Ask people to list their favorite foods and you won’t get many votes for the Chinese water chestnut.
You know: That roundish, crunchy white thing you often find in Chinese food? According to its Wikipedia entry, Eleocharis dulcis isn’t even a nut. It’s a vegetable grown under water. The part we crunch as we tuck into a serving of stir fry? Near as I can tell it’s called the corm.
Next time you host a dinner party, try spreading four dozen water chestnuts on a platter and serve them as appetizers. I’m willing to bet you’ll end the evening with your original inventory of corms mostly intact.
Products and services can be like that. Try as we might, in certain industries, certain categories, there sometimes just isn’t much to differentiate, or stimulate preference for, one from the other. At first blush, to your typical customer, they appear relatively homogenous. Commoditized. And, perhaps, not all that appealing.
Don’t get me wrong — they might all be perfectly fine water chestnuts. Dense with carbohydrates and starch. A great source of dietary fiber and riboflavin. And if one of your party guests happens to be longing for a water chestnut, they’ll no doubt pick one or a few off the tray.
But pretty much any one will do. No real reason to pick one over the other.
Now, rewind your dinner party preparations. Wrap a dozen of those water chestnuts each in a slice of fried bacon (you can find a recipe at Allrecipes.com). Hold the bacon in place with a toothpick. Watch what happens next. Suddenly, at least some of your guests are visibly and verbally aroused. What’s this? Smells good. Think I’ll try one of these. Hey, I’ve gotta have me another one of those.
By surrounding your core offering, the unassuming water chestnut, with a layer of attractiveness and potential value, you’ve dramatically changed the dynamics of the situation. Stimulating perceptions, appetites and interest in some of your guests in a way that a water chestnut alone simply can’t.
Importantly, you didn’t have to spend months or years experimenting with ways to genetically modify the water chestnut to be more colorful or tasty. You didn’t change the price. You simply gave your audience another reason to notice, see value in, and resonate toward a certain set of water chestnuts above all the rest.
Done well, content can work like that. If you’ve taken time to understand customers’ appetites and hot buttons, surrounding your core offering with value-added content can transform how a commoditized, relatively undifferentiated product or service is viewed and, ultimately, consumed.
Will wrapping your water chestnuts in bacon add to cost? Yes, some. Will it promote a higher perceived value? Encourage repeat consumption? Create a more memorable overall experience? Yes, yes and yes.
If you’re feeling the need to stand out and get noticed, maybe you don’t need to change the water chestnut. Maybe you just need to be the supplier who recognizes that man does not live on water chestnuts alone.
What do you think? Dumb metaphor or tasty truism, pertinent to your business? As always, comments welcome.