December 22, 2010

Design, Marketing and the Retail Experience

Have you ever hefted an Apple product, just felt it lie in your hand or gauged the weight, shape and feel of it, and admired how it felt just right? That designed-in just-rightness is part of Apple's user experience, and lends itself to selling a boatload (or airplane-load) of devices every day. It also lends itself to selling those devices at a higher price than their direct competitors. But is product design the only key to Apple's success?

Take a look at the laptop market. Apple sells their wares at a significantly higher price, often double what you'd pay for a similar device from a commodity manufacturer. The difference is in the marketing, and the user experience, imparted by Apple. From the moment you open the box, an Apple product makes you feel like you're now part of something larger. You don't just own a laptop, you own a Mac laptop, and it does things in a somehow better way than any other brand. By the selective use of color, shape, typeface and tone, the packaging and documentation make you feel like you've opened a treasure. You're glad you spent that extra money from the moment you first use the device. And Apple holds your hand long after you pay for the device, making the device appear more capable than if you were left on your own with it. That's what the Mac and iPhone app stores are really all about, making your device appear better than competing products.

This managed user experience, and the premium charged for it, can lend itself to the retail experience everywhere else. By taking your customer by the hand the moment she walks in the door you can make your business a premium destination, a go-to place for them. And they'll happily pay you for the ride. This is how the little guy can compete and survive in a sea of big-box stores, or similar smaller businesses.

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