Function, Form and Feeling

I’ve been reading an interest book – The Soft Edge by Rich Karlgaard. It’s making its way on to my must-read list for business leaders. Karlgaard argues that successful companies nail all three sides of a business triangle – “the strategic base” (understanding and managing customers, competitors, markets), “the hard edge” (traditional management disciplines like financial management, supply chain, operational excellence) and “the soft edge” (those squishier disciplines like trust and teams). I’ve been mulling over one particular soft edge skill – one he calls “taste.” Taste is that all encompassing itch we try to scratch in the lives of those who buy our product or service. Delivering on taste means we perfectly execute on function, form and feeling.

  • Function encompasses the way our product or service works. Does it accomplish what it was intended to do? Does it accomplish it efficiently? Does it accomplish it effectively? Is it of high quality? Is it virtually perfect operationally
  • Form is the packaging for our function. Does the look and feel of the product or service make it easier to consume, more beautiful to behold or more intuitive to operate?
  • Feeling is perhaps the most elusive piece. Does the customer get warm and fuzzy after they consume our good or service? Do they feel smarter, healthier, inspired or more empowered? Have we created a value proposition that makes them feel good about the money they spent and the organization they spent it with?

I realize I’m writing primarily to people in the fresh produce business. This probably sounds a bit too ethereal for a truckload of potatoes or five skids of strawberries. OK, agreed.

Let me bring this a little closer to home. As people become more interested in the pedigree of the food they eat, delivering a quality commodity is only the beginning. In an increasingly visual marketplace, one that is spurred on by stunning food pictures on Pinterest and Instagram, our quality product must also be visually appealing. This dictates that we present a product that is not only delicious, but also beautiful. This extends to packaging and displays. And to deliver meaning and feeling with our delicious and beautiful product, we need to effectively tell the story of our product and our company. We must invite our customers into our world and let them hear the “why” behind our brand. Perhaps it’s a story of rich family heritage or maybe it’s a tale of engagement where employees are cheerfully and tirelessly working to produce a wonderful product for consumers or maybe it’s a fervent love of a craft like farming.

When companies deliver on all three fronts, customers get on board. They become fans and advocates for the brand. They even become more tolerant of occasional missteps because they’ve bought into the premise, not just the product. The tools to build this kind of engagement, both inside and outside the organization, are now easily accessible. Wondering where to start? Operationally speaking, it begins with quality control. Make sure your product is consistent and as close to perfect as possible. From there, I’d move to logistics. Is it easy for wholesalers, retailers and consumers to purchase your product or are you hard to do business with operationally. Finally, begin to tell your story. First, inside the organization, building a rich culture, then begin to communicate it to your customers, telling them the why behind your product. Then start the process over, each time, making the function, form and feeling better, richer and deeper.

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Mike Chirveno

Mike Chirveno

I have great admiration for people who risk their personal wealth to run a small business. I'm honored to be invited into each client organization and be a part of their success.