Product Development: Meet Minimum Buying Criteria Before Exceeding Them

At the airport recently, I saw an advertisement for a cell phone that boasted about its 215 hours of talk time – joking about how other cell phone users were hunting for an outlet to plug in their chargers while users of this cell phone still had power. The manufacturer was trying to brag about battery life, but it seemed like a hypothetical proposition. Even on a heavy usage day, I spend maybe two to three hours at the most on my cell phone. At that rate, it would take 10 weeks to use up those 215 hours of talk time, and it’s pretty likely that I’d be able to find a power outlet during those two and a half months.

Instead of 215 hours of talking before the battery dies, I'm much more concerned about whether I can get in maybe three hours of talk time and five hours of using my Web browser, GPS, games and videos before I need to recharge.

When buyers make decisions, there is a minimum level of value you need to meet for each criterion; above that, additional value may have little impact. If having a minimum of 100 hours of talk time before recharging meets my requirements, then having a phone that can last as long as 105, 150 or even 215 hours isn't really a value-add to me. But if the phone doesn't reach my required need level in another area, such as minimum screen size, the product development team would have been better off putting the engineering effort into a bigger screen size.

When does alleged additional value become overkill? Take cable TV as an example. If I already have a package that includes the channels I normally watch, I’m probably a satisfied customer. Now, let’s say that my cable provider offers me a new premium package with 50 additional channels, but none of them include programs that would interest me. Where’s the value-add?

Rather than putting additional resources and emphasis on features or offers that might be of little value to your buyers, product managers and product marketers need to be able to answer these questions:

  • Which criteria are important to your buyers?
  • What are the minimum levels your product or service needs to meet the criteria?
  • Will buyers value exceeding those minimum levels on any of the criteria? Which ones?
  • Does one of the criteria "move the needle" more than all of the others?
  • Where do your competitors fall on the value spectrum? Are there any criteria where they do not meet the minimum? For criteria where they exceed the minimum level, is that excess valued by buyers? How much extra value does it represent to them?

Once you understand the product features and priorities from the customer's perspective, you can tailor your product development efforts and marketing accordingly. This allows you to maximize investment in the areas of greatest perceived value to buyers, and focus on the marketing messaging that will resonate the most.


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