Simplicity, Customer Fit and Good Feelings Prove Key to New Products

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One of the themes of the SIPA 2016 Conference this week was simplicity. I heard it in Dan Hanover's wonderful events session yesterday when he said that "attendees register with their eyes" so use "short impactful content." He showed us an old registration webpage with lots of copy vs. a new one with dramatic photos and "Ready. Set. Register." centered in big letters. Guess which one did better?

Arno Langbehn, CEO, B. Behr's Verlag GmbH & Co. KG., said something similar in his entertaining and information-filled new products presentation on Monday. "The simpler the explanation, the greater the acceptance," he said. "The product should think and speak like [the person using it]. So the wording should adapt with your customers."

In a video showing the importance of wording, a businesswoman stops to help a blind, homeless man on the street. His sign reads, "I'm blind – can you help?" and isn't attracting much attention. She changes it and many people stop. The final shot reveals what she wrote: "It's a beautiful day and I can't see it." Then this flashes on the screen: "Change the words, change the world."

Other points Langbehn made:

1. Less can be more. The product should do what the customer needs.

2. The product should work like the customer does and fit into his or her work day. He gave the example of the keyboard, saying that the order of the letters originally came from keeping typewriter keys from sticking. And, of course, it became too established to change.

3. Make uses as easy as possible. The goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds, he said. Humans? Eight seconds. Keep it simple.

4. The product should fit into the customer's working environment. Here he gave another great example, the grocery store Tesco in South Korea. They changed the name to Homeplus. Then they determined that people work so much there that they often avoid taking extra time to go shopping. So they started a virtual store where people worked, projecting product images on walls. People used their phone to capture what they wanted, and it would get sent later. "Never try to impose the medium on the customer," Langbehn said.

5. The product should feel like me [the customer]—give me a good feeling. "Which products can you emotionalize?" he asked. Rolex's awareness of life campaign and Harley Davidson portraying itself as a lifestyle company are two examples.

6. The design has to match the product. He made the point that a low price point does not make for acceptance. "It's usually not the cheapest product that fulfills you," Langbehn said. He showed an example from Broadway where a show closed after offering too many discounts. Another one proudly blared that they offer no discounts. It was Mousetrap and played for 65 years.

7. Meet in the jungle not the zoo. "You should go see people in their habitat," he said. "Know how your customer uses your products." This time, the video example showed a middle-aged daughter visiting her father in his kitchen and asking how the iPad she gave him is working out. He said he was thrilled with it and then proceeded to make a salad with guess what as a cutting board—and even placing it in the dishwasher after.  

8. People will pay significantly more for something special. Langbehn showed an M&M store in New York that considerably raises the prices for their special packaging and personalizing. (He even went well out of his way to a Washington, D.C., store to buy regular bags of M&M's for his presentation. Attendees later reaped the benefits of his not wanting to take them back to Hamburg, Germany.)

9. It's better to be loved by a few than liked by many. "GE has to be #1 or #2 in the industries it participates in," he quoted Jack Welch as saying.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…