Why we *must* touch, feel or experience products

How can Amazon sell a kindle that no one can touch, feel or experience? Since Amazon doesn’t have storefronts or isn’t in the retail distribution channel in any fashion, how will people determine if they want to shell out $399 for a player and then read most of their subsequent books and publications with it?

It appears that their sole initial strategy is to rely on early adopters and influencers touting the merits of the device (which, IMHO, is why so-called A-list bloggers were included in the launch). Since there is monetary incentive to see it adopted, having these influencers buy one (if they weren’t just given one) and either sing its praises or show it off to everyone else is undoubtedly a great way to build buzz.

I’ve been in many conversations recently about the supposed death of retail in a day of ecommerce, the now obvious wisdom of Apple rolling out their own stores, how Dell has begun a shift to a retail distribution strategy and that as devices and products become more complex — and thus require more initial education of the consumer before a purchase — that having physical locations where people can touch, feel or experience it is more important than ever before.

Or is it?

Retail is a push-pull for me. On the one hand, like most people I like to go into a store to actually play with a product before I buy it. On the other hand I understand how it’s a physical impossibility for stores — even the size of a Best Buy, Target or Walmart — to stock anything more than the 60-80% of the mainstream products people will buy which often makes ecommerce all that more attractive.

So how realistic is it that new concepts or paradigms will be launched and need to be sold at retail?  Are influencers and recommenders enough to launch a new product like Amazon’s kindle?

Steve Knox, CEO, Tremor

Several months ago I had the pleasure to talk with Steve Knox, the CEO of Tremor, an innovative Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing service from Procter & Gamble (short 4 minute BusinessPOV video interview with Knox here). During our initial conversation, I asked him what electronic means they used to touch the 250,000 Millenial influencers he pitched me about in order to build WOM with these folks. He responded, “Oh we don’t use electronic methods. We mail them stuff.

Stunned, I probed more and then it sunk in: these influencers had to touch, feel and experience what they were going to then intuit and ultimately tell their friends and family about with a product or
service. All Tremor’s marketing supported ways to authentically build buzz in a reliable and trustworthy manner thus providing maximum impact with these groups of influencers.

According to Keller Fay Group, there are a projected 3.5 billion brand-related conversations per day in the U.S., with nearly 80% of consumers trusting recommendations from family, friends and “influential” persons over all other forms of advertising and marketing. Does this mean that if enough early adopters and A-list bloggers buy an Amazon kindle, love it and tell everyone about it, that the product will be successful and people will buy it sight unseen?

I’m not sure yet.

At Costco this past Saturday, I was stunned to see a product merchandiser in the books area showing off the Sony Reader, which I now suppose Sony was looking to dump through this warehouse merchandiser ASAP before Amazon’s kindle release yesterday. Though I’d seen and used the Sony Reader extensively before, my bride had never seen or held one and this is a woman that does ‘trend’ for a living.

I thought this would be a perfect way to expose her to the device which she might find as useful on her trips as she does her little video iPod.

After touching, feeling and experiencing the Reader, I was surprised to hear she was lukewarm about it (and now more so about the kindle even though I told her all the great features). She’s probably one of Amazon’s best customers and is the perfect target for the product. She is someone who travels, removes every ounce of weight she can from her bags and would love portability for her reading heap. But if she can’t touch, feel or experience the kindle first she won’t bother to buy and use it (even if she could return it).

While I can easily visualize how the kindle overcomes the shortcoming she saw with the Sony Reader — and how the Whispernet wireless would be fabulous for her — the cost, cost-of-effort and habits-changing paradigm is just overwhelming to her.

I see this same sort of thing over-n-over again. My family and friends often ask for my advice and recommendations (and often do the opposite…but I digress) and something I find so incredibly simple (like using Skype with a headset) is really, really hard for people unless I sit with them as they get up-to-speed. Most of the geeks I pal around with have the same experience since those close to us know that we leap in to the experience and muck around until we’re familiar with it. As complexity grows, it’s the combination of influence and hand-holding (i.e., touching, feeling and experiencing) that sparks adoption.

Ecommerce works best when we can buy the familiar, be it brands we know, products we’ve used or categories we know but can’t get certain products elsewhere. But for most everything else, it’s imperative that we can intuitively understand what something is, how it works, why we should love it and thus buy it even if someone we trust implicitly gives us their sage wisdom.

But I’ll submit that there is so much that is new, increasingly complex, packed with features, and shifting and changing rapidly that influencers are becoming increasingly important. At the same time I see that it is equally important to take those recommendations and still touch, feel and experience the product or service ourselves.

What should you do if you’re a strategist, marketer or in sales? Once again I don’t have the perfect answer, the silver bullet, or the magic dweebezarb. Many situations are different. What I do know and have experienced is that WOM and the physical interaction with a product or service is key to guaranteeing that people will buy, use and evangelize your product or service.

It’ll be interesting to see how kindle does by just leveraging influencers and relying on WOM.

2 Comments

  1. PXLated on November 20, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Back when we were planning the BBY site there was a lot of discussion about this. One of the ways we tried to overcome this was with great photography and a lots of it. If a person normally handled a product (camera, etc) we shot 6-10 photos. For something they didn’t (televisions, etc) we shot 2-3. My politically incorrect term for it was the “Fondle” rule. The rule was applied to everything except accessories (paper, batteries, etc). I must say we had the best, most extensive product photography on the net. Of course, having all those stores with in-store pickup helped also. Personally, if it’s over $100, I need to touch it 🙂

    As far as the Kindle, it has more going against it than just the fact you can’t touch it. I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t go down as a huge failure.



  2. JeremyS on December 4, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    One bullet that needs to be added to everybody’s “what is social media/web 2.0?” presentation is: reading the directions. Much as us “insiders” like to think to that our online tools are easy to use, for the most part, they are not easy/intuitive for the average user. This is why iPods are the number one gift every year that rot unopened in the box. It’s usually the household/extended family’s resident geek that walks the “outsiders” through these tools and how to get the most out of them. The problem to solve is, how do you do this online? How do you make people WANT to read the directions? I think it’s often overlooked, but could be a real growth opportunity.



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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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