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It’s the frosting, not the cake

How do you stand out in a market of strong competitors who all make pretty good products? 

You focus on adding features that are worth talking about.

Great example:  Dell’s new World-of-Warcraft themed laptops.  They have custom skin, cool boxes, pre-installed software … everything a hardcore gamer could want.  But more important, it shows that the company cares about and values that community.  It will definitely get them talking.

Such a great move.  You can get any laptop with Microsoft Office installed, which is fine (and unremarkable).  But Office isn’t the most important software for many people.  It’s WoW or Linux or Adobe Creative Suite.  (I remember the shock when discovered that our great webmaster never used Excel.)

Here’s the key concept: 

1. Word of mouth needs a reason to talk – a Topic in the terms of my book.  The topic of conversation drives the spread and effectiveness of the WOM.

2. The Topic is rarely about core product features.  We talk about the fun stuff on the outside, not functionality.  The pink iMacs, the flower holder in the VW Bugs, the satellite view on Google Maps.  Especially true in a world where most competitors’ product would do just fine.

3. Great word of mouth Topics rarely make sense to an MBA: "Create themed laptops? Flower holder? Where is the value-add?"  They rarely make sense to a traditional marketer:  "How does this fit our carefully defined brand positioning?"

4. But great Topics give crowds of fans reason to talk about you.  Which is worth $3 zillion in free advertising.

So … next time you’re in a staff meeting discussing a product launch … keep asking the same question:  "Why would anyone talk about this?"  If the answer is a shrug — find something, add something.  If you don’t have a Topic, plan to add $$$ to your marketing plan. 

Don’t let the logical/traditional types tell you the extra bit is silly.  It’s the difference between a small product supported by endless advertising dollars vs. a profitable product that sells itself.

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