How to Speak Your Consumers’ Language

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I have written before about the role of choice (http://www.loffconsulting.com/blog/how-much-choice-is-too-much.html) in consumer purchasing decisions and why product managers should consider the size of their ranges. Today I would like to explore the impact of number of product functions on consumer decisions and how we should not mix a function with a feature.
The product managers often think that more is better and we often compare the number of functions between our proposition and a competitive product. Moreover, our trade partners do the same thing. They want the product with endless number of functions as they think the higher the number the higher could be the price they ask for it.
Analysis of consumer behaviour do not however support this notion. The consumers do not seek the product with as many functions as possible and they will not pay more for a higher number of functions. The key thing to understand here is that the product functions must be relevant and useful for this particular consumer (or consumer group).
‘I like it. I need it. I want it.’
Firstly, let’s have a closer look at the functions and features as these two terms are constantly being confused. The function is how the product works from the technical point of view; the feature is what it actually does for the consumer. It seems easy: talk to your consumers in their language not yours, because if you don’t, they simply would not understand you. The product managers and the marketing communication experts still have it wrong too often.
Does your car’s ‘two-way carbon technology with built-in thermostat’ mean anything to you? How about ‘triple triangle replaceable frame’ in your bike or ‘spilt-spectrum sensor’ in your smoke detector? Are they better than the other functions? Would you be willing to pay more to have them? You might struggle to find answers here.
However if I tell you that your car seat heating activates the second you sit on it and that it adjusts automatically to your preferred pre-set temperature or that your bike will feel sturdy and safe on the most difficult tracks or that your smoke detector will ‘see’ 10 times more potential dangers than the detector without the split-spectrum sensor it all looks much clearer all of the sudden.
To the consumers it will look really good and useful and they might consider to pay more to own these features!
Moreover if you possess the ability to speak to your consumer in the language they understand you immediately gain a competitive edge.
‘It is too complicated for me’
The abundance of products and options these days brings a real challenge to the suppliers on how to differentiate your product. The obvious way of doing it (not the easier one for sure) is to build a strong brand that would by itself make your product recognizable. But even then, you will have a few equally strong brands right next to you competing for an attention (and a wallet) of the same customer. The brand that wins will be able to get closer to the customer. The customer will feel the products communicates better.
In fact this effective communication starts way before the product reaches the shelves and should continue throughout the launch process and the entire product lifetime. The language of the advertisements and the language on the product itself including instruction manuals should be consistent and above all understandable for the consumer.
The more noise you create by adding functions, options and unnecessarily complicated technical terms the more difficult it will be for the customer to understand the product. How often have you heard the phrase ‘oh, this is too complicated for me to use’. Nothing should be too complicated to use, if it is than the marketers simply got in wrong. You really want to hear ‘oh that’s easy!’
How to make sure you make products that are easy to understand for your customers? Take time to run consumer research, gather consumer insights, learn how your consumers communicate and then talk to them in a same way.
Give your consumers the features they need and which they will use and tell them in their own language how to use them and how having these features will make their lives easier.

Agnieszka Jagiello-Johnstone is a founder and managing director of Loff Consulting – an Edinburgh-based strategic product management and marketing consultancy. Subscribe to Loff’s blog and newsletter here to receive regular updates.