at the core emotional appeal of a product is very different than designing the best technical product. Mauro pointed out that if you design with technology as your focus, you’re going to live or die based on technology. Your customers will be off galavanting around with the next product that can brag a faster cpu, better resolution or more nanowhatsits.
If you can get people to love a product, you can transcend technology.
Love is something that’s hard to describe–it’s an experience. And focusing on the experience is where a product can begin to get love.
Wanting a product should create a longing. Using it should create satisfaction. The idea of losing it or someone having the same or better should inspire a certain amount of jealousy. It has to do more than meet our utilitarian needs: it has to enable a great experience.
How do you do it?
If love is an experience, then we should think about the product in that context. It doesn’t have to be an obviously emotional product like a movie or a CD. A contractor may love his favorite hammer. People can love their cell phones, their television or their car.
Think about a song you really enjoy hearing. How much of a person’s love for their favorite recording has anything to do with the technology used to record it? It’s more about the feelings a person has when they listen to it and the times of their life they associate with the songs. They listen to it over and over again because of their response to it and the experience it gives them. It may be something to listen to after a rough day, or blast in the car speakers going down the highway with the windows down.
We can love the hammer, too. What is the hammer? Is it nail driving technology? Is an ergonomic handle with a weighted head? How do you define it?
Think of all the work it’s done. Look at the way the handle is worn to the shape of the owner’s hand. It always works the way it should. It has a particular heft and balance.
All of these things are a part of the experience of the hammer. It is about competence. Confidence. Earned experience.
How do we put this love into a product? You’ve got to get into the customer’s world. What are the rules in their universe? What’s important to them? What sort of experience is important to them in the context of what you’re trying to sell to them?
If it’s a music player, it’s not just about sound clarity or number of songs. What’s the experience they want to have? Do they want to be able to feel the power of grabbing a song right out of the air that a friend just mentioned to them? Do they want to be able to put together a list of upbeat songs on the fly so that they can enjoy their ride home?
How are they using this thing and what is the itch they are trying to scratch with it. If you focus on scratching that itch, instead of throwing technology at whatever you think the product is, you’ll be on the path to products your customers might love.