Most Of A Product's Value Is Hidden In The Shadows

People aren’t buying your product’s features. Here is what they really are buying.

A few weeks ago my wife and I went over to the Toyota dealership and got a Prius. One of the car’s main features is that it gets 50 miles per gallon. It’s also spacious and has 5 doors.

But these features aren’t the reason I bought the Prius. The real value of the Prius is in what the features allow for me to do.

The good fuel economy allows me to spend money on feeding my new baby girl rather than feeding 91 octane to my old BMW M3's inline six — I still love that car. The big interior allows me to fit a baby seat in the back seat — definitely not happening in an M3. The 5th door (hatchback) makes it really easy to stow a stroller.

This value is personal in that it’s unlikely that a Uber/Lyft driver with no kids would extract the same value from the Prius as I do.

Hell 50 mpg would have meant something entirely different to me 10 years ago.

This isn’t just limited to cars. A shovel is a stick with a durable metal sheet fastened to the end of it. But people don’t buy a shovel because of these features. People buy a shovel so they can dig the hole that finishes the fence in their back yard. This is why shovel makers don’t sell shovels or features of shovels. They sell different types of holes to differ types of people.

The same is true with services. At Vesper we aren’t selling a “human assistant with A.I. superpowers”. We’re selling the Tuesday afternoon you get to spend with your wife by the pool while still being productive.

For some people this message resonates, for others it doesn’t. And that’s the beauty of targeting. It doesn’t need to appeal to everyone, just the people who need the type of holes we are selling.

Here’s the point: the value of a product or service is determined by the people who use it, not the entrepreneurs, product managers, or engineers who build it. For product builders it’s almost as if the features cast shadows and the value is hidden within these shadows waiting to be uncovered.

A good way to explore the shadows is to complete the statement “these features do X so that a customer can do Y”. Then talk to customers and see if Y is important to them. If it isn’t important that doesn’t mean that X is wrong. You may just need to find a new Y.

So take a moment to think about what you are building, then think about the value that is hidden in the shadows. Don’t get lazy and say something like “it saves time” or “it saves money”. Nobody buys more time or more money. People buy what more time/money enables.

If you’re selling B2B and the buyer saves money for their company, do they get to look like a rockstar to their boss? Do they get a promotion? Are they able to brag to the board?

These are the things that people buy.

Be explicit and tell that story.

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