Why Your Product Isn’t Going To Sell Itself

Stefani Forster

Stefani Forster

Stefani is a multimedia content strategist with experience at some of Canada's top agencies and publications. She worked at Touché! Media and PHD Canada on various national brand campaigns before moving to the content side, serving as an editor and content manager at The Huffington Post Canada, Hello! Canada magazine and Corus Entertainment, writing articles, producing videos, and spearheading social growth.

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You’ve built a great product. Now all that’s left to do is wait for customers to find you… Right? Not quite – nearly half of all startup businesses fail, and the most common reason (42%) is because there’s no need for them in the market.

So, what makes a product successful?

Well, it’s obviously not just one magical thing. Some of the factors include knowing the market, great user experience, customer service, community building, political influences, etc. Generally speaking, these can be broken down into three categories: product, marketing, and external factors. As you can see, there is some overlap between the product and marketing categories, but that’s to be expected.

  • Product category is about knowing and building for the market. Solving what the product sets out to solve, great user experience, low switching costs, and product differentiation are some of the key factors that fall under this category.
  • Marketing factors include inbound tactics such as social media, community building, landing pages, user experience, customer service, beta-testing, etc. It also includes outbound tactics such as coupons, ad placements, sponsored posts, and so on.
  • External factors are factors that are generally beyond your control. These include competition, social changes, political influences, weather, economy, and changes in customer tastes. Even though you have little-to-no control over these factors, they can significantly influence your product’s success or failure. External factors that are in your control, however, include hiring the right talent (and firing toxic ones), reputation (you can’t control what people say about you but you can act in a way that people say good things), not misjudging enthusiasm for potentially paying customers, and achieving product-market fit.

The goal is to achieve product-market fit. This sweet spot lies at the intersection of the three categories mentioned.

A great example of this sweet spot in action is the fashion/tech brand Uniqlo’s global image campaign. The campaign was activated in 100 physical as well as online locations and used images containing unique product codes on billboards. Viewers could use their phones to take an image of the product code and upload it to the campaign website. This made them eligible for a sample from Uniqlo’s HEATTECH clothing line. The campaign reached over four million people and resulted in 35,000 new customers. This result is a combination of a solid product (product), a great engaging campaign (marketing), and leveraging the recent fashion-technology trend (external).

What draws attention to a product?

Jonah Berger’s Contagious breaks down the six keys to what people remember and talk about. It follows the acronym STEPPS.

  • Social Currency: How does it make people talk about your product? Does it make them feel like insiders and VIPs? This is crucial to make users feel special so they’ll keep coming back.
  • Triggers: These include the stimuli that prompt people to think about you. This can be further broken down into:
    • Opportunistic triggers: What is going on in the world that you can attach yourself to, to leverage word-of-mouth? (ideas, memes, current events, etc.)
    • Everyday triggers: What are the little environmental reminders that you can leverage to keep your brand at the forefront of the mind?
    • Competitive triggers: How can you make a rival’s message act as a trigger for your own? This is called a “poison parasite” because it turns the competition’s message into a trigger to think of you.
  • Emotions: This is how your content stimulates high emotional arousal in consumers. High arousal emotions include awe, excitement, humor, joy, love, anger, and anxiety. Rather than relying on features or facts, the focus needs to be on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to buy. A good rule is to follow the “Three Whys”. To find the emotional core of an idea, write down why you think consumers are following a particular pattern of behavior, then ask “why is this important?” three times (drilling deeper in your response, each time) until you come to a final answer.
  • Public: This focuses on visibility. Can people see when others are using or engaging with your product? (beyond Facebook shares). Clothing is a great example of this, as are Apple’s AirPods – which create a very public statement when using them.
  • Practical Value: The focus is on how your product or service actually improves people’s lives. At the end of that day, your product should solve a problem and fulfill a need. If this isn’t the case, there’s very little point in building the product, much less drawing attention to it.
  • Stories: People share stories, not just information. Here, you need to make sure that the information you want people to remember or transmit is critical to the narrative of your story. Create stories for your customers and pay attention to the little touches that are worth talking about.

Finally, remember that marketing, product, and external factors are not isolated. Their functions crossover and should work in tandem to make for a successful product. There are millions of businesses making products and services. So you need to give people a reason to not only choose you but want to spread the good word so that others choose you too.

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