I’ve long been fascinated by the links between coffee, craft, and product design. Peter Baskerville’s answer on Quora to the question How do you compete with Starbucks in the coffee industry? is another great example of that. His answer can very easily be applied to building an online product (my emphasis added):
I concluded very quickly that Starbucks was good for tourists and those folk looking for brand association, but their appeal to the quality espresso seeking locals was limited to just one curious trial. I also saw that they were in fact following the age-old successful chain formula of adequate product + brilliant marketing rather than the other way around. So they were not actually targeting my niche unique coffee/service market, which is where I believe the independents fit in.
This is so true for the current state of software development. We used to swim in a sea of adequate products that employed brilliant marketing to convince us they’re better than they really are. Now, the products and services we gravitate towards are increasingly brilliant niche products that don’t have to rely on an overdose of traditional marketing to gain traction. From Dropbox to Clear to Instapaper, people are flocking to quality products after their “one curious trial” of the do-it-all marketing-driven alternative doesn’t quite meet their needs.
Peter goes on to list 8 specific strategies that Australian coffee shops have used to beat Starbucks. With advice like “Quality above all” and “Let your customers own you”, his answer gives product designers plenty to think about.