The Folly of Function.

Posted on January 20, 2015

The Folly of Function:

We were about eighteen minutes into our morning run when Jen’s running watch and my running watch both started beeping.

“That’s two miles.” I said between gasps for air. “Reassuring that the two GPS watches measured our distance exactly the same.”

“Yeah,” Jen answered, not nearly as out of breath as I was. “You have the expensive one and I have the cheap one. But they work the same.”

I had paid almost twice as much for my running watch as Jen paid for hers even though their time and distance functions are the same. But as I explained to Jen between gasps for air, I didn’t buy my watch for the better function I hoped it would deliver. In fact, I had first chosen the cheaper watch but when I got home I found that the cheaper unit wasn’t programmable and wouldn’t show me only one readout at a time. That was a problem because I run without my glasses and I couldn’t read the little readouts stacked on the dial. The more expensive watch was a better choice because it allowed me to project one large readout that I could actually read.

The Folly of Function

Funny thing is, nowhere in the ads or the documentation for the more expensive watch does Garmin say anything about that difference. Instead they talk about their watch’s long list of features such as the digital running coach (that I don’t use), the vertical oscillation reading (that I don’t understand), the cadence counter (that I don’t care about), and the recovery advisor (that I don’t believe).

What this means is Garmin is spending their time and money developing and advertising whiz-bang features that at least some of their buyers don’t understand, use or care about. Sure, different runners care about different attributes but the company doesn’t even promote the one benefit that almost every runner over 45 would probably be interested in – the simple fact that they can read the screen while they’re running!

Garmin fell for the folly of function.

Computer companies are well known for promoting digital differences – called speeds and feeds – that their consumers neither understand nor care about. Camera manufacturers, too, fill their product specs with numbers and metrics that don’t matter to the majority of their buyers. Car companies, electronics suppliers, and manufacturers of every stripe all fill their messaging with details of features and attributes that none of their buyers care about.

And it’s not just hard good makers that suffer the folly of function. When was the last time you heard a doctor or lawyer crowing about where they went to school? When was the last time a realtor told you how many agents they employed? When was the last time a moving company bragged about the number of trucks they own or a restaurant listed all of their locations?

But you don’t care how many degrees your doctor has; you care if they can solve your problem. You don’t care where your lawyer went to school; you care if they can handle your case. You don’t care how many agents work for the realty company you’re planning to hire; you care if the realtor who works for you can sell your house. You don’t care about how many trucks a moving company has; you care if they’ll protect grandma’s baby grand piano. And you don’t care how many restaurants the company manages; you care about how your salad will taste right here and right now.

The folly of function states that “the quality of a product’s performance is cost of entry but it’s not what makes the sale or pleases the client.” After all, all companies offer some degree of function or they wouldn’t remain in business. But after the generic requirement of function has been met, it becomes the What’s In It For Me Factor that makes the difference, makes the sale, and builds your brand.

What this means to you is that it’s time for a sober, gimlet-eyed look at your business’ messaging to make sure you’re not simply listing your features or cataloging your benefits but are making a clear and concise argument for how you make your customers’ lives better. Being able to read the display on my running watch does exactly that for me. What does it for your customers?

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