Why Some Products Stick With Us

Steakhouses, smartphones, and spoons: Truly great products meet our needs and make us better


🗓 4th September, 2019

From a consumer’s perspective, a good product is not necessarily a good-looking product, nor is it a product that solely delivers a frictionless experience. It’s not a bug-free product or a product that gets updated with fixes on a daily basis.

A good product is one that creates dependability by filling a gap in a consumer’s life. The reverse would be a product that could easily be substituted or replaced with another, or one the consumer may easily stop using completely because it never made a difference in their life in the first place.

Great products create a strong “why”


Great products don't just live on people's phones and computers; they are top-of-mind because they fill a need wonderfully and people are clear on what that need is and how it's being filled by the product.

I love to go out for a steak every now and then; it's probably my favorite gastronomic treat. I've been to more steakhouses than I can count over the course of several years. However, I do have a favorite that (in my mind) is the best.

I consider this place to be the best because the steaks are fresh Argentinian cuts that are flame-grilled (the product), the decor is cozy wood that feels genuine and homey, and the service is great (customer experience).

The value I experience each time I dine at this place is clear enough to have created a "why" statement in my mind: "Best flame-grilled steaks in a comfortable environment with great service."

This "why" serves as a constant reminder of why I should choose this restaurant again and again instead of trying new ones. After all, now that I've found a place that clearly cuts it, why would I try new alternatives that might conflict with the attributes I value?

This selective tendency is not limited to the offline world, either; the process of choosing between options is similar in the digital domain.

When choosing products, the definition of "best" will vary for each of us, as we may choose products that fulfill different needs. For this reason, we may define "best" as that which clearly and fully satisfies our needs and therefore remains relevant to us over a period of time.

Before I had a favorite steakhouse, I simply kept trying new ones each weekend. Each time I tried a new place, I thought about how it compared to the previous places in regard to attributes like quality of food, service, decor, and pricing.

Product design mentoring calls with David Portelli Get help with career advice, your portfolio, personal development strategies, doing better at interviews, starting your consultancy, project feedback and more. Read more

When trying to choose between products, we tend to compare attributes we value until it becomes clear to us which product is the best overall fit. Whatever the attributes may be, however, they have to be clearly present within the product in order to convince us to look no further.

When these attributes become clear to us, we decide that a product clearly and fully satisfies our needs and we create a "why" in our mind. We know exactly why we've chosen a specific product and why it is the best option.

This does not mean that we'll never consider anything else moving forward. Our needs may change or we may discover new options that provide better solutions. But chances are that when the "why" is clear, we're less likely to switch to another product because we have a definitive reason to be loyal to the product we've chosen. After all, it clearly and fully satisfies our needs.

Great digital products tend to do an excellent job at communicating their purpose. Likewise, their customers are clear on why they're using the product. This alignment of values provides the basis for a lasting relationship.

Great products make better people


I like to think of great products as human enhancers because they create better people. Great products don’t necessarily do better on an aesthetic or software level, but they’re certainly great at enabling people to do more of what is valuable to them.

Remember what it was like before smartphones came about? For anybody reading who can’t remember this time, just do your best to imagine being limited to a physical phone wired into a corner of your home that could only make phone calls and nothing else. Try to imagine sharing that phone with your family, too. Sound like the dark ages?

The rise of smartphones placed all the knowledge and connectedness of the internet in the palms of our hands; now, we have it with us at all times. When we carry our phones, we are enhanced human beings and have capabilities that we wouldn’t otherwise possess. We’re empowered in so many ways that today’s people almost feel like a new, super species.

I like to think of great products as human enhancers, because they create better people.

Great products share a similar story: They’re great at creating better people. “Better people” may mean different things depending on the needs in question but in this case, we could define “better people” as people who are empowered to do more of what is valuable to them compared to what they could do without the product.

It’s worth mentioning that good products should be designed with people’s security, dignity, and safety in mind — otherwise, the reverse effect might take place. Great products should limit incorrect usage.

When products create better people, they become extensions of people’s lives; we can clearly see how we’re enhanced when we use them. This typically leads to further usage, which brings more value over the long term and further reinforces the product’s relevance.

When this process kicks in, a product may be hard to stop using. After all, there is clear evidence that the product has enabled the consumer to do and become more over a period of time. It might even feel like a regression to stop using it.

Great products tend to enhance people. The value of these products is less about the tangible goods and more about the superpowers they give us. Once we use these products, it becomes very clear where and how we are enhanced. We may not be able to imagine taking a step back.

Great products aren’t easily replaced


If I had to ask myself one question in order to establish whether a product is great or not, I'd probably ask if I'd miss a product if it were withdrawn from the marketplace.

If I could easily find an alternative to get the same needs fulfilled, chances are the product may have been okay but not great. Similarly, if there were no attractive alternatives, I'd know that it made a difference.

People have been scooping up food with objects for a long, long time. Thousands of years ago, we scooped our meals with sea shells, rocks, our hands, or bowl-shaped items that did the job.

Around 1000 B.C., the Egyptians designed the spoon as we know it today, a bowl-like shape with a handle. These spoons were fashioned from ivory, wood, and other raw materials that were available then.

Even though today's spoons are not made of ivory, they're arguably identical to the ones the Egyptians designed long ago. These Egyptian spoons have done their job wonderfully, and as a result we continue to use them daily because there's no real replacement for them; the alternatives no longer feel attractive to us. Wouldn't it be weird to go back to using sea shells or rocks to eat, or to use items lying around the house, even though they'd probably suffice in doing the job?

Another hallmark of great products is that they're indispensable; there's no attractive alternative or replacement that would fulfill customers' needs in the same way. It would be naive to think that a great product is one that simply gets the job done. If this were true, a large percentage of products competing in a space would be equally prosperous, but this is far from the case.

Even though it is possible to have a great product in the wrong market or to ship a product at the wrong time, it is equally possible to produce something that is easily replaceable.

Great products tend to find value gaps that the competition hasn't addressed. Then, they become the only choice for people who need what they provide.

It's about identifying real needs and committing to serve the audience of those needs. When customers clearly see the value they're receiving from products and can't imagine not having them, products become irreplaceable.

There’s no cookie-cutter course for how to build better products, only hard-learned lessons and methodologies that were designed to promote intent and efficiency.

When product teams are deep in the woods, it’s easy to mistake their craft of making products as the product itself. It’s usually at the customer purchasing point and beyond that some real lessons are learned.

Reflecting on some products that have made a life-long impression on me, I’ve learned to keep my eyes on the things that have no tangible counterpart but are very real nonetheless:

  1. What is the single thing that should come to mind when people think about your product?
  2. How will your product produce a better person?
  3. If your product disappeared, would that make a difference at all?
Product design mentoring calls with David Portelli Get help with career advice, your portfolio, personal development strategies, doing better at interviews, starting your consultancy, project feedback and more. Read more