Beware of checkbox marketing!

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Does this sound familiar?

When you’re looking to buy a product or service, especially as a business, there’s a list of must-have features. A/B split testing. Dolby Surround Sound. Retargeting. If a product or service doesn’t have the features that you or your executives read as “must-have”, you give it a pass.

Does this sound familiar?

When you’re in product development, you have a laundry list of features that the best in class competitor has, and you’re comparing it to your own. At every turn, things that actually need to get done get bumped in favor of things that the sales guys and gals say they must have, or else they won’t be able to sell the product at all and the company will go out of business. (sometimes in those exact words)

These are the two edges of the checkbox marketing sword – marketing to either meet or find a laundry list of features for products and services. They’re both dangerous to your marketing, both dangerous to your company, and incredibly damaging to your bottom line. Why? A good portion of the time, checkbox marketing is simply a waste of time and money, for both the buyer and seller.

For buyers, do you need the features? Do you even know what they do? For example, much is made in the mobile space of NFC. NFC is touted by some vendors as being the next big thing in the mobile marketplace and any smartphone that doesn’t offer NFC features is clearly behind the times, according to those vendors. Question: without Googling it, do you know what NFC is and how it would benefit you on a day to day basis, or is it just another checkbox that a vendor is saying you need?

For sellers, do you need to provide the features, or can you save limited resources to develop something worthwhile? Once upon a time, I used to help sell email marketing services. One of the mandatory checkbox items was A/B split testing. Every vendor, every service provider needed to provide this checkbox feature or else you were non-competitive. RFPs asked for it. People asked for it during demos. Yet when I looked in the usage logs of thousands of customers, fewer than 1% ever used the feature. It was a checkbox that did not benefit 99.2% of the customers who demanded it and paid for it, yet received no benefit from it.

Checkbox marketing gets even more insidious when executives make decisions to flat-out lie in order to hit those checkboxes, to misrepresent features in order to say, yes, we have that, but in fact the feature doesn’t exist. Eventually, you get badly burned on it, but it’s amazing the number of companies that do this.

Is there an antidote? Absolutely: buyer education, on the parts of both buyer and seller. If you’ve got a checklist of features that you believe are mandatory, you’d better be able to map each feature to a business process or personal process that has meaning and impact in your life. If you can’t name how a feature is going to be useful to you immediately, then chances are it’s not going to be. Cross it off your list of must-haves.

If you’re selling a product, take the time to educate your customers and prospective customers about what features do and how they are used. As an example, food companies include free recipes on nearly every ingredient-like product they sell. Pick up a bag of chocolate chips or flour or cake mix and see how many recipes they cram onto the packaging. Help your customers understand not just what features come in the box, but why those features might matter to them. Help them to be better at their jobs, and you’ll help insulate them from checkbox marketing that could sway their loyalties temporarily (but long enough to affect your bottom line).

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