Monday, August 3, 2015

Businesses Missing the Point (and why quality comes before cool)

In a shopping outing this weekend, I realized--in what's probably no surprise to anyone--that the store's upper management had completely missed the point of today's technology.

If anyone has been navigating the world of wedding registries lately, you probably have seen new, different types of registries such as Zola, which are designed to let you gather all your registered items into one place online, and to let you register for nontraditional items such as camping gear and Etsy-shop items. The idea is that all your registries can be in one place, conveniently, and you can add small-store items to support local businesses, too.

It's not surprising that big-box stores don't want to share the business. But when the poor shopkeeper had to explain to me that her store's registry system was deliberately designed to be incompatible with these systems ("oh, but let me show you this need app that you put on your phone; just scan any of our products to add it to the system!"), I couldn't help but feel embarrassed for her. It wasn't her fault. She hadn't decided to create a deliberately inconvenient system and spruce it up with all sorts of apps and techno-gadgets.

But the fact of the matter is, the store had completely missed the point of the modern shopping experience. It's not about fancy scanning apps or being able to check your registry on your smartphone. What I really want is convenience and options. And that store couldn't give it to me.

It's really easy to get caught up in the toys and tricks and apps and nifty gadgets and marketing programs and hashtags when we're making any kind of advertising. We feel cool. We feel relevant. But at the same time, it's also easy to get so lost in these things that we entirely miss the point of what the consumer wants. And somehow, with state-of-the-art apps and an Instagram account being followed by thousands, we still wind up being irrelevant, because we missed the point in the first place.

That happened with coupons: there were lots of great coupons; coupon-clipping became popular; companies began mass-printing coupons but they printed them for things consumers didn't want; it became too much effort to weed out the useful coupons from piles of $2 off 40-packs of men's razors; couponing has become less popular again.

Case in point: sunrise never has made
an app, but people still get up to watch it.
For stores, relevance is about making the experience more convenient, and offering more options. And it's about still offering goods worth consuming--if brand loyalty is a thing of the past, it's because quality of output had degraded. On the other hand, things that are worth buying are still being bought loyally, regardless of whether or not the company has a neat app or cool website. I've used Ghiradelli baking chocolate for as long as I've been baking awesome, rich chocolate brownies, because it's good baking chocolate; I've never bothered to see what the company offers online. What's relevant is the good product.

But what about for writers? At the end of the day, the most relevant thing we can do is write a good book. Yes, Twitter and Facebook and G+ and Instragram are fun, and they're great for connecting to readers.

But if you don't have a product worth selling, nobody's going to buy it more than once. If all you ever plan to write is one book, congratulations, you're set. Otherwise, you've missed the point.

If you want to make a career as a writer, make sure book quality comes first. We can still be cool, and we can still advertise and market and play with the gadgets, because they do help (and they are fun!). But at the end of the day--those are less important than the quality of the product. Write a book worth reading. Because that's what the consumers really want.

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