Balance what’s cool with what people will actually use (and buy)

It’s easy to think when you’re starting a new product (or even coming up with a new feature for an existing feature) that not only have you found the newest, coolest way to do things but also have unlocked the secret to users and usage – or making sure that people will actually use the thing.

Should I make sure that they learn how to do this new thing?” you might ask yourself, while also asking “but what do they really need – and are willing to pay for?

Avoiding the shiny object conundrum

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If it’s sparkly, it must be good (no, great). Social log-in, private messages, mobile social local, posting to Facebook while driving in your car (while on a handsfree device of course) could all be useful features in the service of solving the user’s problem. But if the user doesn’t have that problem, you might have a problem.

So how would you know if this is a “bright idea” or a genuinely good one that might lead to sustained usage over time?

Ignore Your Idea the First Time You Have It

Yep, the first time your idea pops up, just ignore it. (Or jot it down on a post-it note if it seems particularly important and you’re worried about losing it to the idea gremlins of the world.) If an idea manifests itself more than once (and especially if you hear your existing customers saying it), it’s probably more than a one-time concern for them as well.

If it isn’t the first time you’ve had the idea, try to generalize it so that it appeals to a broad group (read: broader than you) and make it specific enough in the problem it solves that you can test it out on some people who don’t have any stake in proving that your idea is valuable.

Test Your Idea with a Simple Statement

Remember, when you’re asking people if they would use your idea to solve their problem, you need to ask them in a way that solves a specific problem that they have (not whether they think your idea is cool.)

You might use a template like this: if you’re a ______________ who does ______________ and repeats it _____ times a _______, would your life be easier if you could _______________ by doing ___________ and learning _______________.

This works equally well if your idea is an online or offline idea. Now go and ask 30 people you know (and make a survey to ask 30 people you don’t know.) If you start seeing patterns before these people see prototypes, wireframes, or shiny web apps, you’ve probably thinking about something that can create, communicate, and deliver unique value. And that’s something that will keep people coming back (even when things don’t look so shiny.)


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