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Buying Time

As competition in the market gets even more hyperdemanding, it is crucial for designers and engineers to have a better coordination with their colleagues on the marketing side of the house.

As competition in the market gets even more hyperdemanding, it is crucial for designers and engineers to have a better coordination with their colleagues on the marketing side of the house. Yes, marketing. The point in this industry is, of course, to move metal. And by having a solid association with the people who will be dealing with the product post-design and engineering, the people who provide input pre-design and engineering, chances are the overall outcome for all concerned will be vastly better than if there are arm's-length engagements-at best. One book that should be of considerable interest to all of the aforementioned parties is Stopwatch Marketing: Take Charge of the Time When Your Customer Decides to Buy by John Rosen and AnnaMaria Turano (Portfolio; $25.95), both of whom are marketing consultants.

The conceit of the stopwatch is simply that people have a given amount of time that they will spend searching for a given product (or service), and therefore it is essential that (1) your product be up front in the queue and (2) you provide sufficiently compelling reasons for people to buy post-haste: "Providing the most persuasion in the least amount of time-effective signals of product value (brands, design features, textures, etc.) such as the Sub-Zero plaque on a $10,000 refrigerator." Clearly, the plaque and what it is attached to have to overcome the potential shock of the five digits on the sticker. Another approach is to make your entire value proposition so compelling that people are willing to spend more time with your product or service.

Given the accessibility of information provided by the Internet, it is even more important that one's product stand out from the competition in a positive manner-and this goes beyond design considerations to engineered quality, as the authors note: "people are more likely to avoid a car whose previous model gave them trouble, than to evaluate the entire body of data available from Consumer Reports and the EPA." While this might seem extreme, the authors cite the work of two economists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who codified the "Law of Small Numbers." The authors say that it "explains the predilection on the part of most people to overstate the findings taken from unreasonably small samples." In the aggregate your vehicles' quality may be good, but most people buy just one.

Rosen and Turano maintain that there are four types of consumers, those who are Impatient, Reluctant, Painstaking, or Recreational. It is in the Painstaking quarter that they have a discussion of automobiles, pointing out how the Lexus brand has finessed all aspects of its products and services in order to win over those customers. To be sure, the product is important. But it isn't everything. And perceptions are exceedingly powerful: "As with so many. . .things in the life of modern American consumers. . .perceived value matters as much or more than real value." So designers, engineers, and marketers clearly have to be on the same page-at the same time (stopwatch optional).-GSV