Konstrukt Design, Sydney

Implicit, Explicit, Wow!

By: Peter Cooper


Great products have three ‘layers’. The Implicit. The Explicit. And the Wow!

The Implicit layer consists of the fundamental aspects of the product, those that are inherent to its function, that it cannot exist without. (Please note ‘product’ is being used in a broad, business sense to include both goods and services).
The Implicit layer is the foundation. Using a car analogy, it has wheels. These elements are a must have, the product is incomplete if these aspects are not effectively addressed.

Next is the Explicit layer, consisting of the aspects that can be identified and easily assessed when a customer is comparing products. These are often captured in the feature set or specification of the product. This layer is typically where most of the action takes place when specifying, developing and selling products. Again using the car example: the wheels are alloy and they’re eight inches wide.

Wow is the top layer. The unexpected delights that become a talking point, and may sway a purchase (although the purchaser will probably never admit it!) Wow are those qualities of a product that are usually not core to the function, but which differentiate, and can influence the appeal of the product. Again using our car analogy, an example is the self-righting wheel centres on a Rolls Royce, which always display the logo up the right way.

All three of these layers are important, but for different reasons, and they should be addressed differently. Wow does not replace the Implicit and Explicit layers. If the foundation is not solid, if the features do not fulfill the user’s requirements, there will be little value. (Though in some industries, getting the basics really, really right, might be the opportunity for Wow).

The Implicit layer must be provided, and to a minimum acceptable level. These are the things that the user takes for granted. Basic function and reliability. The car starts, the phone network has coverage. Apart from (hopefully rare) failures, if your development or quality processes cannot deliver on the Implicit attributes, the product is not feasible. Until these issues are addressed, nothing else really matters. You can experiment with prototypes, but you don’t have a sustainable product offering.

With a genuinely new-to-world product, the Implicit layer may be enough. But most products are not truly unique.

Assuming a business has the Implicit attributes, the basics, under control, the Explicit aspects are where most development and marketing effort is typically expended. “How many days interest free for the credit card? What sizes does it come in? What are our opening times? Is it available on Android” These points are important, and certainly the product must be competitive, however in a mature category one seldom sees any true innovation in this layer. Rather the Explicit layer is primarily about price & features, invariably with an eye on the competition. If your offering does not go beyond this layer, there is an opportunity missed.

The top layer, the Wow, can be challenging to achieve, but is worth striving for. It is hard to define, as it will differ for nearly every situation, but it is the little extra, that though not essential, is positive and memorable. These are the qualities that get people to remark on the experience to their friends and family.

Wow is the unexpected extra that is pleasurable and meaningful:
Wow is the café that gives you free glass of sparkling mineral water with your espresso.
Wow is the smoke detector that knows the difference between burnt toast and a housefire.
Wow is the tradesperson who always takes off their shoes at your door without being asked.
Wow is the working zipper on the Rolling Stones ‘Sticky Fingers’ album cover.
Wow is the banking app on your phone that automatically tells you where the nearest auto teller is.
Wow is the shiny metallic keyring that as it wears, reveals it actually is made of shiny metal (not plated plastic)

There are a few key ingredients to achieving Wow. And remember, it only needs to be a ‘little’ extra.
The first is an understanding of, and genuine empathy for the user.
The second is a desire to make it, (whatever ‘it’ is), better than it needs to be, and to ensure this is ingrained in the product.
Finally, for maximum effect, it should be discovered by the user, not highlighted in marketing, because through this discovery there will be genuine ‘WOW!’

The 3 Layers of Implicit, Explicit, Wow!