Sniffed some Play Doh (smells like innovation)

Sniffed some Play-Doh the other day. You should really go out and do this right away.  Why? The effect is an instant, unmistakable, highly positive association with childhood.  The experience is delightful and conjures up all kinds of great memories.  It also conjures up important insights about differentiation, innovation and competitive advantage.

Play-DohOne of the brilliant things about Play-Doh is the built-in delight.  That powerfully distinct “smell of childhood and fun” you get when you open the can.  This powerful instant queue thrills customers in ways that stand it FAR APART from similar competitors. Think about it.  There are scores of similar products.  But there is only one Play-Doh.  They dominate without much marketing.  Savvy marketers, new product/service developers, designers, retailers, restauranteurs,  web and software developers often take the same approach.  By building in powerful touches…from any of comfortably familiar, cool, fun, emotional or in other ways delightful…you cement differentiation and customer loyalty that features and functions by themselves just can’t match.

Obviously, not everything we need to know about differentiation and competitive advantage is learned from kindergarten.  But this much is certain: put someone in charge of developing and integrating queues and touches that bring the cool, fun or delight – and your differentiation and competitive advantage will be elevated.

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Attention-grabbing vs. wow factor (there’s a big difference)

A lot of celebs seek to grab attention (see Cyrus, Miley or “Kardashian – Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall, Kylie or Kris).  They make outsized noise doing over the top things involving nudity, wrecking balls, giant teddy bears, costumed little people, farm animals and meat suits to get on our radar.  And it works.  For about 15 minutes.  A lot of new products seek to do the same thing. But there is a HUGE difference between attention-grabbing “Whoa” and true “Wow” factor.  And if you want to succeed for more than 15 minutes, you need lasting WOW factor.  What is it and how do you know if you have it?

bikeLook just above.  WOW, right?  Just WOW.  Not made you look, 15 minutes of fame “whoa”, but WOW.  Lasting cool.  “It” factor.  It’s a bitch to develop but not hard to define.  Lasting Wow is deliberately built to reinforce brand, send the right message, with just the right design queues and touches that deliver lasting cool. You know you have it when most anyone in your intended target looks at your new innovation and simply utters the word, ”Wow.”  Not “whoa” like a Miley Cyrus stunt.  But “Wow”.  Whoa is Miley Cyrus, WOW is Adele.

When developing new products, you should research, brainstorm, design and engineer with “WOW”, not “Whoa” in mind. At least if you want your new product to have more than 15 minutes of fame.

Triumph of Taste

The subject of aesthetics is one of changing paradigms and endless intrigue. In objects, just as with subjects, the meaning of “beautiful” has evolved continuously with time. But one decision spares debate: given two products which only differ in aesthetics, the one we consider more beautiful will always grab more attention and will remain.

The late Steve Jobs is known to have been very keen on “taste.” Microsoft has absolutely no taste, he said, going on to explain that by this he meant that “they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their product.” Great products, he said, were a “triumph of taste.” The exquisite taste of Jobs himself has long been a matter of doctrine in the tech world. Kevin Kelly’s remarks after his death expressed the general sentiment: “Steve Jobs was a CEO of beauty. In his interviews and especially in private, Jobs often spoke about Art. Taste. Soul. Life. And he sincerely meant it, as evidenced by the tasteful, soulful products he created over 30 years.”

Consciously or subconsciously, our decision regarding aesthetics always factors in cost as an important role in our decisions. When it comes to both the buying and the making of a product, we are sometimes faced with the decision of whether to sacrifice aesthetics for cost. But in a market driven by visual impact, first glance and short attention spans, can a product be quite as market competitive without drawing attention based on aesthetics?

In other words, if you don’t “have consumers at hello” by making a visual statement, can you truly rise above the competition?  Before you consciously shave costs by skimping on aesthetics, ask yourself if you can really afford NOT to work towards a triumph of taste.

If a single product can redefine a market, shape social behavior, and go as far as influence society as a whole, it becomes increasingly important for products to be designed well in every way. In an age of fast making, over-production and obsolescence, all objects should be designed carefully and beautifully in order to be good. Doing good won’t cost as much as you think…and its results will likely far outstrip the up front investment.