POST WRITTEN BY
Jonah Staw is an executive, innovator and entrepreneur. He is currently general manager of Ultimate Ears Custom. Jonah is blogging about his past and current business experiences.
I was recently walking through the airport in Oakland, California, when I passed an electronics store with a 35-foot wall filled with headphones for sale. I was happy that I couldn’t find one pair of my company's earphones.
This may seem counterintuitive because as a business leader in consumer products, you normally relish those moments when you happen upon your product on display. But, as the leader of a custom-fit earphone company, it’s my goal today to keep my product as far away as possible from traditional electronics retailers.
Why? Because traditional retail shops maximize consumer choice to the point of consumer confusion. How are people supposed to make a choice when they are bombarded with so many options? For me, when I'm confronted with hundreds of options, I simply walk out overwhelmed and give up — postponing a decision until someone I trust can tell me what to do.
Of course, it’s easier to choose when products are clearly differentiated. For instance, there are exercise bikes and then there’s Peloton. There are electric cars and then there’s Tesla. Differentiation can be critical.
The question that every entrepreneur should ask is: How can I truly differentiate in a sea of sameness? Here are three ways you can truly define your product beyond basic features, benefits and price.
1. Deliver a customized experience.
We now live in a world of custom everything. Feel free to order a dairy-free meal, decide what you want on your car’s dashboard, and get your latest dress shirt monogrammed. Our world is becoming increasingly personalized — a retaliation against "one size fits all" that has become "one size fits none."
Customization can change the way consumers experience your product — and I’m talking about in big and small ways — screens and interfaces, additions and ornamentation, as well as completely made-to-measure items. I’m not the only one who believes this — consumers do too. According to the "State of the Connected Customer" report from Salesforce, "70% of customers say understanding how they use products and services is very important to winning their business." And 84% said being treated like a person and not a number was key to getting their business.
What exactly is a customized experience? Well, does your product fit a customer’s individual personality, lifestyle or unique body shape? Do you have ways of letting your customer make your product their own? I hope so.
Ultimate Ears custom earphones can be 100% customized.
2. Don’t be afraid to be polarizing.
Don’t try to be all things to all people, because you’ll never succeed. It’s actually okay to be disliked by certain customer populations if you’re truly loved by others.
Consumers face an overabundance of optionality. There is simply too much choice. The more focused you can be on who you’re targeting and what you’re trying to deliver to them, the better you will be.
Take the Tesla Model S when it launched. This car is polarizing in many ways. It’s electric, so you have to figure out how and where you will charge it. And it requires what is a huge financial investment to many people, so you better be committed to it. But lots of people likely invested a disproportionate amount of their net worth into buying one. Those early adopters truly influenced many of us to consider the electric revolution.
This is polarization at its best. The truth is that I've found it’s better to sell effectively to the few than poorly to the many. And if you sell successfully to the few, you may get a wave of very positive customer reviews. Bottom line: don’t be afraid to make enemies because the friends you make could be even stronger.
3. Know the difference between your 'what' and your 'why.'
There’s a difference between the “what” and the “why” of your business, as Simon Sinek puts it. The “what” is your product, or the thing you sell. The “why” is your purpose. It’s the reason you’re in business in the first place. To be successful and emotionally connect with customers, you need to know your “why.”
But, how do you find it? Many of us live in a “what” world of features, benefits, bells and whistles. To find your “why,” it’s important to ask why your customer actually cares about what you're making.
At my first company, we sold socks. They were brightly colored, and we had the crazy idea to sell them in non-matching sets of three. Our “what” was socks that didn't match. Our “why” was quite different -- we wanted to inspire creativity and self-expression in kids.
Your customers can also help you find your “why.” In my early entrepreneurial years that meant getting on my knees and looking kids in the eyes, asking them question after question. Now, I have a more sophisticated version of question-asking that involves qualitative research, as well as leveraging an e-commerce website to rapidly iterate messaging to determine what’s going on in the minds of our consumers.
In today’s tech market, you can’t always be just another product hanging on a peg alongside thousands of similar products. I believe you need to be truly different. By following the above three steps, you can turn any type of consumer product into an experience that customers will never forget.