Friendship bracelets

This summer, my 9-year old got a new hobby: friendship bracelets. Mind you, it is not as if she did not know about them before. She did, and she even bought a set with her own pocket money, a year or so ago. But she never really spent more than 15 minutes at a time making them… and I would say not more than 90 minutes in total ‘playing’ with that set. Let’s just say, this product was not a success with this particular customer. But this summer was different.

This summer we met with some friends. Their daughters, a couple of years older than mine, were really enthusiastic about friendship bracelets. Their wrists and ankles displayed numerous colourful friendship bracelets that they had made themselves. They also spent considerable time during the holidays making bracelets that they then sold to family, friends and other holidaymakers. You can guess what happened next: my daughter caught the ‘friendship bracelet virus’.

She went on to make various colourful friendship bracelets that she wore, offered or sold. And when school started, she created a buzz in the school playground. There were waiting lists for the bracelets, as well as ‘lessons’. She created a club, collected a long list of e-mail addresses (watch out Zuckenberg!), and produced newsletters that she distributed by e-mail to the club members.

So, the friendship bracelet set was a flop, but the friendship bracelet with friends was a success. In a narrow sense, it was still the same product: a number of threads that you weave into a pattern, and wear on your wrist or ankle. Except that… it wasn’t. The latter – the bracelet with friends – was a) an experience and b) about social identity. And, because of that, it was a success, while the set had been a flop.

We see the same pattern with other products – the Rubik cube, roller blades, … – where the main benefit comes from sharing an experience, interest or activity with a social group. The product becomes a success, not because of the intrinsic features of the product in question, but because of the opportunities it creates to establish or reinforce social links.

We are social animals, and products that leverage on that over and above (or, even, despite) its core features, have a higher change of success.

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