If I have one kernel of advice for entrepreneurs and executives, one truism that applies to any product or service, it is this – focus first on something people actually need, but seek to make them want it. The difference between the two is subtle but profound, since it influences how you transform an essential commodity into a premium offering that produces strong demand from consumers and furnishes above-market returns. For example: In a world of saturated and mediocre advertising, which fails to create a sense of need, creating a genuine feeling of want is the best way to transcend the white noise of conventional marketing and earn the attention of consumers. Put another way, “advertising is a tax on a non-relevant product,” which is more relevant than ever with the rise of social media.
For the essentials (what I call “needs”) are those things that transcend mere theory – they are the things consumers will buy, regardless of market conditions or other traditional considerations. These things are a case study unto themselves, proving what some suspect and most already know; that, as a matter of fact and circumstance, something that is essential is something that is non-negotiable; you will order it, you will use it, you will recommend it, you will share (or showcase) it with others.
I write these words from experience because, in my role as Founder and CEO of KOR Water, I seek to popularize the use of innovative – and successfully sustainable – water filtration systems and hydration products. KOR itself is the result of an idea to reinvent the reusable water bottle, which, prior to 2008, looked like something you would use while camping. (A bottle is something you might “need” to go camping, but it is not necessarily something that you would buy for $30 – and call it a “hydration vessel.” With the KOR ONE, that’s exactly what we have created.)
I also offer this commentary with a strong dose of humility because I would never confuse the indispensable with the irreplaceable. Using design and innovation, KOR has continually earned the relevance to be heralded by the media and passionate customers around the world, but we’ve also failed miserably when we cut corners (either to save cost or time) to produce something average.
That is, I would never accept – and I would never approve – a product with shoddy design and no identity. Hence my debut of the Water Fall, a “pour-over” water filtration product for the home or office.
This freedom to design your water, thanks to multiple glass carafes, gives consumers the chance to enjoy filtered pitchers of superior water – much like savoring a customized serving of pure Rwandan coffee, or sipping from a bottle of handcrafted beer from a favorite microbrewery. (An addendum: The carafes – with a filter suspended above each of these items – give you a complete water filtration system.)
Design excellence alone is not, however, enough to transform the necessary into the indispensable. To achieve the latter, you must engage customers on an emotional level; you must create marketing content that is as visually powerful as it is verbally persuasive, a statement of purpose that is inspiring and informative. Indeed, that is what effective marketing is: The combination of substance – news you can use – written with style.
In the end, we must create the indispensable while thinking of ourselves as disposable – unless we respect the consumer, honor his wishes and understand his concerns.
In this regard, customer service is everything: It is the benchmark of a company’s values and reflection of its virtues.
Taken together, these things – from necessity to design to indispensability – depend on a commitment greater than any financial ledger or spreadsheet.
To succeed, you must make your brand as indispensable as your product, period.
Eric Barnes is the Founder and CEO of KOR Water. A graduate of Princeton University, Eric resides in Southern California.