It’s valuable because I said so

I was lucky today to have a day to spend with my 2-year-old daughter. In the morning we walked up and down ten city blocks, stopping to pet dogs, sit on stoops, and inspect leaves and spiders. In the afternoon we went to the Exploratorium, which is a ridiculously award-winning and enriching museum.

Truth be told, I’m pretty sure she had more fun just walking around for free. But as the adult who pays for the museum membership, I can’t help but feel a tiny bit like she ought to have had more fun at the Exploratorium.

Has anyone ever tried telling a child, “This cost a lot of money — you’d better appreciate it!”?

Has anyone ever had that work for them?

Of course not. Sure, you can tell them that something cost $10 or $100. You can also tell your dog that something cost $100, and they’ll comprehend your point about as well.

A small child cannot possibly understand what it means that something costs X dollars, because the experience of earning money and having both obligations and options on where to spend it is entirely outside of their sphere of experience.

But they know when they are having fun! You can’t trick them into thinking they are having fun when they are not.

As products people, we often do the same thing to our customers.

We know how which features took the longest to build, we know where the underlying technology is incredibly elegant and patent-pending, we know which of the components are the most expensive to support. So we say,“hey, this is what you should find valuable.”

But customers don’t care. They don’t care how long you spent coding it, they don’t care that other engineers think your technology is jaw-droppingly awesome, they don’t care how much or how you support it.

All they care about is, am I having fun?

Sometimes customers try to clue us in, and they tell us about your product or service’s Benefit K that they find life-changing and awesome (and yes, fun). But if Benefit K isn’t one of the parts we’re especially proud of, we ignore it. We think,”well, they ought to be appreciating Benefit Q,” and then we headline our marketing campaigns with the awesome advantages of Benefit Q.

When you do this to a small child, it doesn’t take long before the child starts thinking two things:

  • “If this grownup really thinks it’s more fun to do X than to stomp in puddles, perhaps they aren’t very bright.” and
  • “I am concerned about what other dumb decisions this grownup is going to try to force on me.”

Your customers are thinking the same thing.