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Why Can Your Product Be Invisible And What Context Has To Do With It?

If you were thinking to let your product speak for itself, think again! All entrepreneurs want to have a product that sells itself. Most entrepreneurs think that in order to achieve that, creating a product of extraordinary quality is enough. Many entrepreneurs are already guessing it isn't true. Some entrepreneurs are noticing that their product seems invisible to the target audience, and potential customers flock to purchase other, sometimes inferior, products from the same category.

The most inquisitive entrepreneurs are asking the right question: "Did I create the right context around my product?"

How wrong context can destroy your revenue

From sold-out concert halls to earning only $30 in a subway station - this is the cost of wrong positioning. Ever read about Joshua Bell experiment? A world-renowned violinist who was selling out concert halls with tickets selling for hundreds of dollars, disguised himself to play classical music in a Washington D.C. subway station during rush hour. Bell performed for 45 minutes and his total earnings were… an underwhelming $30. How could it be?! No one around had a spare moment to stop and appreciate the talent? Nope, far from that—later interviews showed that people simply didn't find the music special enough. A world-class talent was sabotaged by his context, making his extraordinary talent invisible to the audience. But how?

When your audience's focus is elsewhere

This "blindness" was not intentional nor was it a lack of ability to appreciate beauty. In a world oversaturated with external stimuli, focus is a scarce asset. We ration it with care, heavily relying on context to help us decide what's worth paying attention to and what can be simply ignored. The commuters, on a mission to ration their attention span, were totally unprepared to stumble upon such talent in the subway station on a busy weekday morning. Joshua Bell's miserable earnings that day spoke for themselves… All it took for the extraordinary product to become invisible was putting it in the context lacking cues pointing at its high value, such as a big fancy concert hall, the price of the ticket, the name of the artist...

You can have a world-class product, but if your context is wrong, all the efforts to promote it could be in vain. 

Positioning is the essential part of your marketing efforts that can make or break your business. It's like a layer that you create around the product which the outside world uses for cues and evaluation. Your job as an entrepreneur is to help potential customers understand what you are offering, how it compares to what already exists on the market and finally—why would they care about it? 

How'd you explain what cappuccino is to those who never heard of it?

Context.101, point-zero, in other words—where does the context begin forming? Potential customers, when confronted with a new offering, build a frame of reference for it. Simply put, it's a number of characteristics they use to make sense of the new object in front of them by using an existing one as a yardstick.

Imagine you introduce a new revolutionary product - a cappuccino - in a market that only knew regular black coffee, how could you first adventurous customers make sense of this drink?

  • They could notice the richness of flavor and call the cappuccino "creamy" compared to regular coffee;

  • In terms of caffeine content, they could describe the cappuccino as "milder" compared to a cup of strong black coffee;

  • When considering the texture, they could decide the cappuccino is "frothy" and "velvety" compared to the smoother texture of regular coffee;

The frame of reference—the characteristics of regular coffee these customers know and drink—shaped how they perceive the cappuccino in comparison. You task is to convince the audience that cappuccino is a superior choice compared to regular black coffee, it has distinct benefits (rich flavour, mild taste and silky texture) and they absolutely need to drink one first thing in the morning, preferrably paired with a buttery flaky croissant. If you succeed in explaining this to the audience, your new revolutionary drink will become the next big thing, but if not - it will be labelled as a "watered-down coffee with no kick".

Be careful when choosing the yardstick! It can heavily impact not only who you'd be selling to, but also where and how.

Context can hide a product from you even when you want to find it!

Pre-existing context matters! I wanted a certain product but couldn't find it, because the context was in the way. I was saying how wrong context could make your extraordinary product invisible to the customers and Joshua Bell's experiment was the perfect example of a superior product being sabotaged by the context. In that experiment, it was right next to you but you couldn't appreciate its value because you weren't expecting to find it.

What if you really wanted to buy a product, but the context hid it from you? Recently I experienced it first-hand, let me share a quick story.

I am a fan of a certain dessert - quark bars covered in dark chocolate. They taste like chocolate-coated cheesecake but don't need baking. It's buttery, creamy, indulgent - it's awesome. It's also something I could normally buy only in my home country so I was missing them a lot.

When I learnt a very similar product came to the Netherlands, I was excited! Visited the food shop chain which claimed to have them - nothing. One more shop - nothing! 2 more shops were also unsuccessful. I began to think it's a phantom. I studied the brand's website all over and then suddenly saw something - a video from the store introducing the product. Nothing new about the product, but there was an important clue - the shelf it was placed on! It was in the juices and smoothies section, and I was looking in the dairy section, just like I'd have done at home!

Did you see what happened? The context set by the original product dictated that these bars belong in the dairy section. However, the new product was placed in the "healthy snack" section, which made them invisible for me! In spite of my utter desire to buy them, I just couldn't find them, the older context was in the way!

This is perfect to show how important it is to be on the same page with your customers. Are you sure they understand correctly what you offer? And more importantly, will they be able to find you "with no directions" ?

If you are developing a product or a service, or feel like what you are offering is "invisible" to your potential customers, hit me up! I'll help find the best context, formulate your product's unique value and put it in the center of your offering. They WILL care about your product.

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