Companies all over the world regularly struggle with a seemingly simple problem: How do we explain the benefits of our product? This comes easily to some companies, whose offerings occupy a unique niche, solve a specific problem, or have no significant competitors. Meanwhile, other companies have to contend with stubbornly entrenched “conventional” wisdom, rampant misinformation, a disinterested public, or the very real possibility that customers simply don’t believe they have a need for a given product.
The good news is that customers are better informed than ever when it comes to making purchases. The bad news is that there’s often little difference between marketing materials and educational materials.
A webpage dedicated solely to the features of a product will not be successful on its own. Customers want context; they want to know about the product as it exists in the real world. They want to know which problems that product will solve, and what experts in the field think of its merits.
What we’re talking about is insight. And in a world gone mad with ever-more-elaborate marketing ploys, it’s more important than ever before.
Customer Education in the Real World
For many companies, customer education is a built-in problem that needs to be addressed before, during, and after a challenging product is brought to market. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of dietary supplements. The amount of information, misinformation, and conflicting reports can be difficult to sift through, even (and perhaps especially) when credible science enters the mix.
Take, for example, probiotics. Even if you don’t take them, you probably know someone who does, or you’ve at least heard of them in passing. Probiotics are frequently praised as one of the best ways to shore up your digestive health.
On to the next question. Have you heard of prebiotics? Perhaps not; when these two terms aren’t being used interchangeably (and wrongly), probiotics tend to steal the limelight thanks to a sizeable head start and the virtue of ubiquity. But here’s the thing: the scientific consensus is shifting toward the lesser-known prebiotics, which means companies competing in this arena need to double down on efforts to better educate the public on the virtues of this superior, but lesser-known, supplement.
This is the challenge faced by Prebiotin, a Harrisburg-based company that specializes in prebiotic fiber supplements. While they have science on their side, we all know only too well how slow-to-change public opinion can be. And while science is our ally, the language of science is often inadequate in efforts to appeal to a broad customer base.
So let’s talk about this issue in a language we all speak: Apple. Love them or hate them, it’s the company that all other companies seem to be measured against, so let’s go with it. As you may know, Apple recently unveiled their latest notebook. As with all things Apple, this new MacBook has the future in mind, with tiered batteries and a single port: the soon-to-be-ubiquitous USB Type-C.
The problem, of course, lies in convincing the public that this computer is an investment in a more port-agnostic ecosystem, rather than a flashy, ill-considered, $1,300 boondoggle. The facts are on Apple’s side: USB Type-C is poised to become the port of choice favored by computer, smartphone, and tablet manufacturers the world over. Furthermore, the choice to include just a single port for power and peripherals underscores the fact that the computer of the future will be almost entirely wireless; the rise of the all-encompassing digital cloud has seen to that.
But the fact is this: the new MacBook is a product so alien that many people will dismiss it outright in favor of more familiar offerings from rival companies. And the waiting game for third-party USB Type-C accessories and adapters doesn’t help Apple’s case.
The bottom line is that every company in the world needs to prove that their products are necessary, rather than demanding that customers believe it to be so. Prebiotin has successfully broken down the differences between prebiotics and probiotics; Surgimedics has made a case for smoke evacuation products to remedy little-known surgery complications; Amazon has successfully convinced their customers that their e-Book readers are the only ones worthy of consideration. Meanwhile, Apple has some catching up to do when it comes to explaining why their laptop of the future is going to have a hard time existing in the present.
What Customer Education Really Looks Like
If there’s a starting point when it comes to educating your customers, it’s probably this: Believe in your product. But more than that, make sure you know how to express that belief.
There’s a reason why Apple became one of the most important tech companies in the world: it’s because every time Steve Jobs (and now Tim Cook) got up on that stage, their enthusiasm was absolutely infectious. They exuded confidence in the strengths of their product, and that confidence travels fast; Apple has some of the best customer evangelists in the world.
But, as we established with the MacBook example above, faith in a product is not enough. This is why, for example, Amazon’s Kindle has no serious competition: every other company that put out an e-Book reader failed to explain the benefits of their devices beyond “We’re not Amazon.” I’m sure they believed they had a worthy claim to Amazon’s throne; they just didn’t know how to make their case.
If there’s one thing you can do to educate your customers and encourage their trust, it might be this: take advantage of thought leaders who already have the ear—and the respect—of the general public. Done poorly, this can lead to speculation that you’ve “bought” public figures to use as your personal mouthpiece. When Bill “The Science Guy” Nye did an about-face on GMOs earlier this year, speculation abounded that Monsanto had bought him off. Most people proved willing to believe this childhood hero incorruptible, as the existing evidence would suggest, but it says something about our society that the specter of doubt remains. Nevertheless, The Science Guy has taken to the airwaves to explain, in plain English, what has scientists everywhere buzzing with excitement.
Here’s the bottom line, according to Andreas Eisingerich and Simon Bell of Sloan Review: “Efforts to enhance customers’ service knowledge and provide them with the skills and abilities to use critical information can help companies differentiate their service offerings and provide a strong foundation on which to build trusting relationships with customers.”
That might be long-winded, but it’s accurate; whereas too many modern companies seem to believe that ignorance makes for the best customers, the real world bears things out differently: the more informed and empowered customers are, the more satisfied and confident they are with their choices.
And that kind of confidence almost always leads to loyalty. In the end, isn’t that what all of this is really about?
This article was written by William Craig from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.