Build for Everyone and Delight No One

What is the optimal flavor of ice cream?  Well, it depends.  What are you trying to achieve?

If you are buying ice cream for a big birthday party, people typically buy vanilla.  Why?  Simple, they know that everyone can tolerate vanilla.  Only a small minority of people would list it as their favorite flavor, but more people have no problem with it.

Vanilla is what you get if you try to design a product for every possible user in your market.

What does it take to really knock the socks off of an ice cream eater?  You need to make their favorite flavor.  And what is that flavor?  You can’t possibly know without working to understand who they are and what delights them.  Then you must work to make something perfect for that particular person.

Do they like crunchy or smooth?  Do they want chunks of things mixed in, or would they want the mixture to be uniform?  What flavors do they like, and what flavors to they hate?  Do they want low-cal-low-fat-low-taste, or do they want the full-fat-full-taste experience?

My wife’s favorite flavor of ice cream can only be bought from from Ben and Jerry’s and is called Maple and Brown Sugar.  It’s a rare flavor that you can’t find just anywhere.  But that’s what it takes to really knock her socks off.

This analogy extends to many types of product development.  It is critical to pick a set of customers with common characteristics, so that you can make something that truly delights them.

Real User Love

Here is a real, unsolicited comment from one of the users of a product I’m working on called SAT Habit:

“It rocks. Can I just say that again? It rocks. So much. It’s saving my life. I love you. Thank you so much. It’s amazing. If you can think of any other, higher compliments, feel free to add them on. Biggest. fan. ever.”

Does that sound like someone who is eating vanilla ice cream?  I don’t think so.  Do you want customers to say things like this about your product?  Well, make sure you pick a good target.

But what about the rest of the market?

Aren’t we losing sales by excluding the rest of the customers in this market?  For the time being, yes, you will be.  But consider the alternative.  The alternative is not capturing great sales in ANY part of the market.  You can always expand your product offering later to capture more of the market, but if you make something mediocre, you might never get off the ground, and that’s a tragedy.

Start with Maple Brown Sugar, then you can make Rocky Road, then Chocolate Chocolate Chip.  One day, when you are built a mountain of success, you’ll be happy you started with something that really rocks.

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