Without a doubt, one of the hardest aspects of a new business is trying to convince potential customers that they need your product. It’s not so bad when your type of product exists and all you need to do is persuade them that your version is better – this is when your USP comes into play, be it a key feature, exceptional customer service or an add-on that completely transforms the original product. But when it’s a completely new product all together and you have to educate your potential clients on what it is, how it works and why they need it? THAT is a tough job.
I often think how tricky it must have been for HRV when they first came on the scene, trying to educate Kiwis about how taking air from their ceiling to circulate through the house had multiple benefits. Trying to get people’s heads around a new way to do things is always tricky. It all comes down to Marketing 101: sell your potential customers the benefits of the product so they’re sold on what it will do for them before they’ve even heard about your product. With HRV, they didn’t waste their TV advertising time going over the ins and outs of ventilation systems – they briefly mentioned how it worked but spent most of the time illustrating how amazing your house would be with one – no condensation build up, no foggy windows, no mould, less allergies and a more healthy home to raise your children in. Very smart.
So with this in mind, can you imagine how hard it was to sell computers in the early days?! Not only were they a completely foreign concept and so far out of anyone’s experience, back in the early days of technology, but they were also expensive. $3000, which is a lot of money now abut it was a fortune back then. And trying to tell someone to spend $3000 on something that we’d got by just fine without until then? Wow, that was a hard sell.
I read a great interview with Steve Jobs from back in 1985. It’s funny to read his comments and chuckle at what we know about computers now (I couldn’t be without one), but it also illustrates just what a battle he had on his hands to convince the world they each needed one. For the grand sum of $3k. You can read the full article here, but pasted below are some highlights, including a bit where he describes what a computer mouse is…
Interviewer: How about some concrete reasons to buy a computer today? An executive in your industry recently said, “We’ve given people computers, but we haven’t shown them what to do with them. I can balance my checkbook faster by hand than on my computer.” Why should a person buy a computer?
Jobs: There are different answers for different people. In business, that question is easy to answer: You really can prepare documents much faster and at a higher quality level, and you can do many things to increase office productivity. A computer frees people from much of the menial work. Besides that, you are giving them a tool that encourages them to be creative. Remember, computers are tools. Tools help us do our work better.
In education, computers are the first thing to come along since books that will sit there and interact with you endlessly, without judgment. Socratic education isn’t available anymore, and computers have the potential to be a real breakthrough in the educational process when used in conjunction with enlightened teachers. We’re in most schools already.
Playboy: Those are arguments for computers in business and in schools, but what about the home?
Jobs: So far, that’s more of a conceptual market than a real market. The primary reasons to buy a computer for your home now are that you want to do some business work at home or you want to run educational software for yourself or your children. If you can’t justify buying a computer for one of those two reasons, the only other possible reason is that you just want to be computer literate. You know there’s something going on, you don’t exactly know what it is, so you want to learn. This will change: Computers will be essential in most homes.
Playboy: What will change?
Jobs: The most compelling reason for most people to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people—as remarkable as the telephone.
Playboy: Then for now, aren’t you asking home-computer buyers to invest $3000 in what is essentially an act of faith?
Jobs: In the future, it won’t be an act of faith. The hard part of what we’re up against now is that people ask you about specifics and you can’t tell them. A hundred years ago, if somebody had asked Alexander Graham Bell, “What are you going to be able to do with a telephone?” he wouldn’t have been able to tell him the ways the telephone would affect the world. He didn’t know that people would use the telephone to call up and find out what movies were playing that night or to order some groceries or call a relative on the other side of the globe. But remember that first the public telegraph was inaugurated, in 1844. It was an amazing breakthrough in communications. You could actually send messages from New York to San Francisco in an afternoon. People talked about putting a telegraph on every desk in America to improve productivity. But it wouldn’t have worked. It required that people learn this whole sequence of strange incantations, Morse code, dots and dashes, to use the telegraph. It took about 40 hours to learn. The majority of people would never learn how to use it. So, fortunately, in the 1870s, Bell filed the patents for the telephone. It performed basically the same function as the telegraph, but people already knew how to use it. Also, the neatest thing about it was that besides allowing you to communicate with just words, it allowed you to sing.
Playboy: Most computers use key strokes to enter instructions, but Macintosh replaces many of them with something called a mouse—a little box that is rolled around on your desk and guides a pointer on your computer screen. It’s a big change for people used to keyboards. Why the mouse?
Jobs: If I want to tell you there is a spot on your shirt, I’m not going to do it linguistically: “There’s a spot on your shirt 14 centimeters down from the collar and three centimeters to the left of your button.” If you have a spot—“There!” [he points]—I’ll point to it. Pointing is a metaphor we all know. We’ve done a lot of studies and tests on that, and it’s much faster to do all kinds of functions, such as cutting and pasting, with a mouse, so it’s not only easier to use but more efficient.
PS If you have a great product but you’re not sure how to start marketing it, give me a call for some business coaching – I can help you give your product a strong USP and marketing message. zac@business changing.com