What makes customers happy? Most people think it’s simply delivering the solution that solves the functional problem of customers the best. For example, search engine marketing ads deliver prospective customers from point A (another website) to point B (your website) arguably in the most efficient manner and this form of advertising is widely now adopted. Yet, for many search engine marketing service sellers, they lose 50% of their customers every year.
Why aren’t these customers happy? It’s been baffling the local ad industry for years. I think it is because people can care more about form than function.
In an interview with the CEO of Prada there was a great anecdote about this phenomenon. Prada makes a variety of shoes such as ballet flats and high heels. In the city of Milan, most streets are made from cobblestone, making it incredibly uneven and difficult to walk on. You’d think that based on utility and function, the best selling shoes for Prada in Milan would be the most comfortable ones like ballet flats. However, high heels by far outsell everything else.
Form wins over function once certain utility is reached or after a certain spending level. More comfortable shoes may get a customer from point A to point B faster but they don’t give the same emotional feeling. Customers are purchasing based on the image they have of themselves by owning the product and the image others have of them as a result.
It’s the emotional experience that customers are purchasing — not the physical good. Prada has learned to sell esteem, not just a shoe. It’s the difference between Foxconn selling an assembly service and Apple selling an assembled experience.
In my company’s world of advertising, this lesson explains a lot. It turns out advertisers don’t just care about function of getting from point A to B (or in this case, getting customers from website A to website B). They care about form to a degree as well. Advertisers care about their image and how it portrays them to others and themselves.
Seeing your own ad out there in the world is fulfilling for ego. At PaperG, we’ve observed that customer who have seen their own ads are much happier customers than ones who don’t.
Everyone wants to be important. Everyone wants people to notice them. Display advertising gets customers from point A to B but like high heel shoes, it may not be the fastest way of doing things. It says something about the buyer. It tells everyone around them to pay attention. It’s a classic example of form over function. Search on the other hand is great in efficiency and functionality but provides almost none of the form that advertisers value. It could make customers much happier if it adapted some of its form.
I’m sure this insight isn’t limited to just advertising and fashion. So, when thinking about your customers and why they might not be happy with your efficient product, ask yourself:
Are you selling form at all or just function?