Atomic features: small details that make a BIG difference (Part 1)
Help customers taste your product – and you can 2-3X your revenue
It was 2009, and Airbnb was barely surviving.
They had just expanded to New York. But booking revenues were still so low the company was close to shutting down. They needed a breakthrough – and fast! But when they examined all the room listings on their platform, they noticed a common pattern between all the lowest booked rooms:
The photos of the apartments sucked.
As Airbnb co-founder, Joe Gebbia said:
“People were using camera phones and taking Craigslist-quality pictures. Surprise! No one was booking because you couldn’t see what you were paying for.”
To test their theory, Joe Gebbia and Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky rented a $5,000 camera, booked a flight to New York, and began knocking on the doors of Airbnb hosts to shoot professional photos of their apartments.
Within 30 days, revenue more than doubled.
No feature has arguably driven more booking revenue for Airbnb than high-quality photos. Today, Airbnb partners with thousands of photographers to help hosts get stellar photos of their listings.
How much are these photos worth? Airbnb estimates that professional photos boost bookings by 40%, which in 2022 meant additional $18B in bookings thanks to photos.
“Atomic features” – the small details that matter
Airbnb’s story symbolizes a deeper lesson:
Making a big idea happen depends on getting a few small details right.
These small details are what I call “atomic features” – tiny details of your product or distribution that have an outsized impact for customers. Airbnb had a big idea: let anyone rent out their property to anyone. But making that vision happen depended on nailing the right small details, such as professional photos.
There are many kinds of atomic features. But in this post, I’ll focus on the one that Airbnb’s story exemplifies: the “taste” atomic feature.
The taste feature – Give customers a great taste of your product
Taste atomic features are those details that let your customers: 1) experience your product, when the product is 2) at its very best.
Examples of taste features include:
A product demonstration,
A free sample,
A free trial, or
Stellar product photos (if nothing else is possible)
Taste features are the touch points that get customers to buy your product. A bad taste feature wrong can cut your revenue by more than 50%.
Let’s look at three stories as examples:
1. Cinnabon – How moving ovens reduced store sales by 50%
Cinnabon are famous for their frosting-covered cinnamon rolls. The first store was a success thanks to painstaking attention to several atomic features, including:
Using an Indonesian “Korintje” cinnamon
Pulling the rolls out early from the oven to give them an “ooey gooey” center
Putting the store in a mall with high traffic of sweet-craving shoppers
After the success of their first small store, the Cinnabon founders decided to open a much larger store. But for some reason, sales in the larger store were substantially lower.
What was the difference?
In the smaller store, the ovens were forced to be at the front of the store – where customers could smell the aroma every time the rolls were pulled out.
In the larger store, they had put the ovens at the back of the store.
That aroma turned out to be responsible for 50% of all purchases.
Cinnabon had nailed many atomic features. But they missed a certain type of atomic feature – the tasting atomic feature.
Subscribe for free to get more posts like this.
2. Peloton – How physical showrooms turned skeptics into fans
Peloton – the home exercise bike with online spinning classes – was the success story that almost never happened. After 3 years of failing to raise money from investors, they turned to Kickstarter.
Surely, a dramatic video demonstration of the bike would convert customers to fans?
But despite a compelling video, only 178 people bought a Peloton bike on Kickstarter.
What was going wrong? The product wasn’t the problem. Peloton would later sell more than 2 million similar bikes.
The problem was that a video couldn’t convey the experience of pedaling to the upbeat music as the instructor guides you through the session. You had to experience it to “get” it.
The breakthrough came when Peloton opened their first showroom in a brick-and-mortar store, where customers could try out the bikes for themselves. Peloton had to sell one bike per day to stay in business. The showrooms 4X:ed those sales.
Peloton had the right product. They just had the taste feature wrong.
3. ShamWow – How one video sold towels in the millions
A video may not be right for an immersive experience like Peloton. But for a simpler product, like the super-draining towel ShamWow, demonstrating the product’s amazing use cases got customers to buy this $28 towel in the millions.
OBS! Watch the ShamWow video at your own peril. Side effects include tingling buying urge and lighter wallets. 💸
ShamWow nailed their taste feature – and saw sales skyrocket. 📈
Access and Quality – the tasting feature’s two levers
As these stories show, the strength of a taste feature depends on two levers:
How easy is it for customers to taste your product?
When customers taste your product, are they enticed to buy?
Airbnb in 2009 had great access (it was easy to see the listing) but poor quality. The taste was so poor that most people were turned off by what they tasted.
Cinnabon had the opposite problem. Their aroma had great quality but poor access (at least until they moved the ovens to the front of the store.
ShamWow’s video demonstration had stellar access and quality.
While both components are crucial, the most common mistake I see startups making is bad taste access. Specifically, they make two key mistakes:
Not letting customers see and taste your product
Forcing customers to work to taste your product
Mistake 1: Not letting customers see and taste your product
I can’t count the number of websites that don’t even show photos of their product. They just talk about all the benefits without letting me see what I’m buying.
Take Hubspot for example. I have no idea what they are selling because I can’t see the product. They don’t even list their features on the site!
Compare this to Airtable. When I land on their product website, I see endless photos and videos of their product and can instantly see the value of it.
Mistake 2: Forcing customers to work to taste your product
There is nothing I personally hate more on a website than the “Book a demo” button. If I have to talk to a salesperson, I’m not buying your product. But so many websites hide their product behind demo meetings.
Hubspot not only refuse to show their product. When I click on their demo button, they force me to fill in a form with seven fields for the “privilege” of getting a taste of it.
Your product is your best salesperson. Don’t put barriers in front of it!
Compare this to Slack. For every feature, they provide me with a video demo at the top of the page I can watch right away. No contact form. No forced demo meetings. Thank you, Slack! 😍
I too fell into this second trap when I started this blog. To taste my posts, I was forcing my potential readers to search for my website and input their email to subscribe.
4 months of writing later, and I had 34 subscribers.
But then I thought:
“Why don’t I just do the work of subscribing people who might want to read my blog myself, and let them opt out if they don’t like it?”
So that’s what I did. I went through all my contacts on LinkedIn who had some interest in entrepreneurship and added their email addresses to my blog. Some of these people were very senior, and I was honestly scared that some would be upset for “intruding” on their privacy.
Surprise! Not a single person has complained. And no one has yet unsubscribed. In fact, the most senior people read my posts 3-4X as much as the average reader!
If you believe you are producing great work, it’s your duty to do the work for your customers so they can taste your product.
Don’t wait for the customer to walk up to your booth and ask about your product.
Walk up to the customer and give them a sample of your product yourself.
Buying any product is a risk. Letting customers taste your product beforehand is how you remove that risk – and maybe even create surprising delight!
Your product is your best salesperson.
So let your product speak for itself.
Show it off in flashy photos and videos,
Hand out free samples and trials,
And never ever force your customers to work to taste what your product.
What atomic taste features will double revenue for you?
Subscribe for free to get more posts like this.