Why do we choose one product over another? I’ve built a fair number of small web apps over the past year (DomainPolish, WhereMyFriends.Be, ReadStreamApp) and that’s a question I think about a lot. The common answer to that is whichever product has more advanced features is the better product, and will be more successful in the marketplace than its competitors. But in doing more thinking about this I’m not convinced that this is actually true.
One of my classes this semester is called Open Book. The point of the class is to write, design, layout and hand bind a book. So every week we get together and go over the progress that everyone has made on their book that week. One of the other students in the class is a former marketing intern for Pepsi. His book is about the infamous “Cola Wars” fought between Coke and Pepsi from the early part of the 20th century until today. In going over his piece I came across a line that really stuck with me: “When it comes to the Coke vs Pepsi debate, it’s clear that taste isn’t everything.”
Think about what this means. If I’m in a restaurant and order a soda, I will only accept a Coke. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. I actively avoid drinking Pepsi. And this unbelievably strong brand loyalty has been built upon a product that isn’t significantly different from its competitor. I mean come on, let’s be honest. They’re both brown colored, carbonated, and full of sugar. If taste is the most important “feature” of a drink, then there’s very little feature differentiation between Coke and Pepsi. Hell, it’s even difficult to tell the difference between generic supermarket soda and a Coke.
But even though I know that there isn’t any substantial difference between the two products, I’m still fiercely loyal to Coke. I won’t drink anything else. And that’s the power of branding. That’s the power of using marketing to connect with your customers on an emotional level, instead of trying to sell them rationally by talking about taste or features.
Applying this to consumer software products I think it’s pretty clear what the lesson is: features don’t have a lot to do with whether someone’s going to buy your product. Connecting with your customer on an emotional level means that you are competing on a completely different level from companies that compete based on features. Great branding and a product that gets the job done well is far better than bad branding and every feature under the sun.
So next time you’re trying to decide whether to build that next feature just remember: taste isn’t everything.
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