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Six Rules for Creating Products People LoveAn Introduction to the PPL Rules
By Bruce D. Green
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Bruce D. Green
All right reserved.
Tens of thousands of patents have been awarded for products that are utter failures in the marketplace—sometimes hilariously so. For example, take the cheese-filter cigarette (Patent No. 3,234,948) that had a filter made of cheese so that with every inhale you could enjoy the great taste of cheddar with your tobacco smoke. Apple had an embarrassing failure in the 1990s with the Newton handheld computer. Sony's Betamax video cassette recorder was made irrelevant by the VHS format. IBM's OS/2 operating system failed to dislodge Microsoft Windows, and GM was unable to sell the awkward-looking Pontiac Aztec despite it being featured on the first seasons of the hit show Survivor. Apple, Sony, IBM, and GM are smart and profitable companies that have made billions producing great products, but they have also made product mistakes that could have been avoided. If you want to avoid mistakes that can doom your new product line, it is important to understand the six basic principles that all successful products share. If you understand and attend to these rules about product design, then people will love and endorse your brand. This book was written to provide clear and actionable guidelines for the design, development, and marketing of successful products.
Great and successful products do not just make money; they engender a love and devotion from their users. The people who love great products will brag to their friends and family about the product. I am not just talking about Uncle Jimmy, who corners you every Thanksgiving to show off his newest mobile phone. I am talking about people who cannot help but share with the world how happy they are with their new car, watch, shoes, golf club, washing machine, mutual fund, or book they just read. When people love a product, they will not only use it, they will try to get other people to use it. Every entrepreneur dreams of providing a product that is so good that people rave about it. A product that customers love is a product that we want to design, build, and sell. When the entrepreneur imagines success, she imagines total strangers saying, "You're the Widget lady? Wow, we love Widgets!" Yes, you want your product to be that good and that beloved.
I have spent more than fifteen years studying why people choose to use some technology products but reject others. I have led development teams building technology products for even longer. My experience, my studies, and the research of others led inexorably to six basic rules that are met by every great product. These rules affect all stages of the product life cycle of analysis, design, implementation, marketing, and sales. To use the rules, you need to be ruthlessly honest with yourself about the quality and viability of your product. Just "checking a box" next to each rule will not get it done. Failure to meet the rules has doomed many products in the past; some of them could have been successes.
Products people love are products that people endorse through word-of-mouth advertising. There is no stronger support for a brand than the endorsement of a customer. When friends, coworkers, or family member you trust tell you how much they love a product that they are using, you are many times more likely to purchase that product. For your company, word-of-mouth advertising is also free advertising. There is a reason why people love and endorse a product. In fact, I have found that there are six rules for why people love certain products. I call these the "PPL rules," where PPL stands for products people love.
The six PPL rules have been adopted from scientific research in the fields of social behavior, consumer behavior, and technology acceptance. Most of the research in this area has been conducted by surveying people about their attitudes and intentions in regards to different behaviors and product usage. Academics from diverse fields of information systems, marketing, management, and psychology have found common ground in modeling what leads people to perform behaviors such as buying and using particular products. The six PPL rules dispense with the jargon, statistics, and research models of the scientists, and present what you need to care about, and what you need to do to create products that people love.
An overview of the PPL rules, with a description of each, is provided below.
PPL rule #1: Make it easy to get started. Making it easy for people to get started with your product is accomplished when you eliminate all obstacles that prevent customers from purchasing and using your product. If you want to make great products that people use and endorse, then you need them to believe your product is easy to buy, set up, and use.
A study that featured in-depth interviews of information technology executives at eighty-nine corporations found that the biggest obstacle to purchase of new technology was a fear on the part of the executives that their own people would be unable to implement the new technology. The executives were more worried about their people's ability to adopt the new technology products than they were interested in the benefits of the new technology. You do not need to be an executive at a large corporation to be concerned about your ability to make a new product work. I think most of us have considered buying a product that promised to solve a problem but ultimately chose not to buy the product because we feared that it would be too difficult to set up.
Many useful consumer products failed because people feared that they would be unable to set up or use the system and gain its benefits. These attitudes are often developed before the potential buyer or user ever even sees the product in person. That is why companies go to great lengths in their advertising to tout "how easy it is to get started." Almost all of us have been stymied by a product that we purchased and then failed to ever get it properly configured. The great usability theorist Donald A. Norman would remind us that it is not our fault. The product that cannot be easily configured for use is a flawed product.
When you purchase a product because the advertisements and the salesperson told you that it will solve your problem, the product should not create a new problem for you. For example, if your problem is that you need to organize your budget, then you may purchase a subscription to a website that claims to help you manage your bills. What if setting up the system takes hours and requires you to categorize bills into a confusing organizational structure? Eventually you may give up trying to set up this system that was supposed to make your life easier. Doing so may be the smart thing to do because ultimately the setup time may be greater than any efficiency you ever hope to gain from the system. In short, the problem is the product, not you. The product was supposed to solve your problem, not create a new problem. Product setup and configuration is a vital part of the product design. It is important to remember that great marketing and low prices can get us to buy a product, but they cannot get us to figure out how to set it up. Products that people love have to be easy to set up and configure for use.
When we talk about what a product is, we have to understand that the product is not just the item that appears on the customer's receipt or invoice. When you rent a car using Hertz Gold, the receipt does not mention web reservations, airport counter, preferred parking, or courtesy bus, but all of these items are part of the product experience. You may be renting just the vehicle, but you are purchasing the entire process that speeds you to your destination. Another product that famously made setup easy and resulted in one of the greatest consumer successes in history was the Apple iPod, which was released soon after itunes. Apple recognized that the music player and the store had to work seamlessly together even if the two items did not appear on the same receipt. Companies such as Hertz and Apple that make it easy to get started benefit from consumer loyalty and devotion.
IBM's OS/2 was a failed effort to take back the operating system business from Microsoft and the PC clone makers. By the time OS/2 was released, many users and It personnel had recently become proficient with the Microsoft DOS and Windows structure, and they were not eager to start over with a new product line. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Microsoft was being bundled with PC clones included in the price of the systems, whereas OS/2 had to be actively pursued, purchased, and installed on non-IBM machines. From an easy to get started standpoint, the choice could not be starker: use a familiar system that is already installed on your new computer or go out and buy OS/2, install it, configure it, and learn to use it. Not surprisingly, Microsoft dominated the operating system sales, and OS/2 failed to catch on.
To understand the importance of making it easy to get started, it is helpful to understand the term self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to one's own beliefs about one's ability to perform in a particular situation. Self-efficacy has been shown to have wide-ranging implications from job skills to the ability to drive a car to even parenting. Each person has a level of confidence in his or her own capabilities to perform specific tasks. The driver with low self-efficacy will be afraid and even terrified to drive in traffic or on the highway. The person with low self-efficacy on the job may repeatedly turn to coworkers for help. When it comes to getting someone to buy and use your product, self-efficacy is a key component of his or her decision making. If people do not have confidence in their ability to use your product, then they will be less likely to buy your product. The executives surveyed at those eighty-nine corporations collectively had low self-efficacy related to their belief in their ability to manage new technology adoption, and, therefore, they delayed or avoided purchasing new technology.
So how do we combat our customers' self-efficacy issues? There are two things that product makers need to do to overcome customer resistance caused by low self-efficacy. First, the product maker needs to create designs that customers have no reason to fear. Products must be designed to be easy to get started with from purchase to setup to first use. In every way possible, we need to eliminate all barriers to our customers buying and using our hardware, software, services, and materials. Second, we need to show and tell potential customers how we have made setup and use of our product simple, quick, and easy. Demonstrations, offers of free training, setup support, or automation of setup are ways to reduce consumer anxiety. The last thing we want is for the customer to like everything about our product but be afraid of its complexity. Complexity is a barrier that we have the power to reduce, and the more that we can do that, the better for our sales and customer satisfaction.
People cannot love products that they do not use, so making your product easy to set up and get started is vitally important. The higher the self-efficacy people have toward using your product, the more confident they are that they will be able to use it to solve their problem, and the more likely they are to try it out. Innovative products overcome customer resistance through free samples, demonstrations, and test drives. You will have taken an important step toward making a product that people love if you design your product to be easy to get started with and then actively market its ease of setup to potential customers.
PPL rule #2: Make it useful. When researchers investigated why people use different technologies, from mobile banking to e-voting to physician tools to student services, the overwhelming reason given is that the person finds the product is useful. A product that is useful is one that solves a problem by making us safer, happier, more efficient, more productive, less tired, or less bored. The most attractive, inexpensive, and easy-to-use products will not be used by people if they do not solve a problem. Sure, useless products can get sold by crafty marketers, but those customers will not endorse the products or buy more from the manufacturer. We often hear that a great salesman can "sell ice to an Eskimo." That may very well be true, but I doubt very much that the Eskimo will brag to his friends about the ice he bought.
A product that does not solve a customer's problem in some way is indicative of a fad. People will suddenly buy pet rocks and other useless items, but they will just as suddenly stop buying, and the product will disappear. Moreover, the success of fad products is based more on luck than on anything else. You should not waste your time, effort, and money building a product that you hope will be purchased based on luck or fad. If that is your plan, it is better that you simply buy a lottery ticket!
The time to analyze your product for usefulness is at the very beginning of development. The very first thing that you should determine when developing a product is the purpose of your product. Write down the problem statement as a clear, short description of the core issue your product will address. Next, write a solution statement of how your product solves the problem.
Here are a couple of example problem statements and solution statements. Note that these statements do not contain proofs or long explanations of the problem. They do not include details about the solution or technology. The statements provide a declaration of a problem and an outline of a solution.
Problem statement: Summer sun causes painful and damaging sunburns to people's skin.
Solution statement: A topical cream that prevents sunburn. This old problem was solved long ago, but more recently the following problem developed.
Problem statement: High SPF sunscreen is difficult to apply due to being thick and viscous.
Solution statement: A high SPF sunscreen that can be easily applied to skin.
Solutions in Search of a Problem
Scientists perform basic research, and engineers apply technologies to solve problems. In some cases, basic research leads to an exciting technology, but the application of that technology to a real-world problem is slow to develop. As technology has advanced, we have seen many products that took advantage of gee-whiz technology but failed to provide a solution to a problem.
A failed product that is an example of a technical solution in search of a problem was the Apple Newton. The Newton was the first portable digital assistant (PDA), and it led to later successes enjoyed by other companies, including Palm, Handspring, and Compaq, and ultimately figured into some of the technology used in the iPod. Unfortunately for two Apple CEOs, John Sculley and Gil Amelio, Newton was a huge financial failure and embarrassment for the company.
The Newton was most famous as the butt of comic strip and television show jokes due to its comically erratic handwriting recognition. The Newton broke a number of PPL rules, but at its core it broke PPL rule #2 that the product must be useful. Newton was a quirky personal organizer that, due to its lack of connectivity, size, and unreliability, did not improve upon the pocket organizer. Unlike later products such as Palm, which could interface directly with your Outlook contacts list, Newton contacts had to be hand entered by most users. This is not a timesaver or useful feature for most people since they could just as easily hand enter contacts in a paper-based personal organizer. Even worse, due to the poor quality of the handwriting recognition, it was much quicker and easier to enter contact information or calendar information into a paper-based organizer than into a Newton, which could change a calendar entry "Meet Conner" into "Make Cookies."
PPL rule #3: Make it easy to use. In the 1980s and 1990s researchers found that when people thought a system was easier to use they were more likely to also consider it more useful. This would be confirmed in many subsequent studies, including my own research about software usage. Since some of the things that make a product useful include better performance or productivity, it only makes sense that ease of use is a big factor. After all, how can a product make me more productive if I am struggling to make it work? We have all had issues with products that were supposed to make our lives easier but instead were so difficult to use that they made our lives harder. When a product is hard to use, we resent it. Hard-to-use, complex, nonintuitive, or designed-for-error products can make us frustrated and angry. Products that make us frustrated and angry are products that we "put up with," not products that we love.
Excerpted from Six Rules for Creating Products People Love by Bruce D. Green Copyright © 2012 by Bruce D. Green. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction....................3
Chapter 2: Products....................23
Chapter 3: People....................37
Chapter 4: rule #1—Make It Easy to Get Started....................51
Chapter 5: rule #2—Make It Useful....................65
Chapter 6: rule #3—Make It Easy to Use....................73
Chapter 7: rule #4—Make It Valuable....................93
Chapter 8: rule #5—Make It Attractive....................111
Chapter 9: rule #6—Make It trustworthy....................121
Chapter 10: PPL Product reviews....................135
Chapter 11: Final thoughts....................155
Appendix:the PPL rules Model....................159
About the Author....................171
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book sets forth an informative list of principles as to why products succeed or fail. It explains how people's attitudes, abilities and social influences affect their decision to buy a product. It includes great examples of why well-known products were successful and why other products failed. This is a great read for any entrepreneur.