Adoption of technology: Sell the benefits, not the features

I suppose it’s a saying as old as marketing itself, but when trying to persuade people to take up an idea, sell the benefits, not the features. And yes, for you involved in technology adoption in a corporate setting, this includes you as well.

Let me explain with a story. I gave my dad my old Olympus digital SLR yesterday. I didn’t have much use for it, and since he was retired and didn’t have much to do I thought it might give him a little hobby to pass some time with.

Photo of Olympus E-420 that I gave to my dad
The Olympus E-420 that I gave to my dad

As he picked up the camera, he had lots of questions. “What’s this button do?”, “And the up button?”, “And this scroll?”, “How come the picture’s not taking?”, “Is this a zoom lens?” and so on.

I explained the ins and outs of ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and what the manual function did. I told him that in order to take a picture he had to hold the shutter button down for it to focus before the picture took. I told him yes, it was a zoom lens, and that yes, the “up” button was for the menu, and that… you get the idea.

He looked happy to have the new toy in his hands. But something was missing. I couldn’t tell him what types of pictures the camera was capable of taking. Nor was he sure how to work the camera into taking pictures that he envisioned in his mind. In other words, I couldn’t sell him the benefits of having a digital SLR, as opposed to a point-and-shoot. (The benefit of having a point-and-shoot was in the name itself: that it was simple to use. So simple, in fact, that all you needed to do to take a photograph was to point. And shoot.)

Photo of a bokeh created from lights of a Christmas tree
Bokeh created from the lights of a Christmas tree, courtesy of Wikipedia.

I remember back when I was a camera newbie (I’m now a serious hobbyist), looking through pictures in glossy magazines telling myself that one day I going to get myself a camera and take those pictures.

Imagine my disappointment when my first digital point-and-shoot –a 4.3 megapixel Fujifilm digital camera that cost S$1400–couldn’t produce proper blurred backgrounds or beautiful bokeh. (Bokeh, by the way, is one of the most amazing things I’ve learned about photography. If you’ve never heard about it, click on that link above and learn about it–you won’t be disappointed!)

The manual that came with my Fujifilm camera contained within its pages a section on aperture. In that section, there was an image of a girl with a magnificently blurred background and directions on how to get that effect. I followed the directions to the tee, but no matter how I tried I couldn’t replicate.

It wasn’t only after years later, when I started getting a little more serious and doing more research on the internet, like on wonderful sites like Digital Photography Review, that I realised it wasn’t really a case of knowing what to do, but was rather a case of knowing what your camera can do.

For years I stayed away from purchasing a new camera because I simply wasn’t sure if it could deliver. If only I knew.

Actual Sample Photographs

Then one day, I went into a Courts store and picked up a booklet showcasing samples of Samsung’s flagship mirrorless digital SLR cameras. And what a joy it was! In it, I saw creatively-taken pictures that had great bokeh and macro shots that made me salivate.

You mean it’s possible for me to take those pictures? I asked, and Yes, it answered.

Information on the camera and its settings the photographer used were printed on the images, allowing me to see that if I wanted to take that photograph, all I had to do was to pick up the camera. These were the images that were exactly what I had wanted to take back in the day. The images that were in the glossy magazines.

The booklet didn’t just tell me that the camera had a aperture setting that went as low as 1.4, and that it had an optical image stabaliser.

It told me that because the aperture went that low, blurred backgrounds were more easily achieved; and a low aperture combined with an optical image stabaliser it meant that photographs in low light conditions looked better than the competition. And not only that, but they showed actual sample images to prove their point.

I so wished that the digital SLR that I passed my dad had something like that. To give it to him and let him see the possibilities. I didn’t want him to use the digital SLR like any other point-and-shoot simply because he wasn’t aware of what it could really do.

Technology adoption: Sell benefits, not features

I suppose it’s the same with trying to push technology adoption of any kind People may know about the technology, but not about what it can do. Because they don’t know what it can do, they just use it in any way they know how, which is often not very well. Disenchanted, they fail to adopt the technology.

I’d been using MS Office for years without knowing about these things called macros and VBA. Years. After I learned about them, and picked them up as part and parcel as my development as a analytical professional, it’s been part of my analytical toolkit ever since. And I’ve started using MS Office much more often than before (as opposed to its open source or free alternatives).

If only someone had showed me what macros and VBA could do when I first started out. Sure, I may not have thought it was useful then, and not learned it straight away, but it would have been something I could consider whenever I encountered some problem that could have used it.

Sell the benefits, not the features. Let people know what something can do for them, and they’ll become users, fans, and influencers of adoption.

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