The Bones of It: The Products That Grab Our Attention


"I need that."

What is that thing that draws us to some products, people or experiences (even before we experience the product) while others are so forgettable?

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Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 8.01.25 PM

I came across a home security system called Canary on Kickstarter recently that, all of a sudden, made me excited about home security. Before I saw Canary, I didn't really even think of home security, but something about this product was very appealing.

When I posted it to Facebook, some friends commented that they were using another system and recommended it. However, when I followed the link to the system they used, I felt nothing. There wasn't much difference between the two - both were super simple to install and performed the same tasks - but in my mind they were incredibly different. I paused to realize that I was more willing to pre-order something unproven than order something proven because of a visceral feeling. I obviously wasn't the only one. Canary raised 8x it's desired funding in a matter of days (and they still have 29 days to go).

Many of us make all sorts of 'irrational' decisions daily. We pick the stuff that viscerally moves us rather than fits our rational parameters. Sometimes it's design. Sometimes it's marketing. Sometimes it's just that je ne sais quoi that just grabs us. Whatever it is, we just know that it is more awesome.


Of course this comes with downsides, but our human brains will rationalize our irrational decisions. So much so that we will discount the downsides and emphasize the upsides (to a threshold). Sure our character apartment has mold, but if our guests say "Wow" when they come in the door it's no biggie.

Companies and marketers have been searching for ages to discover the bones of this. What is it about that thing that appeals versus that thing that people dismiss? Obviously the security system that my friends recommended is great...and I trust their judgement. They are very savvy. Why could I be lukewarm on their recommendation while I was excited by an unproven product on Kickstarter?

If I had the answer to this, I'd be a billionaire, but there are core characteristics that I think of as the bones of a product. You can't see them, but they are present and shine though everything else. These bones are essential to the success of a product. They are:

One: The Ease of It

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Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 6.03.43 PM

How much do you make me work? No matter how important the function of the product is (even life and death in some cases), how hard you make it for me to set it up make s a HUGE difference. I get that some products are taking on a very complex world, but the execution is still too arduous. I'm very tech savvy, but have abandoned all hope and moved on because I didn't understand the value proposition, the set up or the next steps in many cases.

It was how the iPod with it's limited buttons soared past the dozens of MP3 players in the market and how Basecamp gained so much steam against the more marketed, more established, more robust project management products.

Understand that people are busy (even if that isn't 100% real busy). Reduce speed bumps along the way. Plug and play is such an appealing selling point.

Two: The Focus of it

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Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 6.06.52 PM

Framing the 'problem' in a way that makes me say, "Oh yeah. I've had that problem" is uber appealing. This often comes down to product design. So many companies start out trying to be all things to all people and miss their mark. Solve the problem for one narrow market and it WILL grow beyond.

You need to know who you are and who you are serving and focus on that.

I think of a product like Square who I didn't really understand early on, but I've seen EVERYWHERE in the past six months. Sample sales, small vendors, food trucks, street fair participants and many other small businesses all have Square stuck into their iPads and iPhones to make it easier to help their customers buy quicker.

Square wasn't mean for me, it was meant for the people who sell stuff on the go. Now, of course, they are expanding it to big retailers, but it started as a solution for the small business without a permanent location.

Three: The Relationship of it


This isn't just about understanding what that thing does. It's mostly about understanding WHAT THAT THING DOES FOR YOU. So many companies fall into the pitfall of listing off the valuable features, but that doesn't matter near as much as understanding the audience. Why does it matter to them? How does it make their lives better? More beneficial? How can they grow their careers? Their businesses? Their audience? Their lives?

Show how you will change people's lives, not what it does.

The more clear you are on what you can do, the better. You aren't limiting anything. You are giving yourself a voice for an audience that can spread the word for you.

Four: The Passion of it


There is so much to be said for someone who can tell the story in a succinct fashion (see point one, two and three). However, the best story is delivered by someone who really understands the audience and has shared the pain (and joy) of that audience because he/she has been there and is now building a product to fix that pain.

This passion can’t be over-wrought though. For example: preachy workout zealots, self-help programs that repeat empty messages, the company that eats its own dogfood without self-awareness. The focus needs to be on the solutions and opportunities and the customer and it helps if you don't take yourself too seriously (dash of humility). The passion needs to be genuine and not contrived.

Five: The Community of it

People support what they help to create

Rome wasn't built in a day. Movements aren't about one person. Products are nothing without their advocates. One of the most powerful quotes I've ever heard is, "People will support that which they help build." (<- as seen first on a post-it note at the front desk at Office Nomads) This is why Kickstarter is such a powerful platform for new products: each donation is a community endorsement.

Companies that empower their customers to connect through and to the product and who build deep listening relationships are the products you just 'feel' are the right choice.

The Real Bones of It

Of course, none of these guarantee anything (context is everything), but they ARE essential bones behind every successful brand. You are never selling a product (which is why this recent Apple commercial is a real head scratcher for me and makes me think that Apple has really lost it's way), you are creating a product that people may or may not use to make their lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better. The bones of it is in doing this in a way that you are the sidekick to your customers' successful hero.

So will the Canary change my life for the better? I hope so. Either way, they've done a helluva job convincing me that it will and I've pre-ordered it.