Build what people want, not what they need

People don’t want an environmentally friendly car. They want a bad-ass sports car.

I recently received this question:

I’ve built a software product. There’s no demand for it in the market, but I’m sure people need it. How do I get people using it?

Here’s my response:

The only way for your product to be successful is to make something people want.

Identifying a “need” isn’t enough:

However, there are successful products that help people lose weight and switch away from fossil fuels. Their secret? They’ve put their products in a package that people want.

Non-software examples

LA Weight Loss markets it’s program by promising customers something they want: a sexier body.

Elon Musk got more people driving electric cars by starting with something people wanted: a fast, luxurious vehicle. (The Model S can go from 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds).

James’ theory

My friend James Clear has a theory: many positive habits (like a healthy diet) are painful in the short term, but rewarding in the long-term.

It’s difficult for people to do things they know are good for them. The benefit is too far in the future. Eating candy has an immediate reward (it tastes good), but a long term detriment (weight gain, disease). Eating vegetables is the opposite: short term pain, but a healthier future.

James believes that the secret to motivating people is to align the long-term benefit with a short term reward.

So if you’re going to sell an environmentally friendly vehicle, start by marketing it as a luxury sports car. Early in Tesla’s history, people wanted the status of owning the exclusive roadster. To help the world reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Elon Musk had to create a product that gave people a short-term reward (in this case, status and speed).

How does this apply to building a software product?

My favorite example is Dating Ring.

They launched with a bold premise: a dating site without profile photos. It’s a rational idea. If you’re looking for a lifelong partner, swiping left or right on a photo is too superficial. Through experimentation, they discovered that a blind date with a group of people was the best way to find a potential mate.

Single people needed their service, but it wasn’t what they wanted.

Signups suffered because users wanted to see photos of possible matches. Dating Ring was forced to relaunch with a site that allowed people to upload photos, and control their preferences.

Minimum Path to Awesome

To succeed, build something that gives users a quick win, and then continues to provide value over time.

Rob Walling calls this “Minimum Path to Awesome.” In your onboarding, help your customer do something that gets them excited about your product.

If you have invoicing software, maybe it’s when they send their first invoice, maybe it’s when they get paid, we don’t know yet, we just have to take a guess. If you have proposal software, maybe it’s when they send that first proposal. If you have email marketing software it’s going to be either when they get their first subscriber, maybe when they send their first email. — Rob Walling (Source)

Final thoughts

People might not want the progress your product provides.

Customers don’t make purchasing decisions rationally. They buy emotionally and then rationalize their purchase with logic.

Too many smart people are trying to sell products that people need, instead of building something people want.

Cheers,
 Justin Jackson

PS: I’ve updated Marketing for Developers, my best-selling book, with a bigger section on product validation. Get a free chapter here. 👈

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Originally published at justinjackson.ca on July 6, 2017.