Love (and annoying)

The goal is to create a product that people love. If people love it, they’ll forgive a lot. They’ll talk about it. They’ll promote it. They’ll come back. They’ll be less price sensitive. They’ll bring their friends. They’ll work with you to make it better.

If you can’t do that, though, perhaps you can make your service or product less annoying.

I understand that "love" and "annoying" are rarely two ends of the spectrum, but in this case, I think they are.

I think smart marketers at Apple work to make products that people love. Smart marketers at American Airlines ought to work at making an airline that isn’t annoying.

Firefox used to be a product that people loved. Compared to the alternatives, it was magical. You could go on a quest to promote it and improve it.

At that point, a few years ago, the Firefox movement had a choice. Either continue to make it ever more quirky and lovable (engaging a small audience, but with more passion), or work to make it less annoying (and allow it reach more people). Today, people like (not love) Firefox, they continue to use it, the idea spreads, but slowly. The goal has been chosen by the Firefox folks: to continue to make it less annoying. That’s disappointing to the passionate, but it’s a strategy.

Another example: I use iCal to keep track of my schedule. It defaults new appointments to 9 am, and if the appointment isn’t at 9 am, I have to manually change it. Makes sense. Problem: If the appointment is at 4 pm, and I change the 9 to a 4, iCal sets the alarm to go off at 4 am. Hey, wait a minute. I have never, ever had an appointment at 4 am. Doesn’t iCal know this? Why is it so annoying! No one is ever going to love iCal as it stands, or even with some simple improvements, so why don’t the engineers spend time making it less annoying instead?

What could iCal do to make the product something you would love? Really love? Clearly, that would require an overhaul. What could they do to make it less annoying? 100 little things, easy to do.

Example: Momofuku was a New York restaurant beloved by many people. People loved it because (not in spite of) how annoying they could be. They were annoyingly inflexible. They didn’t have particularly comfortable seating, or great waiters. And the flagship restaurant makes getting a reservation almost impossible. The quirkiness was part of the deal. Something to talk about when you brought a friend…

If all they did was think of ways to be less annoying, the restaurant wouldn’t get better for the people who loved it, it would get worse. Unfortunately, they got really popular, forgot what made them lovable and crossed a line. The annoying parts got really annoying, and they forgot to dream up new ways to be beloved. I gave up. It flipped and I hate it now. It’s unloved and annoying. Boy are customers like me fickle.

Think of the pretty ordinary things you do or places you go. Could they be less annoying? What if the marketers there spent time and money to eliminate annoying? No, it’s not the sort of big time stuff that leads to love, but they’re probably not going to get to love anyway. I’m not going to love my dry cleaner or the post office. But if they made them less annoying, I’d spend more money and go more often. Face it, you use Fedex because it’s less annoying than the post office, not because you love them.

I think there’s a chasm here. You don’t go for love and end up with less annoying. You need to do one or the other. There are products and services I love that are annoying, but that’s okay, because that’s part of being in love. And there are products and services that are annoyance-free, but I don’t love them. That’s okay too. I like them just fine.

Put a sign on your office door, or send a memo to the team. It should say either, "Everything we do needs to make our product less annoying" or "Everything we do should be idiosyncratic and engage people and invite them to fall in love with us. That’s not easy, which is why it’s worth it." Can’t have both. Must do one.