The Press, March 2012

Embarrassing as it may be, I admit to feeling an almost emotional connection to a software product called Dropbox.

It appears on my computer simply as another ‘folder’, but is actually an internet site storing all my precious files in some remote ‘cloud’ of computer servers.

Given that my work colleagues and I escaped from our ninth story office after Christchurch’s February 2012 earthquake with nothing more than the clothes on our backs and one tiny digital tape containing our entire business, having all our data remotely stored on Dropbox is very reassuring.

It also means I can access files from any device, be it a smart phone, computer or tablet, that is connected to the internet.

There are many of these types of services for storing files remotely, from specialist services like Box.com to add-ons from bigger companies like the iCloud from Apple, but the beauty of Dropbox is its simplicity.

For a humble user like me it is easy to set up and use, and I can access it from different devices, internet browsers and computer operating systems.

From Dropbox’s perspective giving people like me this simple experience is hugely complicated, as co-founder Drew Houston explained in a February interview with MIT’s Technology Review magazine, “We want you to have your stuff with you wherever you are, and that requires that we remove anything that gets in the way.

“There are technical hurdles that we've had to overcome to provide the illusion that everything is in one place, that it just sits there, and that getting it is reliable, fast, and secure. Excellence is the sum of 100 or 1,000 of these little details.”

Mastering these details to give customers a great experience is paying off for Dropbox.

With 50 million users and over $US200 million in annual revenue, it is valued at over $US1 billion.

Focussing on creating a great customer experience is often the best ‘marketing’ any company can do, especially technology products. In an online world where people share their opinion about products instantly and widely, delivering an outstanding experience is a powerful tool.

Think Apple and the almost stark packaging their products come in, ready to use almost right out of the box, with little need to refer to manuals.

Or Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, which connects wirelessly to the Amazon store without the user having to set up any sort of connection with a telco, they’ve simply looked after it for you.

There is also an array of software-as-a-service (delivering over the internet rather than installed on your computer) products for all manner of functions that are stripped down and simple.

Why is simplicity so attractive?

As customers we are comfortable in our warm little view of the world, we don’t want to work to understand and use something new unless we really see something in it for us. We want to resist all of those annoying adverts and products and persistent sales men.

Making a product as simple as possible for a customer helps overcome this – so simple it fits neatly into a customer’s life, and is easy to understand, assess and buy.

This means you must get your product ideas into potential ‘real’ customers as soon as you can, paying attention to the unwritten rule that ‘no product ever survives the first contact with a customer.’

You will always have something wrong, no matter how carefully you have thought about and engineered your product. You will never have made it simple enough.

Simplicity should extend to the way your product is promoted to a market, something many technology companies struggle with.

Results.com is a New Zealand business coaching firm who have gathered a lot of research around what leads to business success.

In terms of how a product is marketed, Results.com’s research compared offering one overt benefit to converting all the features of a product into benefits and promoting those, and found that firms emphasising a single benefit were 54% more likely to succeed, and 75% more likely to survive after five years.

They also studied whether written marketing material should use industry terms and language, or be dumbed down to a 10 year old comprehension level, and discovered the simpler version was 70% more effective.

Being able to convey what your product does, rather than what it is, is the secret. My ten year old son wouldn’t have clue (much less his father) what an antineoplastic drug that acts by destroying cells that divide rapidly is, but he would get that chemotherapy is medicine that helps people with cancer get better.

Being able to deliver a powerful experience simply is at the core of great marketing, as is being able to explain that in clear and uncomplicated terms. It’s the way to get customers emotionally connected, like my Dropbox and I.

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