In 1947, inventor, Edwin Land had a “tiny” issue on his hand
Land and his daughter were enjoying their day out, and Land was busy snapping pictures of his daughter. But she's wasn't impressed. She wanted Land to show her the pictures he’d been taking with his camera. She wanted to see the images “right now”—and this got Land thinking. What if he could create a camera that would somehow take—and print the picture in a matter of minutes?
200 transistors, dozens of moving mirrors, light sensors, gears and solenoids later, and we had the Polaroid camera—the most amazing camera in the world.
But what made the camera so amazing?
The amazing part of the camera is that it got “instant results”
All you did was point, shoot and voila, a tiny little square photo popped out of the camera slot. A few minutes later, you had a print. You—and millions of others of people around the world, created a Polaroid moment.
But if you stop for a moment and think about Polaroid, you notice that a Polaroid didn’t take the best pictures; it was restricted in terms of size and format; it didn’t even give you the chance to print copies.
And yet, it created an instant solution for the client. For the client, the Polaroid moment is what really matters. And what's the opposite of the Polaroid moment? Let me digress a bit and tell you about my curry leaf plants.
I had a problem with the curry leaf plants in my backyard
The term “curry” isn’t another word for “Indian food”. When you order a curry, it means you’re getting “gravy” (A chicken curry is chicken with gravy). Now, curry leaf plants have nothing to do with gravy, but they do provide an amazing aroma and flavour to Indian cooking.
However, curry leaf plants are particularly finicky. They’re summer-loving and don’t take kindly to the cold and frost. Which is why we weren’t terribly surprised when the plants pretty much slept through autumn, winter and spring. Then along came summer, followed by the next summer. Five summers later and the plants—both of them were going nowhere in the hurry.
“Cut off all the leaves, except the ones right on top,” my father advised me when I complained about the dormant plants. To me my father's comment seemed like really bad advice—because the plant wasn’t doing very well anyway. The only reason I took his advice was because I had nothing to lose. Imagine my surprise when the tree started sprouting twice the number of leaves.
The moment my father told me to cut the leaves, he became a Polaroid zen master in my eyes. Within days, I started to see results when five years had provided absolutely nothing but frustration.
Your clients aren’t super-impressed with more services and more information
What they want to see are results—they want what Edwin Land’s daughter wanted—instant or at least, quick results. Instead we pummel our clients with more information. The more information they have, the more confused they get. And it's this “information avalanche” which keeps them away from the finish line. Imagine if we could design products and services that incorporated the Polaroid Moment, instead.
Let's take a few examples, shall we?
If you’re selling a product like an e-book or course, the Polaroid moment becomes relatively easier. For instance, a client gets to the Psychotactics website, subscribes and gets the Headline Report. 10 minutes later that very client is able to write headlines in three different ways—and know which headline works and which doesn’t.
A similar situation unfolds when that client reads The Brain Audit. By the time they read the first three pages of the book, they are suddenly seeing why their marketing doesn’t well as well as it should—and how to fix their communication. In fact, every section of the book keeps hitting you with Polaroid moments—not necessarily more information.
But how do you solve this problem if you’re in a service like sofas, for example?
In every situation, you can't deal with every problem. Notice Polaroid’s genius? Instead of trying to solve every photographic problem, Edwin Land focused solely on getting an instant photo. The curry leaf plant, the Headline Report, The Brain Audit—all those solutions were designed to solve a single—and often, tiny problem.
Avoid trying to solve the entire “fix your garden” problem or “improve your marketing” problem. Instead, focus on a tiny subset. When selling sofas or something big and difficult to comprehend, you bring it down to a subset. Can you eliminate most of the information and focus on a tiny subset?
Can we stop focusing on the sofa and focus on just the foam instead? Teach me how to pick a good sofa just based on the foam. That gets me interested as a client, and once that problem is solved, I'm more keen than ever to buy the sofa.
And yet, just creating a Polaroid-like product isn’t enough to generate revenue
You still have to do the marketing. You still have to promote it, deal with clients, etc. You still have to have something that clients are going to buy on a consistent basis. If you build it, they will come, but only if you do all the work that’s needed and then continue to what’s required to keep sales going.
Even Polaroid, with all its magic needed to chop and change to avert the bankruptcy in 2001. But this piece isn’t so much about how you promote or sustain your success. Instead, it’s about how to predict if whatever you’re about to do is going to have some positive impact to your business. To make sure you’re on the right track to economic success, ask yourself a few questions.
Ask yourself whether you’re offering too much
Ask yourself if you have far too many features.
Ask yourself the question that Edwin Land’s daughter asked him all those years ago: Can we see it right now?
P.S. What’s the state of the curry plant?
It’s doing very well, thank you. Both the plants have gone from their puny state to a medium sized plant. By next summer (yes, it’s summer here in New Zealand), I’m hoping to have two trees!
P.P.S When Kathy Sierra sat down to write her book on JAVA, she couldn't predict if her business was going to succeed. But she didn’t pull the stunt that many Internet marketers do. Instead she focused on how people read and why they get to the finish line. Here is her story: The Unlikely Bestseller (And Why It Sold 2 Million Copies)