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Love Isn’t Annoying

January 18th, 2009

Seth Godin writes today about an alleged dichotomy between products that customers “love” and products that customers find “unannoying.”

I think smart marketers at Apple work to make products that people love. Smart marketers at American Airlines ought to work at making an airline that isn’t annoying.

I find this false distinction hard to stomach. I’m pleased that he chose Apple to make his point, because it’s the very company I would point to when arguing that in fact, customers love products that aren’t annoying.

Customers’ love for Apple products over the years has been based in Apple’s unusual determination to prevent user annoyance. Where competitors decide “this is close enough,” Apple hunkers down and and goes the extra mile for a more sensitive, courteous experience.

Godin makes the point that some businesses (especially restaurants) thrive in spite of their annoyingness. The “Soup Nazi” character popularized by television’s Seinfeld serves as a good point of reference. Customers love the soup so much that they withstand, even celebrate, an abusive relationship with the business owner.

I know this phenomenon exists in real life, but the kind of “captive love” he’s describing has more to do with human respect for confidence, even arrogance, when it is well earned. It only really works for a business if we also love the product. We love to watch the pursuit of perfection, because it inspires similar pursuits in ourselves. An arrogant jerk who pursues a dream with diligence earns our respect and admiration. Steve Jobs fulfills this role himself as Apple’s prima-donna. We admire his pursuit of excellence in spite of his reputation for rudeness and callousness.

Steve Jobs may be annoying, but the single quality of Apple products that sets them most apart from others, is that they are less annoying than the alternative. And Apple’s customers really do love that.

7 Responses to “Love Isn’t Annoying”

  1. Jeff Says:

    I’d say my love of Apple products is less a lack of annoyances than an appreciation for their ease-of-use. I’m biased, clearly, but I’ve never found Window-based machines intuitive.

  2. Seth Godin Says:

    I beta tested the first Mac in 1983. For the last 25 years, every mac, every iphone, every ipod has been annoying. A closed system, or no hard drive or where’s that extra button on the mouse? And on and on.

    That’s okay. I love it all. But don’t say it’s not annoying.

  3. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    Seth: thanks for commenting. By no means would I say Apple’s products are without their annoyances. But the reason I love them so much more than the competition is because they are less annoying.

    Everything I love seems to annoy me at least in some ways. Possibly more infuriating than with the things I don’t love, because I can more clearly envision how perfect they might be.

  4. Craig McGill Says:

    I think the problem here is that it all comes down to personal taste: one person’s love is another person’s annoying and it’s always going to be hard for marketeers to sort that out, which is one reason companies rarely go out on a limb with a product as they don’t want to alienate anyone.

  5. John N Says:

    @Seth:

    I’ll live with the mouse button preference having to be turned on when I first get my Mac. It is less annoying than losing a days worth of work even with the latest anti-virus signatures. (Thanks to the Windows Registry). It’s been 6 years since my switch back to Mac and the only down time I have had was due to a HD crash. It took an hour to get OS X and the 3 apps needed to complete my work for the day (Textmate, Firefox, SmartSVN).

  6. Chris Hong Says:

    Dan, I agree with your “captive love” assertion. I’ve seen this in real life across different cultures, geography, and product lines/service offerings. If the product or service is truly “insanely great”, customers tolerate the provider’s “eccentricity” (to put it mildly).

  7. Steve McFerrin Says:

    I have to agree that the American and Delta airlines are both annoying.. You want to see smart marketing watch this!! http://www.virginatlanticstillredhot.com/popup/tv-ad.html
    Now thats an airline I like.. I actually fly them on a regular basis to Europe, they get it! They get the entire customer experience right up to the curb with a limo to pick you up. We Americans could learn a few things from them!
    Just my 2 cents.. but the add rocks!

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