Users are Like Salmon: Help them Swim Upstream

The majority of consumers are not power users.  If your solution to a pain point is complicated, or different from the normal methods, then most of your users may have trouble seeing, understanding or using the product properly.  Users scan websites instead of reading them, and expect your website to work like the other ones that they use.  So if yours differs then you may hit a block with users using your product incorrectly or not at all.  That does not mean that your solution has to be relegated to a niche product.   What it does mean is that you need to ensure that you offer a compelling basic service to meet the needs of the average user.  Then you can move them upstream to more complicated and powerful tools over time as they use the product by surfacing the advanced functionality to them.

A great case study for moving users upstream is the Nintendo Wii.  The video game market was well defined and sized and Nintendo wanted to grow the market size.  So instead of catering to the advanced, ‘hardcore gamer’, users they built the Wii to appeal to non-gamers, bringing them into the market at the ground level with Wii Sports.  Millions of people who hadn’t previously played 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, which are slightly more complex and then moved upstream to more traditional games like Mario and Mario Kart and then on to Zelda and Metroid.  Every user didn’t swim the whole way upstream, which is evident in the sales charts of the games.  But some users will move up each step of the way.

Game Current Sales
Wii Play 27 million
Wii Fit 23 million
Mario Kart 22 million
New Super Mario Bros 14 million
Zelda: Twilight Princess 5.5 million
Metroid Prime 3 1.5 million

When building your product, ensure that you have a solid foundation for the main use case that users will expect when they arrive at your site.  If you build the standard product well, then users will be happy with your site and return and be open to being moved upstream.  So if you have a new way of providing search for a widget that is better than the competitors, don’t focus only on that improved search functionality.  Build a solid standard search that users expect and then provide ways to surface the advanced functionality and benefits to them as they go through the normal flow.  A portion of the users will move upstream and start to use the complex, or non-standard, solution that you’ve built and you’ll gain more users overall than if you simply allow advanced search and expect users to understand it when they arrive for the first time and scan your page for familiar functionality.

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2 Responses to “Users are Like Salmon: Help them Swim Upstream”

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  2. […] Sweet Spot Strategy User Needs + Competitor Gaps + Our Capability = Competitive Advantage « Users are Like Salmon: Help them Swim Upstream […]

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