Online Products Should Relate to Offline Experiences

People do and understand what they know.  They don’t read manuals for websites and most sites don’t have commercials telling us why we should use that site.  For an online website, product or feature to take-off, it helps if the user can quickly and easily relate the functionality to offline experiences.  Users spend only a few seconds when they land on your site or look at an unfamiliar feature of your site before deciding if they want to continue or not.  If they easily understand what they see then they are more likely to proceed.  Also, if you want users to champion your product, then they need to be able to easily explain it to others so that the people they talk to “get it” and the ideavirus can spread.

Hopefully this isn't your user!

So one framework for creating new ideas is to examine real world behaviors and ponder how they could be translated to the online paradigm, preferably enhanced greatly by leveraging the power of the internet and software.  Note that this does not mean that you can simply port offline activities online and expect to be successful.  As you look to build products and functionality for your website, consider what offline behaviors or products they relate to and how a user will view them with that context in mind.

One of the main use cases for the internet is to enhance what people already do offline.  Email is a faster form of the mail and online shopping is usually cheaper, faster and offers more options than offline shopping. Online news is instantaneous instead of daily, from many sources instead of a handful and  online radio is customizable and commercial-free.  A few more quick examples:

Virtual Gifts – It has been historically difficult to get users to make micropayments online.  Users don’t want to go through the hassle and security risk to make  a $1 payment here or 50 cent payment there.  One of the very few places that micropayments have gained traction is Virtual Gifts, which is estimated to be a $1.6 billion industry in 2010.  Our society loves to give gifts so it’s pretty obvious that users get the idea of virtual gifts as soon as they are exposed to it.  By allowing users to quickly and easily mimic their offline behavior of gift giving, Virtual Gift merchants have struck gold.

Online Reviews – People love to spread the word about businesses and products that they either love or hate.  They want to help people find the gems and avoid the duds.  Online reviews tap into our desire to tell others about our experiences.  In the past, if you had a bad experience you may call 5 of your friends and family to warn them about the business or product.  But online you can tell your story once and broadcast it to thousands of people across the globe.

7 Responses to “Online Products Should Relate to Offline Experiences”

  1. […] Sweet Spot Strategy User Needs + Competitor Gaps + Our Capability = Competitive Advantage « Online Products Should Relate to Offline Experiences […]

  2. Really sweet site you made there. Some of your article really amazed me. I will definitely visit your blog again!

  3. […] and use it.  If you are breaking new ground rather than solving a known pain point or building an online version of an offline solution, then you may need to first bridge the gap with a different product so they will better understand […]

  4. Nicholas says:

    @Moritz: Thank you for the kind words. Let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to cover. Your blog at is interesting as well (thanks Google Translation!)

  5. […] fundamental level.  Online Dating is one of the verticals that doesn’t act anything like the offline version.  There are many things that the sites can do to improve the experience and make it more natural, […]

  6. […] video games were hooked by Wii Sports, which replaced complex button presses with motions that mimicked real life play of the sports.  Those users then bought games like Wii Play, Brain Training and Wii Fit, […]

  7. […] difficult to properly execute on a sweet spot product because either users don’t know how to relate to the idea or because it gets related to the wrong category, which totally misses the point and benefit of […]

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