How good do you have to be? What prospects look for when choosing your product, service, or idea

How good does your product or service have to be before prospects start to notice? You probably can point to several ways that your business is better than your competitors.

But is that difference in quality big enough for the general public to notice?

Marie spent a lot of time learning how to design her own web site. The project had its frustrating moments, but in the end Marie had a fine looking site that promoted her business. Her friend George had more money to spend and paid a web designer $4,000 to design a web site for him.

Marie could see some big differences in their sites. Just having spent a month getting aquatinted with web design, she immediately noticed George’s custom graphics, forms, and nifty columns– features that she could not figure out how to create.

Imagine Marie’s amazement (and secret delight!) when a customer noted her site looked just as good as George’s.

“Wow!,” Marie thought. “Customers don’t notice the difference between my ‘pretty good’ site and George’s spare no expense’
site. I just saved $4,000!”

Psychologists spend many research hours studying this sort of thing for major corporations. They call it “Just Noticeable Difference.” When researching a new product or service, they ask, “How much better than the competition do we have to be before people start to notice?”

The answer, of course, is that sometimes you have to be MUCH better than the other guy before the average customer (who may not be an expert) starts to notice the difference. One example of this are the radio stations in your town. Chances are they’re all holding contests of one kind or another right now. To the people who work at those stations, their contests are all very different, some better or more exciting than contests on other radio stations.

I’ll bet that you, as an average listener, don’t really notice the difference. All contests start to sound the same. Studies have shown that the people who win those contests can’t even remember which station they won from a year down the road. There isn’t enough noticeable difference.

On the other hand, Just Noticeable Difference can work the other way. It costs Marsha $10 to produce a chair. I’ve just discovered that I can make a chair not quite as good as Marsha’s for $5. As an expert on chair manufacturing, I know that my chair isn’t as good as Marsha’s, but my customers don’t really notice the difference.

Guess who comes out ahead on profits?

Now this whole concept is very upsetting to some people. Even though American business is smartly based on not putting any more quality into the product than the customer demands, a lot of people will claim that your customers somehow intuitively know the difference.

Not so! When developing a new product or service, or revamping an old one, run your own marketing test. Have a few unbiased, but honest people compare your product with one that is better. Then have them compare yours with one that is worse. At what point does the customer notice the difference?

Keep these three points in mind when thinking about Just Noticeable Difference:

  1. If prospects don’t notice your improvements, then your improvements aren’t big or obvious enough. This is the case even if they seem plenty big to experts in your field (like you and your associates).
  2. Look for the ways that your product or service is much better than your competitor’s. Make your marketing accentuate those better features.
  3. Also look for ways that you can save by cutting back on expenses that buyers don’t notice or care about.

Keep an eye out for areas you spend lots of time and money on, but those areas don’t attract comments from buyers.

About the author
Kevin Nunley provides marketing advice and copy writing for businesses and organizations. Read all his money-saving marketing tips at Reach him at or 603-249-9519.