Stop selling rubbish products

January 25, 2009


The above = product packaging?

Yes and no.

One of the things that good brand promoters get is that a product must speak with one voice, of which physical packaging is just one part.

However, the voice of many businesses is often so split that it risks drowning itself out with inconsistency and contradiction. It takes just one look at the standard divisions (funny how they are called that) of many large businesses to see how this might happen, with siloed sales, R&D, support, marketing, advertising, distribution and other functions on the standard organisational chart.


The answer to this problem is relatively simple to describe, but of course incredibly difficult to implement.

1) The product (or service) comes first.

Learn everything about your customers and design something exceptional and highly focused on their needs so that they simply cannot live without. I opened with Apple as it is the obvious example, but others abound.

One often cited example is 37 Signals’ Backpack, Basecamp and their other applications, which are intentionally very limited in what they can do, which allows them to do it rather well. The team itself make a very good case for their ways in their book, Getting Real, which is free to read online. It’s good.

Examples abound aroung the home too. For example, some people tired of vacuuming now swear by their Roombas. When it came out in the 80s, women with hair that wouldn’t stay ‘done’ started loving a simple, $20 plastic device called TopsyTail. In 1993, men ditched their bulky foam for King of Shaves Oil (a “few drops!?”) and never looked back. I swear by BlogJet for writing.

Useful applications are not the only area where this matters. A recent example of exceptionally well designed products were EA’s new IPs, Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge, which both absolutely nail two very different and new game mechanics (if you must know, gruesome dismemberment for the former and first person free running for the latter). Both have been critical and commercial successes.

More examples to come.

2) Everything (*everything!*) else should guide your users to your product

After all, the only reason they’re not using and loving it is that they don’t know about it, are too busy to try it, tried it but didn’t have long enough to be sold by it, are scared of switching (the endowment effect), tried to buy it but were distracted by something else, etc… If only the knew what it could do for them!

There are a million and one reasons why someone would choose not to use something that would help, entertain, or otherwise positively impact them.

And so, you try to package your product well. The fundamental change, however, is to view the packaging not just as the box at the end, as nice as it may be, but as the layer upon layer of experiences which help the customer to understand why he should use, no, love your product.


Of course, each person is different. A tech savvy gamer may breeze through the advertising layer around Dead Space and immediately grok the gameplay. Another may come not be a gamer, but be convinced by the comic book. Some may come to a blog first, then shop online. Others may see a billboard and drive by their local Walmart. Everyone sees a different set of layers.

What matters is consistency.

And for god’s sake be authentic. Don’t lie, and where possible build honest relationships with the people who can help spread the word. Never start a press release to a techie blogger like this idiot (emphasis mine):

Hi <<First Name>>,

With You Tube and MySpace all the rage – there’s a new breakthrough in advertising that takes advantage of these online videos in a brand new way. Viral marketing has gone high-tech!

I thought you might have interest in a story.

From the very insightful ideasonideas blog (seriously, read it)

All of this is the packaging of your product, and should be treated as such in the way your business is organised.

Here’s some homework.

The path of least resistance

If you can design something genuinely good, everything else you do should be focused on helping potential customers understand why it will help them.

The path of change is frightening.


Your job is to make the experience as inviting as possible. You can’t force people to take what you offer, but you can try to make it as easy as possible.

All you can do is make the the way to your offering the path of least resistance – and hope that people choose to walk it.



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