The Familiar New

When you first introduce a new product in a market, one of two things happens. One is a positive response, while the other is negative. One is actually non-vocal while the other is. The difference between the two will likely determine the success of your novel idea.

When you’re prototyping an idea or a solution, it is encouraged to bring in outsiders or potential customers in to have a look. To gauge their response. To learn or validate a hypothesis. However, it is only until you pilot your idea that a huge sample of people get to see what it is. When that happens, their response is vital. People generally award new products or services a handful of seconds, and if your new solution isn’t familiar, the response will be … nothing.

This is the first type of response – nothing, and it’s the undesirable one. If your product fails to communicate what it does clearly, then people will likely be paralyzed, confused and intimidated by it. Their response in that situation is not to have a response, at least not verbal. This usually happens when they’re confronted with the unfamiliar new. As it turns out, people actually want the familiar done differently. So what happens when people are met with the familiar done differently?

“Oh – yeah! So this is just like…”
“This reminds me of…”

Those responses, or something similar, are your cue that the product you have created has struck a chord with people – that what you have designed is new and familiar. Bingo.

But how do you weave familiarity into your novel idea?

One way is to study your target customer and the other products they buy and interact with (something you should’ve already done during the research phase). By studying the products they buy and are accustomed to, certain patterns emerge. Those patterns become the basis for familiarity that you want to intertwine in your new offering.

For example, one of the clients I’ve worked with recently was a local roastery, Al-Rifai, that wanted to introduce a differentiated experience to selling their coffee beans. One of the aspect we zeroed in on was the packaging. We saw packaging as a medium of communication. The packaging also owns prime real estate on our customer’s shelves at home. Besides communicating the brand name and reinforcing it, we explored what else we can communicate with our customer. One of the ideas we pursued was using the back of the packaging as a way of expressing what’s inside the package. For example, a package might contain Arabic coffee with cardamom and saffron. This is mighty important because customers usually buy multiple blends, and so it’s critical to clarify the contents of each package separately when they sit on a shelf next to each other. Further, we found that our customers like to express themselves through their coffee and the blend they choose. As a result, we’ve also included space on the packaging where we can write and check relevant boxes depending on the contents of the packaging.

Now here’s the kicker, in order to make all of this familiar, we borrowed a page from Starbucks’ playbook: customization on the packaging itself. This puts our customers at ease since they’ve already been through a similar experience.

There are several other ways you can design for clearer messaging, but familiarity is one of the most important ones.

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