In Part 1, we looked at the iPod, to see what makes it so sticky. Sticky products are products that spread easily through the marketplace. They are memorable and naturally seem to promote themselves.
Today, I want to break down the principles of stickiness further to help you make your own products stickier. Use this framework when designing new products, or to evaluate current products to see how they can be more successful.
Simple. The first principle of stickiness is simple. As we’ve talked about in previous posts, remember that simple really means “core.” What is the core idea behind your product? This should always be your starting point. In the book, the authors use the example of “high-concept pitches” in Hollywood. These movie pitches communicate the core idea of a movie in a few words, using concepts we are already familiar with. “Speed was ‘Die Hard on a bus’.” “Alien was ‘Jaws on a spaceship’.” Try to distill your product idea down to a short, descriptive phrase. Perhaps you’re next product is going to be “a bike bag for urban fashionistas.” Or a “toddler-proof necklace.” Or to borrow from the “high-concept pitches idea”, perhaps you are going for “Tiffany’s on a budget.” Each of these examples conjures up an immediate mental image. “Toddler-proof necklace” might dictate certain materials, while “Tiffany’s on a budget” brings to mind a certain aesthetic.
Once you have a core concept for your product, all the other decisions you make should be in service to this idea. This means that you may not actually be able to hit all of the other five principles of stickiness, but the idea is to get as many as possible that support your core concept. The stronger and more descriptive your core concept, the easier it will be to make decisions as you’re designing your product.
Unexpected. Unexpected gives people a reason to talk about your product. As you work through your core concept, think about if there are any ways you can shift slightly from the expected. Can you use an unusual material? Can you alter our notion of what that product is supposed to be? Suppose your core concept is “a bike bag for urban fashionistas.” What if you choose a colorful fabric? This would make your product stand out in a sea of black. Or perhaps the bag mounts to a different part of the bike then most other bags. Or maybe the connection mechanism is so unique and simple to use that it stops people in their tracks.
The key to creating an unexpected product is research. Once you have your core concept, look at what already exists on the market. The 200th black bike bag probably isn’t going to stand out, and it certainly isn’t going to be sticky. But the only pink one might. By researching what’s already out there, you’ll have a much clearer idea of how to make your product unexpected.
Concrete. There are two areas of concreteness you can use to make your product stickier. The first is the customer’s ability to determine what your product actually is, and what it does. If a customer doesn’t understand exactly what a product is, or how it is used, they will be less likely to buy it. As you’re designing a new product, seek outside feedback. Show your prototypes to a friend or family member and ask them what the product is. Ask them to try to use the product. A great way to get real-time feedback on whether or not your product is concrete is to do a craft show. While everyone has stories about crazy craft-show comments, if most people are missing the mark on what your product is supposed to be, it could be time for a redesign.
The second area where you can make your products more concrete is in your product names. This gives people a way to identify with and discuss your products. Concrete product names aren’t necessarily descriptive. “Light blue necklace” isn’t really a sticky product name for your toddler proof necklace. Choose a name that is memorable, and helps communicate your core concept. Instead, you might call it the “hurricane-proof necklace” Or the “Lola necklace” after the toddler you’ve been testing it on. Give customers a concrete name they can latch on to, so they feel connected to your products and want to share them with others.
Credible. As I mentioned in Part 1, credibility often comes from the relationship you’ve built with your audience. This might be a relationship you’ve built through your blog and other social media, or one built through craft shows and other face-to-face meetings. Either way, building trust with your audience means they are more likely to respond when you launch a new products.
Credible products also relate to the body of work you’ve previously created. You’re products will be much more credible if they have some resemblance to the previous items you’ve designed. This doesn’t mean they have to be identical, but some kind of relationship to previous products builds on the work you’ve already done in establishing your brand. The first relationship might be in the type of object. If you’re looking to make a stylistic break from your previous work, keeping similar types of objects will retain some credibility. If you’ve always created really classical designs, but you’re looking to move into something more modern, sticking with necklaces (you’re previously established format) is going to be more credible than suddenly branching into modern furniture. But lets say that you want to make the leap from jewelry to furniture. In that case, retaining some stylistic elements from your previous body of work will help retain the credibility you’ve already established.
Emotional. Emotion is a very powerful sales tool. If there is one principle that you should try to build into all your products, it’s emotion. Emotion isn’t limited to base emotions like happiness or sadness. Emotional products tap into the non-rational side of our brains. The side that wants to be cool, or well-liked, or different. Someone who skillfully utilizes emotion in her products is Caitlin Phillips of Rebound Designs. You only have to spend a few minutes in Caitlin’s booth at a craft show to realize her book purses draw on a very powerful emotion – nostalgia. People have an instant, emotional tug with a particular book – perhaps it was something from their childhood, or a favorite story, and that emotional connection makes them more willing to buy.
When designing your products, think about what emotions you might tap into, and how you can further capitalize on those emotions. If you’re designing your “toddler-proof necklace,” what emotions might come into play? Are you going to draw on a woman’s desire to be fashionable, even while hauling her kids to a play date? Then you will want to incorporate the latest fashion trends into your design. Or perhaps you want to play up the connection she feels to her children, and design a way to personalize the necklace with reminders of her children.
Building emotion into your products isn’t about being gimmicky just for the sake of a sale. Instead, it’s about appealing to the non-rational side of your customer’s brain.
Stories. So many of the ideas that get spread in our culture are spread through stories. So, how do you make an object the center of a story? First, you can tell stories about your products – how you design or make them. And you can use the stories others share about your products. But there are ways to build stories more clearly into your products.
In Made to Stick, the authors point out three key plots that most stories have in common. These are “the Challenge plot – to overcome obstacles, the Connection plot – to get along or reconnect, and the Creativity plot – to inspire a new way of thinking.” When designing your products, can you make them relate to one of these three plots? Doing so will make it much easier to generate stories about your products. A Challenge plot product overcomes an obstacle or solves a problem in someone’s life – for instance, that mothers with toddlers find it difficult to wear delicate necklaces. Connection plot products may help us interact or connect with others, or in the case of Caitlin’s purses, help us reconnect with the past. Creativity plot products help us see the world in new ways.
As you design, think about whether or not your products fit into one of the three key plots. If not, what can you do to change that? By understanding the types of stories inherent in your products, you can more clearly and easily communicate those to your customers.
As an exercise, take a look at one of your existing products. Examine it for the 6 principles of stickiness:
- Is it simple? (Does it have a clear core concept?)
- Is it unexpected? (How does it differ from other products on the marketplace?)
- Is it concrete? (Do your customers understand it?)
- Is it credible? (Does it relate to your established brand?)
- Is it emotional? (Does it appeal to the non-rational part of the brain?)
- Does it tell a story? (Does it fit into one of the three key plots?)
As you consider each of these principles, think about how you could enhance them to make the product stickier. Continue running through this list with existing products, and as you design new ones. Over time, thinking about these elements should become second-nature, and hopefully, your products will become stickier.