Do you know how many cubic feet your fridge or your freezer holds? Do you know how many horsepower your car has? Or better yet, its pound-feet of torque? Do you know how many HD channels you get from your cable provider? Do you know what your internet “speed” is at home?
If you are like most consumers, you won’t know the correct answer to any of these. Using the internet example above, the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) found that 77% of broadband subscribers do not know the download speed of their Internet service. How could they? That information is shown to customers as “Mbps.” I’m not going to tell you what that is, because doing it for you would defeat my purpose. Go find out for yourself…and see if you remember what it is three days later.
Yet this arcane metric is what the broadband providers focus on in their marketing. Check out AT&T U-Verse: “with downstream speeds up to 24 Mbps…” How many people even understand what the reference to “downstream” means? And by the way, what does “up to” mean?
Or FiOS. In addition to its various broadband subscription plans broken down by Mbps levels, there is a call-out on its site saying “Craving even more speed? Get blazing-fast FiOS Internet at up to 50 Mbps." The metric is so obsequious that FiOS is reduced to using language like “blazing fast.”
Here’s the kicker. The same CTAM study showed that 66% of broadband subscribers rate the speed of their connection between and 8 and 10 (top score 10), while just 6% rate it 1 to 3. So, even though just about no one knew his or her internet speed, they are all pretty much satisfied with it.
And, of course we’ve all been subjected to enough ads from DIRECTV, DISH, and the cablers as to how many hundreds of channels of HD we can get. Yet studies show most people watch at most the same 20 channels or so. So who cares about hundreds of channels of HD?
Why does this happen? Why do marketers talk incessantly about features no one can understand, or worse, no one cares about? Three main reasons: (1) they’ve fallen in love with the insider-language metric (such as Mbps); (2) because every other competitor is talking about it; (3) they can’t come up with anything better (other than “blazing fast,” which is just awful).
A bad solution to this is to give up all this talk of features and rational benefits, and leapfrog to the “emotional” benefits. AT&T and Holiday Inn are two examples we’ve covered here, for example the former giving up on coverage maps and showing us large orange sheets cascading down the Gateway Arch. Meaningless.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Think of how mp3 players positioned their storage capabilities. Yes, there was talk of gigabytes, but it was a stroke of genius to translate that to how many songs a device could hold. Now that was something a consumer could relate to.
Or look at how JetBlue talks about “seat pitch.” Rather than quote some number understood only by an airline mechanic, JetBlue says “kick back and relax, or spread out and work.”
And here’s how those refrigerator companies could do it. Rather than quote cubic feet, say “Are you tired of storing your half-open bottles of wine sideways, diagonally, anyway but straight up?”
So in the end, think of it this way: if everyone around you is talking about the same thing, and customers are simply shrugging their shoulders in response, maybe it’s time to change the conversation. What have you got to lose?