4 Ways To Create A Product That Sells Itself

If you craft your products intelligently, you may not need to advertise at all.
November 18, 2011

One of the biggest problems startups face is a lack of money. After they develop the product, they often don't have much left over for marketing and advertising.

Fortunately, if you do it right, you won’t need to advertise. Or you may only have to invest a fraction of the amount to get ten times the results.

How do you do this? You create a product that sells itself. This four-point checklist will help you pull that off.

1. Fill an obvious need with SIMPLE criteria

You’ve probably heard this many times before, but it bears repeating: You must make a product that meets an obvious need. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs continue to overlook this principle.

If you want to make sure your product will sell itself, check it for these elements.

  • Simple: A product that sells itself takes the guesswork out of how it will satisfy a customer’s problems. Febreze, for example, is simple: It sprays and kills odors. You get it immediately.

  • Interesting: A product that sells itself puts distance between it and other commodities. If you think about it, all products are commodities. The iPhone is a commodity…it’s a mobile phone. But it’s not just another mobile phone. It’s interesting because of Internet access, apps and so much more.

  • Meaningful: If you create a product that solves a problem people care about, it will likely sell itself. Square, for example, offers boutique sellers like mobile food trucks the ability to collect payments with credit cards, something they couldn’t do before. Being unable to take plastic cost the sellers money, so they welcomed the solution.

  • Productive: A product that sells itself will offer a means to do something faster, easier or cheaper. In other words, the product doesn’t complicate the customer’s life, but offers a convenience.

  • Long-lasting: A successful product has longevity. It will provide a meaningful solution to a customer’s problem that’s more than just a fad. It will go through multiple generations.

  • Entertaining: Sites like Facebook are popular, but not because they are productive. Lots of people love video games, but not because they enhance productivity. They are exciting and enjoyable, and so they have meaning to the people who use them.

You don’t have to achieve all six elements to create a product that sells itself. If you can get four or five, you will probably have a winner.

2. Make sure the value is obvious

If you work through the SIMPLE criteria, you should be able to tailor a product that people see value in at the point of purchase.

To be on the leading edge, value must be obvious. You must be able to define where the familiar ends and the new begins. But don’t make the mistake that Cisco made with Flip.

Flip video died because phones today have the camera, connectivity and GPS, so they're doing the Flip’s job better. What was once a hot product got crushed when the functions of several products were developed in one quality product.

Could this happen to you? Possibly, so it doesn’t hurt to step back and look at your product and ask if the value is obvious. Ask if its function could be done better by a simpler product.

In fact, I’d encourage you throughout the entire product-development process to keep asking that question. Ask your developers, your partners, your friends, strangers and early customers.

This is where you as the founder need to have the courage to bear the ugly truth. If people are telling you the value isn’t obvious…do you make a change? Or, do you stand your ground and insist they are wrong and forge ahead because you see something they don’t?

3. Offer something unique

You could go through the SIMPLE method for creating a product and churn out an exact copy of something that is already out there.

For example, if you visited the Mobile World Congress, you probably noticed that the black rectangle dominates. There are, however, two phones that jumped out as different: the Nokia N8 and Nokia E7. The Nokia design team made sure the differences didn’t end there. They combined design with a distinctive UI and a range of services unique to the platform (like Nokia Maps and Xbox gaming) and they have a device that truly stands out.

So how do you avoid the “black rectangle” trap when you’re designing your product? Here are a few things to consider.

  • Know your industry. Work in an industry you are very familiar with. Startups often fail when outsiders try to move into a space they doesn’t know well.

  • Ask for feedback. I can’t stress this enough: When in doubt, talk to people about your product. Whether you’re making a casual lunch pitch or a formal presentation to investors or partners, ask them if it’s unique. Dig for objections! You’ll learn from whatever they say.

  • Know your competition. The last thing you want to do is create a product and find out that your competition has beat you to the punch. Not only will you look stupid, but you’ll be out a lot of money.

4. Enter the market with a good product name

Products that sell themselves usually have a great name. Here are some tips for creating one that works.

  • Hint at the solution. Your product name should give people an idea of what your product does. You know right off the bat that Social Mention has something to do with social media.

  • Tie in keywords. A great name includes the keywords behind your product. For instance, Evernote is all about capturing all your “notes.”

  • Seek timelessness. Avoid trendy or faddish names. You want your brand name to be just as relevant five years from now as it is this week. Will a product like TwentyFeet pass that test? Since it offers social-media measurement tools, then it’s possible.

  • Make it easy to grasp. Your product name should be easy to remember, say, repeat and spell. And it should translate well in other languages. Kagome, a Japanese tomato-based drink, unfortunately translates “I s*#t myself” in Portuguese.

  • Get the trademark. The final step is to register your product name with a trademark.

When you pour all your energy into making a remarkable product using the four-point checklist, you don’t need a huge budget to advertise. You just have to get a little momentum, and then the product will take off, selling itself.

Can you suggest any other ways to make great products that sell themselves?