The Value Dimensions give focus to research and product planning discussion, make the sometimes amorphous concept of Value easier to quantify and discuss.
Only a few online products become hugely successful. Vast sums of money get poured into startups that never make money, or achieve only limited traction and quickly crash and burn. So how can you be sure your great idea is worth developing into a product?
The answer lies in a simple question: “How will this product create value for the user?”
We can fall in love with our cool idea for a product, and may even be able to describe how its success would benefit our business, but without the creation of user value, it will fail.
User Value and Adoption
Users adopt a product because of its value to them.
Breaking that sentence down…
User adoption, which is analogous to ongoing usage, is the primary driver of recurring revenue and users evangelizing your product. No user adoption, no business.
Users don’t actually see your product as a product, in the way you do – for the user, the product is the sum of the experience of completing tasks. The larger task of say, paying a bill online, is made up of a number of sub-tasks, such as filling a credit card info form. These smaller tasks are made up of micro tasks, such as selecting the State name on the credit card form. Any online experience is, at its core, a hierarchy of tasks, even if it’s only selecting drilling down to the next Netflix show with the Roku remote.
…because of its value to them.
Each of these tasks, large and small, contribute to the user’s overall perception of value. If that perception is not initially created, and maintained in innovative ways over time, the product fails.
So it’s important to understand what tasks a user values in your product and look for ways to make them even better, and extend the offering with new features that naturally build on the current value. The corollary, equally important, is discovering what the tasks a user find less valuable that should be reworked or removed.
The perception of value is different for each user, and therefore elusive to define, but every interaction with an existing or potential customer, in a formal research session or a casual conversation, is an opportunity to better understand the value your product creates.
The Four Value Dimensions
Because value is perception based, it can be discussed in many abstract ways. To simplify the concept of Value, I have come to think of it think of it in terms of just four “dimensions”. These dimensions are:
Each Value Dimension has a relative and absolute aspect to it, as shown in this table (Fig. 1)
|Time||faster||worth the time|
|Money||less expensive||worth the cost|
|Utility||easier||worth the effort|
|Prestige||makes me look good||makes me feel good|
Fig 1. Value Dimensions table
It’s helpful to see the relationships of the value dimensions and their aspects in the following diagram (Fig. 2)
Fig 2 The Value Dimensions diagram
Let’s look at the two aspects of each dimension – relative (inner circle) or absolute (outer circle).
When you are on the inner circle of relative value, you are being compared to other products, and you are fighting a competitive war of feature differences, thin margins and low cost of entry for new competitors. While you can make money providing “inner circle value”, you will always be a commodity.
When you are on the outer circle of absolute value, you are moving away from being compared to other products and simply being adopted by users based on the absolute value you provide. Let’s consider that in respect to each of the four dimensions.
A product can either be less expensive than another product that does something similar (relative value), or simply be worth the cost in its own right (absolute value). Either can be a win for your product, but absolute value is better.
Apple, and especially Steve Jobs, understood that design could create absolute value. Even though Apple came late to the game with mp3 players, phones and tablet computers, each time they delivered a competition crushing product with massive Worth the Cost outer circle value. Each product immediately became the benchmark, the object of maximum desire, and the high price didn’t matter because it was Worth the Cost. There was massive Money value, and Apple now has massive cash reserves, i.e. lots and lots of Money.
Online, I’ve observed that time is somewhat elastic to users. If you actually compared your online store’s checkout process with a competitor’s, you may find it take a little longer for users to checkout at your store. In fact, that can be just fine, because the user isn’t actually timing the difference. The user’s perception of Time is closely related to the Perception of Effort.
So, for example, your well-designed checkout process makes it super clear about total costs and delivery times at every step, and the task path is so well designed that the user completes the purchase in a continuous flow, without any “stop questions”. Stop questions are questions the user thinks of as they go along that break their task flow, such as “Where does it tell me if I’ll be charged state tax?”, or “Where’s the Done button?”). When the user “flows” through a task, without the interruption of Stop Question, they are left with the perception that they completed it quickly.
For that user, it was absolutely “Worth my Time” – they got checked out in one continuous flow, first time, no problems, and no unanswered questions through the whole process. A nice outer circle experience. This is very different from the inner circle Faster – no one who has an outer circle Time experience ever thinks: That took 10 seconds longer than last place I shopped online. However, lots of stop questions make time drag for your user, and not matter how fast they actually complete the task, they get a negative Time experience whose causes you have to identify, and then fix.
Utility is a functional value – how well does this product do what I need to do? Around Utility, we listen for use comments on which features are valuable, and how usable these features are. We also listen for what the user think is missing or present but unneeded. the interface answers the big three UI user questions: Where am I? What can I do here? What should I do next? In short, is it obvious what is offered, and is it easy to use?
Providing Utility is the place to start. As I like to say: “First, deliver the functionality”. MVP is the high valuable core of your idea, and providing real Utility right away is your runway to success. If can’t deliver Utility, you have no product. The user doesn’t care about cost or speed if the product doesn’t do what they expect it to do.
Prestige can seem more abstract than the other three dimensions, but it’s actually very simple and an equally important component of Value. Users, like most of us, want status—they want to look good in the eyes of others in some way – what I call Relative Prestige. Getting lots of likes for your pics on the yacht in the Greek Islands is a manifestation of inner circle I Look Good prestige. It’s a nice feeling, but not always 100% satisfying.
However, we all know that feeling good in ourselves ultimately feels more authentic and fulfilling than what other think about us. Users become very attached to a product that lets them achieve a personal goal, such as “I’m creating a great photo library of my family and friends” or if it delivers some level of self-actualization, such as “I feel I’m good at my job when I use this product.” Even simply congratulating the user for completing a task in your product plays right into that feeling of Prestige.
Let’s look at how the Four Value Dimensions work together, to help you focus your product development, build your brand and drive business value.
Creating Absolute Value
While plenty of companies do very well on that inner Relative Value circle, creating Absolute Value is the path to a unique product. A relatively better product is easy prey to competitors who can always make their product that bit better than yours. In terms of the Value Dimensions diagram, we want to be on that larger outer “absolute value” circle where the opportunity for a “outer circle experience” product space exists.
As an outer circle example, Airbnb didn’t try to improve hotels. They created a totally new way to find somewhere to stay for the night.
Which circle is your product on? Are you offering a better version of what already exists, or is your idea a new way to fulfill your users’ needs and desires? In other words, does your product sit on the inner, relative value circle, or on the outer absolute value? If it’s on the inner one, you might ask yourself: What would we need to do for our users to dramatically shift their perception of the value of our product, and move it on to the outer circle?
Value Dimensions Examples
To see how all this works, let’s look at examples of the Value Dimensions with a couple of well-known companies.
A business based on shipping bags of dog food across the country might seem absurd, but lo and behold, chewy.com, the pet supplies delivery service, is thriving in 2019, because they deliver on all four of the Value Dimensions.
Riding on the wave of increased pet ownership, today’s perception of pets as family members, and the sheer weight of a bag of dog food, chewy.com’s 2018 revenue was $3.5+ billion dollars, up 68% over 2017.
So let’s put Chewy up against the Value Dimensions.
Time – why spend time going to the store to pick up heavy dog food bags when it can be delivered to your door?
Actually, delivery takes a day or two and your local Petco is probably just a short drive away, but generally, users can anticipate when the dog food will run out and add buying it to their weekend chores, so it’s probably never going to be like your teenager drinking all the milk and having to get some at 6 am for breakfast.
Money Price checking a few items with a Petco store reveals little or no difference in Chewy’s cost. The most important thing here is that the convenience of home delivery doesn’t affect the price you are used to paying.
Utility Here’s where they really win—not only is it convenient to be able to order bulky products like dog food online, but Chewy’s Autoship subscription program lets you order on a recurring schedule: the dog’s food just shows up. That’s “don’t-think-about-it” easy. You are notified before each shipment goes out, so that you can delay delivery if Rover’s not quite ready for a new bag yet. Becoming a subscription service, instead of just a retailer—the Holy Grail of any online business—generates recurring revenue for Chewy. Setting up a subscription also reduces the user’s Time perception to virtually nothing.
Prestige Buying through Chewy is carefully designed experience that lets “pet parents” (yes, that’s what Chewy calls them) feel very good about the way they are taking care of their furry child. Apparently, people love to open the boxes with their pet.
Instagram is all about sharing photos. There used to be plenty of places to store pictures on the web, most notably Flicker, but Instagram changed the game by focusing on sharing. Sure, Instagram could be thought of as a place to store your photos, but it caught on because it allowed you to share a carefully curated vision of your life.
Time It takes about 30 seconds to take a photo, add a comment and post it. So, good Time value, but no different time-wise from other photo sharing sites.
Money It’s free. But so are lots of other photo sites.
Utility It takes just a few taps to post a photo with a comment, so pretty easy.
Prestige And here is where Instagram wins. Why does anyone put photos on Instagram? The answer, I think, is primarily Prestige. With a little careful curation, your life can seem legendary compared to others (and even to yourself), and oh, those likes. A big blast of feel-good dopamine with every heart. In short, at the core of Instagram’s success is the prestige of the recognition that comes with sharing your oh-so-interesting life with everyone else.
However, it’s game over for a social app as soon as the user’s feeling of “prestige with every post” starts to fade.
This why Facebook, who in 2012 saw the writing on their wall (reading: “Teenagers are leaving in droves”), and bought Instagram, with a measly 30M users, for a mind-boggling $1B — $9+ per user!
Social apps don’t sustain their popularity by pursuing incremental time savings or making it ever easier for users to post; their relevance is predicated on maintaining the user’s feeling of prestige.
Instagram filters were a huge boost to Instagram and now 18% of all posted photos are filtered. The user’s world looks even better through that Clarendon filter! You could say that that although the Time dimension is slightly impacted by adding a filter, the perceived Prestige boost more than makes up for it.
In recent years, Instagram focused on the Prestige aspect of their product, realizing that if you see your favorite celebrity, or even a friend, wearing a particular brand of sneakers, you might just want to buy them (more prestige), and is now becoming a major e-commerce player. Brands large and small know that an Instagram presence is essential, and Instagram’s new Checkout features drives sales, and their own bottom line, with easy in-app purchases.
Combining Value Dimensions and Users Needs
Value Dimensions analysis gives focus to what users seek, love and dislike in your products. It does this by simplifying the analysis of qualitative data, meaning non-numerical data such as user interviews, which doesn’t readily lend itself to scientific analysis.
All four Value Dimensions always matter in varying degrees, and Value Dimensions Analysis lets you discover the relative importance of each to your users, so that you can manifest that balance in your product design.
I’d welcome your thoughts and comments, and if you need help developing or refining the user experience of your online product, please contact me.
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