When your product’s benefits just aren’t enough

Yesterday morning I ate a bowl of Cap’n Crunch cereal. I don’t like a lot of cereals but a visit from Cap’n Crunch in the morning is always a good visit. (And a visit with Captain Morgan later in the day isn’t unwelcome either, but that’s another blog post).

So there I was, eating my Cap’n Crunch and thinking about why people buy that cereal. It’s not very appetizing looking, it’s only crunchy if you eat it within 30 seconds of putting it into your bowl, and the taste is sugary… but that’s about it. So why do people buy this cereal?

Why do they buy Froot Loops? Or Count Chocula? Or Lucky Charms? They’re all just sugary breakfast cereals and one really isn’t that different from the other. (The reason why I can say this with some authority is because we don’t ONLY buy Cap’n Crunch… and yes, I realize that my wife and I don’t have children).

Usually when you sell something, you sell the benefits. It’s the famous “people don’t buy a drill, they buy the holes” features-versus-benefits thing.

By why do people buy Cap’n Crunch, Froot Loops, Count Chocula, or Lucky Charms? (And I’m sure there are several others in this category.)

They don’t buy it for the nutritional value.
They don’t buy it for the taste.
They might buy it because their kids like the sugar (but I don’t think that’s a benefit for anyone).
They don’t buy it for a toy (most of these brands don’t offer a toy… at least that I’ve seen in a few years).
They don’t buy it for the fun activities on the back of each box.

It seems to me that cereal manufacturers are selling the experience and the character. The Cap’n Crunch people are selling the crunch and the Captain. The Froot Loops people are selling the multicolored (and perhaps multiflavored?) cereal and Toucan Sam. The Count Chocula people are selling the a bowlful of chocolate and what seems to be a vampire with a sweet-fang. The Lucky Charms people are selling the pink hearts, green clovers, purple horseshoes, and who the hell knows what else, as well as the leprechaun.

I don’t think it’s just the kids that buy for this reason, but I think that most adults try to consider other benefits when shopping. However, we still buy the experience in some cases (such as we see in restaurant advertising and beer advertising) and we still buy for the character sometimes, too (such as we might see with celebrity endorsements or Vince from ShamWow).

In the grown-up world, the experience+character sale is often ignored. Instead, people are presented all too frequently with products or services that are nearly identical between vendors. Their choices become arbitrary.

If your business sells something and you can’t compete on features or benefits (and this is the case in a lot of industries, but I would highlight real estate and financial services here as two of the biggest culprits), you CAN still bring people in by selling an experience and a character.

What experience can you provide them that your competitors cannot? And character can you be that your competitors cannot?

[Photo credit: Israelavila]

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