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Value by Subtraction

In any competitive industry, we are confronted with the ever-pressing need to improve our products and services, and we can get caught in the relentless search of the added feature. But this is not always what the customer wants. I am not talking about the price-sensitive customer who is happy to get the minimum possible as long as she gets a good price. I am talking about the occasions when we fail to recognize that the customer may actually find it more valuable NOT to have some features.

I just came back from a refreshing family vacation. We visited the great state of California, and the best way to get there from our home in Florida, is flying. As any family, we insisted on sitting together and the first thing we did after occupying our seats, was to flip up the armrests of our three-seat-in-a-row 30,000 feet couch. This made the experience better for us, allowing us to be closer and distribute space according to our body size instead of the seat’s. Removing a feature (the armrests) made it more valuable for us.

Granted, to be able to do this, requires to add a small feature (a hinge). In some other cases, it is just a matter of not adding something.

The original Sony Walkman was basically a tape player with no recording hardware and no speaker. This made it more portable and substituting the bulky speaker for stereo headphones, improved the audio quality dramatically.

The “Airplane” mode on your cellphone, shuts down the connectivity features of the device. This way it can double as a media player or an eBook reader while onboard.

A Pickup Truck gets rid of the back seat and the trunk, making it possible to transport large items.

If you stop to think about it for a minute, there are countless of other examples of this, here are some:

- Low-carb “Bun-less Sandwiches"

- Sugar-free juice

- Low Sodium Soy Sauce

- The pro camera’s “Manual” mode

- Shorts and short-sleeved shirts

- Fingerless Gloves

- Single speed, hard tail bicycles

- Less padded “Barefoot Running Shoes"

And the list goes on. What feature could you remove to make your product or service more valuable for your customer?

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