September 18, 2012

Why The Specs Don’t Matter

Dennis O'Donnell

Samsung iPhone 5 Ad
In this now-famous ad, Samsung takes a pretty harsh stab at Apple on the new iPhone 5.  As the ad indicates (you can see the full-blown graphic here), the Samsung Galaxy S3 destroys the iPhone 5 when comparing the “Spec Sheets” – so Samsung can’t help but ask: why is everyone fussing about the iPhone 5?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m definitely an Apple enthusiast – but this isn’t an article about the iPhone 5.  What I realized in looking at the iPhone 5, this ad, and a host of many other successful products, is that the specs sometimes don’t matter.  The deciding factor in a product’s adoption or success lies in something far less tangible, and something that certainly won’t fit on an 8.5 x 11″ sheet of paper.  It’s perceived value, user experience, and whether or not you connect with the product and the company behind it.  We all know about Apple and the iPhone, and their famously successful marketing – I’m not going to re-hash a tired blog topic.  Instead, I want to share some of my favorite products that have something in common with the iPhone…the common thread between all of them is that they all have competing products that beat them in the Spec Sheet.  These products won my business and loyalty on less tangible factors, like value (not to be confused with price) and user experience.  Before I launch in – this was a fun exercise for me, and I really liked digging up examples…I’d love to read examples from you – products or services that lost in the Spec Sheet, but won your loyalty – feel free to tweet me, or post in the comments!  Here we go with my favorites (Apple products omitted):


IKEA Furniture

Why:  IKEA Furniture is made from corrugated wood and cardboard, with thinly veneered surfaces.  You need to drive it home yourself, and assemble it yourself.  In fact, you even need to lug it off their warehouse shelves yourself – no other furniture company I know makes you do this!  The furniture lasts 10 years.  By all specs, solid wood furniture with home delivery beats this on the Spec Sheet any day – but IKEA wins on great design, and value – both intangibles that won’t fit on a Spec Sheet.


Honda Civic

Why: Your standard Honda Civic is somewhat weak in the engine department, and doesn’t have the paper trail of crazy features you see in other cars…even other budget-minded cars like Kia have power seats, technology packages, creature comforts like cooled seats.  However, the Honda Civic is solidly one of the top 10 bestselling cars of all time, and there are few people who didn’t own that car at least once in their life and enjoy it – I’m certainly one of them.  Even though it’s seemingly underpowered, it’s zippy enough to get the job done.  The price point feels right.  Even though there’s other cars with more stuff at the same price, the Civic simply feels right to so many drivers.  The same could be said of other successful budget cars like Volkswagen.  And I don’t believe they’re just winning on price, either – there’s far cheaper cars available!


Coca Cola

Why: I’ll be the first to admit that the survey data is iffy on this one, but there’s a mild amount of evidence from the 1975 Pepsi Challenge saying that Pepsi, when put in a blind taste test against Coke, is the preferred beverage…therefore…Pepsi tastes better than Coke.  Whether you believe that or not, the one irrefutable fact is that Coke dominates the Cola Wars with nearly double the market share of Pepsi, no matter who won the taste test.  Pepsi during their 1975 campaign (which, by the way, they’ve been drudging up ever since, even as late as 2011) said their Spec Sheet was better – Pepsi was a better tasting product….but still, I and the majority of Americans choose Coke.  Overall, the experience is better – I don’t care what the Spec Sheet says!

These are just a few of my top picks – like I said, I’d really love to hear your examples.  I think these types of products are some of the coolest case studies around – by all logical explanation (and the spec sheets!) a competing product should have won – but because of excellent user experience, or other non-quantifiable factors, these products are selling like crazy.

Shameless plug: this week we’re creating our iPhone 5 Screen Protector and Full Body iPhone 5 Cover, which you can check out here and here. This product launch is what got me thinking about this topic altogether.  New product launches are always exciting for me – whether they’re our products, someone else’s, or even a company that is completely unrelated to Clear-Coat.  Seeing how a company launches a product, and how their competitors react (looking at you, Samsung) is fascinating!

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