The Underlying Power of Familiarity
Every Wednesday after school drop-off, I head to my favourite coffee shop to work outside the office for a couple of hours.
It's a town with a lot of Indy coffee shops, but despite numerous options, I always go to the same coffee shop. And, even though it's my 'favourite' coffee shop, of the 15 in town, I've only tried 3.
Why haven't I tried the others to figure out which has the best coffee and ambience? How did I come to pick that one coffee shop out of 15 and stick with it every time?
The Mere Exposure Effect
Research shows that humans develop a preference for things we're familiar with, and the more we're exposed to something, the more we like it. Hence, songs 'become catchy' after we've heard them several times. The song hasn't changed, but your familiarity with it has.
This is what's happened to me with the coffee shop. I make my first choice based on a subconscious reference for what a 'good coffee shop' looks like (which is also an example of familiarity at play).
From that point on, providing the experience wasn't a negative one, I grow to like that coffee shop more and more with every visit. I begin to recognise staff, they recognise me, I figure out my favourite table, when it's quiet or busy, etc.
It becomes my favourite not because it's the best coffee shop in town but because it's the most familiar.
What Came Before?
How do you package highly innovative products in something familiar?
The truth is new ideas rarely spring out of nowhere.
Little Richard influenced Elvis Presley, who influenced The Beatles, who influenced Bruce Springsteen, who influenced Pearl Jam, who influenced The Strokes, who influenced Billie Eilish.
Each artist looks slightly like the one before them but with a twist.
When a tech product fails because it's 'ahead of its time', what really happened was that they didn't find the reference point that came before them.
It’d be like dropping Billie Eilish into the 1950s.
An example of how this works?
In 2023, Starbucks rolled out the beta version of Odyssey, their move into Web3.
Blockchain, NFTs, and Crypto… they're all concepts the mass market is aware of, but only the minority have interacted with them, and most consider them to be nothing more than scams and overpriced Jpegs.
So, if their customers aren't interested in Web3, why are Starbucks?
For them, technology is strategic - a way to stay relevant with younger demographics and improve community and customer experience. Mobile loyalty schemes, in-store Wi-Fi, ordering ahead, mobile wallets… Starbucks led the market with all of these initiatives.
They see Web3 as the next.
Users will own their rewards points as NFTs (although they're called stamps, not NFTs), which means they can sell and trade them on the marketplace. Customers genuinely own points and spend more time on the Starbucks app to earn them. Win-win.
But, if their customers don't care about the Blockchain or fear it, how does Starbucks execute the move?
In the words of the Starbucks CMO, they do this:
"It happens to be built on the blockchain and web3 technologies, but the customer… may very well not even know what they're doing is interacting with blockchain technology. It's just the enabler."
As you can see from the visuals above, it's hard to tell the difference between the existing Web2 app and the Web3 app. Starbucks built the product on new technology, but the customer-facing skin looks just like the mobile apps that came before.
Are all new ideas really that new?
We have technology like Web3 and AI on one end of the spectrum. Fast-moving, innovative, and hard to get your head around.
But what if the technology you're selling isn't fundamentally different to what's come before?
What if it's simply a better version of the SaaS product your competitors are selling - does that need familiar packaging?
More on that in my next article - Selling Squirrels to Dogs