Are You Improving Lives or Peddling Your Product?


We all know the story of Jack and the Beanstalk.

In this classic fairy tale, poor little Jack’s mother gets majorly miffed when her son comes home with a hand full of “magic beans” instead of the money she hoped for after sending him out to sell their only cow.

In her eyes, Jack was taken advantage of and manipulated into an unfair exchange and chances are, she wouldn’t be alone in these feelings. (I mean, let’s face it, those beans must’ve had one heck of salesman.)

Like in the story, salesmen and marketers often get a misleading rap of being manipulative or tricking people into buying things they usually wouldn’t (or shouldn’t.)

In a world where virality is the goal and people are taking their gadgets to bed with them, businesses like yours are trying everything they can to capitalize on this habit.

But at the end of the day, what is your attempt accomplishing? Is your product or service helping improve your users’ lives or are you tricking them into buying “magical beans?”

Nir Eyal explores this idea and what he calls “The Manipulation Matrix” in his book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

The Manipulation Matrix

As Eyal describes, the Manipulation Matrix is a simple tool for entrepreneurs, employees, and investors to assess the value of their product to the consumer. Overall it helps organizations determine the best (and most honest) way to position their product to their buyers and consider what the implications of bringing it to market might be.

To use the Matrix (seen below in an image from Eyal’s website), simply ask yourself and answer these two questions:

  • Would I use this product/service myself?
  • Will it help users materially improve their lives?

Depending on your answers, you will fall into one of the following four categories: Facilitator, Peddler, Entertainer, or Dealer.

The Facilitator

  • Would I use this product/service myself? Yes
  • Will it help users materially improve their lives? Yes

In a perfect world, everyone would be a Facilitator, someone who offers a product or service that they would use themselves and that they believe improves people’s lives, but in reality, anyone can claim to be this.

To be a credible Facilitator, according to Eyal, you have to have experienced the problem you aim to solve firsthand at some point in your life. For example, a former teacher creating a software that helps improve classroom learning or a hair stylist inventing a new type of trimmer.

What does this mean for business? Firsthand experience (as any talent recruiter will tell you), is like currency. It gives you more credibility as an expert in your field and helps you relate to your audience, build trust, and show deep understanding of their pain points.

Understanding leads to conversions and delight, and the more delighted your customers are, the more likely they will be to return and spread the good word about your product.

The Peddler

  • Would I use this product/service myself? No
  • Will it help users materially improve their lives? Yes

Unlike a Facilitator, a Peddler wouldn’t use their own product or service.

Perhaps they have the best intentions of improving the lives of others with their product, but they themselves have no need or interest in using it.

What does this mean for business? Trying to create a solution for a problem or pain you have no experience with is extremely difficult. Coming from an outside perspective, it is unlikely that you will fully understand all the intricacies of the problem or know if your product can truly make a difference.

In this situation, you are more likely to have a mental disconnect between your team and real-life users, and this disconnect leaves more room for shortcomings in your offering or marketing materials.

To overcome this issue, your business will need to invest heavily in research, development, and thorough testing to ensure relevance and effectiveness.

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