Last week, David Meerman Scott (@dmscott), author of Real-time Marketing & PR (on my to read list) and blogger at Web Ink Now, wrote a post Apple is Not Different as a follow up to his Nobody Cares About Your Product post. Basically, he states that organizations should not talk incessantly about their products or services because buyers "care a great deal about solving their problems (and are always on the lookout for a company that can help them do so)". As a reader of his blog and hearing him speak, I know this is not a new perspective from David but people are not listening.
Quite often to refute this idea, people use Apple as an example. At first glance, you may think they have a valid point as Apple has produced a string of very successful products from the iPod to the iPhone and the revamped Mac lineup that is quickly taking market share from Windows PCs. However, David once again deconstructs this argument quickly by showing how it's not about each of these products but how they solve the user's problems.
I couldn't resist weighing in on this debate as I have writter about the importance of explaining how you solve the problems of your audience better than others and also how you need to look at how others solve similar problems when you define your competition.
What I think everyone is missing from David's point is that products are important but it's not the features and benefits that companies talk about which will convince people they need your product. Members of your company care about these things because you have invested a lot of time, money and effort into making your product the best.Your audience does not care about these things.
They care about what they need to do that particular minute, hour or day. They want to make their life easier, better, reach some goal, etc. If your product can help them do that then you have a chance at making a sale. Nine times out of ten they will not buy your product because it's cool. In the other case, they are buying it to solve "the problem of dorkiness in people" as David points out when the coolness of Apple products is raised.
To be successful in your marketing and communications, you need to clearly and simply explain how your product solves the problem that user is facing and how you are better than others at solving it. The long list of features on some web sites just won't do it. And, it's not just a matter of translating these features to benefits although that's an improvement.
You need to talk to both your customers and your non-customers to find out what problems they are facing. Don't invent problems or just listen to your loudest customer. When you listen first, ideally before developing the product, and clearly understand the problem you are solving then marketing in this fashion is easy and will be very successful. It's all about solving problems not the product itself.