Herd Products

—Andy Hunt

Published in Andy's Blog

I’m a virtual kind of guy. I try to do most shopping over the net where I can, the major exception being groceries, which my wife is kind enough to take care of for the most part.

But as luck would have it, I was out of shampoo and razor blades and she was otherwise occupied, so I had to head down to the Eckard’s myself. That was my first mistake. I hadn’t been down there for a while, so my first surprise was the shaving section—there were no razor blades in the shaving section. Instead, on the 4’x4’ shelf area where the blades should have been, there were little notes hanging on each of the display pegs explaining that blades were kept under lock and key up at the front of the store, where a sales associate (whatever happened to “clerks”, by the way?) would be happy to get one for you.

I didn’t realize razor blades were now so restricted. Must be that homeland security stuff.

So okay, I’ll just go back and get the shampoo first, and then get the blades on my way out—assuming I don’t forget about the blades in the meantime. On to the the shampoo aisle. Now my needs are simple; I’m just looking for a basic, normal, guy’s shampoo. Tough luck for me, it was labeled the “shampoo” aisle but I thought for sure it was the fruit juice aisle!

Every shampoo offered for sale was laced with guava, cucumber, something generically called “herbal essence”, maybe a little coconut; every ingredient you might want in a tropical drink-but there was nothing that contained any soap. Okay, I thought, let’s drop down a notch. We’ll try a kids or baby shampoo-that’s got to be fairly inoffensive, right? Well the kid’s shampoo was watermelon flavored, and smelled suspiciously like bubblegum. This is quite the irony, as that’s often exactly the substance one wants to remove from children’s hair.

All I want is plain shampoo. It should smell like soap, not like salad or a dessert. Is that too much to ask?

Maybe it is. I’m a victim here of herd marketing. Some company out there struggles to gain market share. What could we do different to attract customers?, they ask. They brainstorm. Someone suggests, “what the hell, you might as well stick guava juice in it.” They do. Now every other shampoo manufacturer panics over the growing “guava gap” and rushes to top their competitors. Cucumber will do it! Let’s add herbal essence! No one will even know what the hell that is, so they certainly can’t copy it! And in the mad, headlong rush to be different-to add features- they forgot about those of us who just want a plain old bottle of shampoo.

Does this herd mentality only affect consumer products? It doesn’t seem so limited. I’d really like a nice GUI e-mail client that doesn’t need a quarter gig of RAM. It doesn’t need guava juice or calendar or contact management, just e-mail would be fine. It should be robust, blindingly fast, you know, the things I want.

Isn’t that supposed to be the essence of marketing? Give the people what they want—not what everyone else wants to give them, or even what you want to give them.

Maybe this is something you should think about the next time you write code for a client or your company. Are you giving the customer what they want? Or are you giving them Java juice (our industry’s version of guava) because that’s what the rest of the herd is doing?

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