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11th December
written by Michael Kanazawa

By Michael Kanazawa

This week I had the opportunity to meet with an amazing group of innovators at RKS Design, including Ravi Sawhny, the founder and CEO of RKS, Tom White and Deepa Prahalad. RKS designs products for companies in a very unique way. Rather than work from spec sheets, they go first to customer needs, wants and emotions. This philosophy meets closely with my perspective on customer-driven business strategy and managing to customer experiences, so I was interested in meeting them and learning more.

I didn’t keep it much of a secret that I also wanted to get my hands on one of their beautiful RKS guitars. In 2005 the RKS guitar graced the cover of BusinessWeek in an edition covering the most innovative products of the year! Holding the guitar it was clear why it won the awards and also won the hearts of people like Don Felder (The Eagles), one of my favorite guitarists of all time as well as Ricki Lee Jones, Ron Wood and many others. It felt great to hold the guitar, the balance and feel and fretboard all felt good. The resonance felt good too, although I dind’t get to crank it up in the conference room to really feel it go. I was intrigued and hooked on the idea of these great guitars.

OK, so maybe it is easy to drive customer emotions with an incredibly cool looking electric guitar, but what about a bottle of water? RKS also designed the new KOR hydration vessel (aka water bottle) that has been speading throughout the world fast. Ravi was kind in giving me a signed KOR water bottle and described how it really was a whole story of how customers both use products, why they buy them and most importantly how others respond and validate the purchase. It all made sense to me, but I’m already a believer.

Later that day I was returning my rental car at Enterprise Rental Car and as I got out of the car the first thing the employee checking me in said was, “wow, what is that?” Actually I think she welcomed me back to Enterprise first, which was nice. Without really knowing much, I proudly described the green and cancer-free plastic message that Ravi had told me about KOR and said that this was the coolest new product being blogged about on the web. The next thing she said was, “I’m going to have to go look that up on the web after work, what was the name of that again?” And she noted that.

That whole experience was a first hand witnessing of why the product has been selling virally and shooting past it’s sales targets…and it’s a $29 water bottle…or should I say hydration vessel. Great products don’t just match technical specifications, they are inspired, encite a positive emotional response when people buy them, and engage the buyer into a circle of interest and approval from others, something we all crave. Great products invite questions and inquiries from others. This means thinking about the entire customer experience when you design a new product or service, thinking about the emotional as well as practical aspects of buying and shopping.

It was a real treat to see the work of RKS and I left with some great ideas for making sure that all products and services we all work to develop are truly inspired works as well as practical and able to command a premium price…

- start with a deep understanding of customer needs, wants, requirements and emotions…not just specs

- align the brand, product and distribution strategy to play off of the full customer experience

- keep working the design until customers who know nothing about your product or service say, “wow, what’s that all about?”

By the way, these principles work not only for product and service design, but also are the same principles we’ve seen generate market successes in retail companies, software companies, web businesses, services businesses and others in terms of aligning strategy and operations to deliver more clearly to a specific customer experience.

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