Competing in the Future Is All About Experience

One of my favorite authors today is Ben Thompson at Stratechery. Reading Ben’s smart take on markets, technology and business is a daily ritual for me as a happy subscriber.

A trend in his writing over the past year has been how a focus on user experience is the new basis for competition between products, displacing pre-Internet battlefields such as distribution networks and access to customers.

“This, then, leads to the point I was making in Selling Feelings: in a world with basically no barriers to entry, companies must compete by delivering a superior experience.” Ben Thompson, Tesla and Beyond Disruption (subscription required).

In a previous age, a huge part of the challenge in bringing a product to market was just getting it to your potential customers. Even in the first wave of Internet startups, you’d have to invest a million or more in servers and software to bring those early Internet apps to life.

Not so these days - anyone with a credit card can start an Amazon Web Services (AWS) account and get the benefit of millions of dollars in infrastructure on-demand.

And those expensive distribution networks and the logistical expertise that vaulted previous waves of consumer products into the stratosphere? Well, distribution is effectively free via the Internet today. The basis of competition has changed and if you want your product to be successful, it must be differentiated. Like Ben, I believe that means creating a superior user experience.

In order to be successful, your product needs to make people feel something.

Look at Amazon.com and Amazon Prime (their membership service that provides, amongst other benefits, free 2-day shipping on many purchases). Amazon has built an impressive combination of technology and physical infrastructure that allows them to deliver just about anything to your house in a day or two.

That sort of instant access to whatever you might want makes it feel like we’re living in the future, and Amazon captures an incredible amount of goodwill that way - I hear friends and colleagues evangelizing Amazon and Prime all the time. The user experience is great and customers love it.

Uber is another example. They significantly improved the user experience of hailing a cab by appifying the process and because of that, they are on track to potentially re-shape the transportation industry. In the meantime, their users are loyal and committed, sold on a great user experience that is leaps and bounds beyond what was available before.

There are other products out there in seemingly boring categories that elicit strong feelings from their customers (see Basecamp, OmniFocus, Slack and many others). I once even heard someone say they loved Excel (though to be fair, they had been drinking that night)! These products are huge successes in part because their users evangelize them to others and they do that because these products make them feel something.

We talk a lot about user experience here at Foraker, as we focus on building well-crafted core features, and delivering great usability in general. Before we start a new project we sit down with our client to have a workshop. The workshop is a chance to deeply explore the problems they are trying to solve with their product idea.

As part of that discovery process we focus on building a minimum viable product (MVP) - something that credibly solves a legitimate user problem but trades prioritizing other features over getting to market (and getting feedback from users) more quickly.

But starting with an MVP does not mean ‘build a crappy product’. Actually, the focus on what is most important is a powerful way to achieve a great user experience. By polishing those core features we’re able to ship something that solves the user’s problem elegantly and gives us a shot at making something that people love (shockingly, users don’t love half-baked features that are too confusing to understand).

As barriers to entry fall with easy access to technology platforms and Internet distribution, bringing a product to market is easier than ever - anyone can do it (and they are). Make your product stand out by building something that truly connects with people.

Ok, great. What’s next?

How do you make something that people care about? We’ll be exploring that and related topics in the coming months here on The F-Word blog.

Want help building a web or mobile app that people will love? Well that’s our killer product and we’d love to talk in more detail about how we can help you.

What do you think?

Have questions, comments, or other ideas? Please find me on Twitter: @hunter.

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