Creating WOW Product Experiences

As I have said before, we don’t need more books. Instead, we need better books. Specifically, we need books that “wow.” But what is wow and how can we develop it?

An Audience at a Concert - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/njmcc, Image #2812542

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/njmcc

The first step is learning to recognize it. Most of us have experienced wow moments. We just haven’t taken time to think deeply about them.

For example, a couple of summers ago, I took my wife and youngest daughter to Scotland. It was our first visit. We rented a car and spent a week touring the Western Highlands.

We started in Edinburgh and drove north to Inverness. We then drove down the west side of Loch Ness to Fort Augusta and then headed west across the Highlands to the Isle of Skye. We took our time and savored every moment.

As we neared the town of Portree, the capital of Skye, we saw the Sound of Raasay for the first time. We let out a collective, “Wow!” It was gorgeous. My eyes welled up with tears. It was a transcendent moment—something none of us expected.

We experienced numerous “wow moments” on this trip—Edinburgh Castle, the Caledonian Canal, Eilean Donan Castle, the ancient Dun Telve Broch, Glenelg Bay, Kilt Rock, the church of St. Mary and St. Finnan near Glenfinnan, and the endless fields of Scottish lupines.

A few weeks ago, I met with my executive team for an all day planning meeting. As we began the afternoon session, I asked them to think of two “wow moments” they had experienced in their lives. I asked them to “get present” to those experiences and then jot down what they observed. I gave them about ten minutes to work on this exercise on their own.

Then I asked each person to share the experience that was the most powerful. One person shared about the birth of a child. Another shared about the first time he kissed his wife. Still another shared about seeing Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe for the first time. It was amazing. You could see each person’s face light up as they shared. The rest of us vicariously entered into their joy.

Next, I asked the group to try an identify the common attributes in each of these experiences. Here’s the list we created. Every wow experience has some combination of the following ten elements:

  1. Surprise—a wow experience always exceeds our expectations. It creates delight, amazement, wonder or awe. For Christmas, one of my colleagues at Thomas Nelson bought me a copy of the illustrated edition of 1776 by David McCullough. Honestly, it blew my socks off. I have never seen a more beautiful book. As the Amazon page says, “packed with striking replicas of letters, maps, and portraits, this updated version of David McCullough’s 2005 bestseller provides readers with unedited first-hand accounts of America’s initial steps toward sovereignty.”
  2. Anticipation—anticipating a wow experience is almost as good as the experience itself. As you think about it, you begin to get present to it. Gail and I are going to the beach in a few weeks. We are beginning to think about it daily. I’m am making a mental list of the things I want to do. I can almost feel the breeze blowing in from the ocean. With each new day, the anticipation builds.
  3. Resonance—a wow experience touches the heart. It resonates at a deep level. It sometimes causes goosebumps or even tears. I remember watching my two granddaughters play on the beach for the first time. They were joy personified, as they chased the waves and the waves chased them. I thought to myself, Oh, to be that young!
  4. Transcendence—a wow experience connects you to something transcendent. Suddenly, you experience purpose, meaning, or even God. Years ago, when I was an artist manager, one of my clients sat down at a piano to play some new songs for my business partner and me. As she began to sing, I was caught up in the music. I knew her talent was coming directly from God. I was overwhelmed at the beauty.
  5. Clarity—a wow experience creates a moment when you see things with more clarity than ever before. You suddenly “get it” in a new way. Not long ago, I was reading Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly. Interestingly, the book was not that well written. But the story was so powerful, I could not put it down. I read it in one long airplane ride to the west coast. In those few hours, I had more clarity about life than I had had in a long time.
  6. Presence—a wow experience creates timelessness. You aren’t thinking about the past. You’re not even thinking about the future. Instead, you are fully present to what is happening now. I wrote about such a Perfect Moment back in February, when I enjoyed an evening on the porch with my daughter Mary and her husband Chris. We spent several hours talking and enjoying a bottle of wine together. It seemed like time stood still.
  7. Universality—a true wow experience is nearly universal. Almost everyone will experience it in a similar way. This is why Celtic Woman, Cirque du Soleil, the French Laundry, and the Grand Canyon are so popular. They are so compelling that they appeal to people of all ages and ethnicities.
  8. Evangelism—a wow experience has to be shared. You can’t contain it. You immediately begin thinking of all the people you wish were with you. After the experience, you recommend it unconditionally. You become an unpaid evangelist. I have done this with all the books I recommend on my blog.
  9. Longevity—the shine never wears off a wow experience. You can experience it again and again without growing tired of it. It endures. It 1973, I attended a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at Texas Stadium in Dallas, Texas. I was on the field, about 10 yards from the stage. It was incredible. Then, in 2000, for my birthday Gail bought tickets to the CSN&Y concert in Nashville. Twenty-seven years later, they still blew me away.
  10. Privilege—a wow experience makes you proud in a good way. You feel good about being associated with it. You feel privileged, as if you are in an elite group, but at the same time humbled that you have had the experience. I feel this way with Apple products. (I know, I know, I am a hopeless fan-boy.) I have an Apple decal on my car and, amazingly, Apple didn’t pay me to display it. I simply do it because I am proud to be one of their customers and to be associated with their brand.

As publishers, the first step in creating WOW products is recognizing WOW when it shows up. More importantly, it means being able to recognize it when it is absent—and insisting that the author deliver it before you accept the manuscript. I think too often we settle for something less, and in doing so, we rip off everyone, including the author who is usually capable of so much more.

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  • http://www.thesecretlifeofkat.com The Secret Life of Kat

    That’s a lot of food for thought.

    It’s all applicable to my spheres of interest as well – blogging, music, web design, planning birthday parties for 4 year olds.

    Great post.

  • http://www.kylechowning.com Kyle Chowning

    As a marketer, I/we are constantly striving to create wow for our clients…something that will be memorable, but most importantly, compelling enough to evoke a reaction. Wow, to me, is the “it” factor. Sometimes “it” can be mustered. Most of the time, I find that it’s inherently there. It’s my job to bring it out.

    Great food for thought. Thanks for posting tonight, instead of Monday.

    Kyle
    twitter.com/chownage
    kylechowning.com

  • http://paulgardner.info Paul Gardner

    Hi Michael

    I’m so glad you posted this. At the church I pastor we have talked a lot about the “God” moments that happen in church and how could we help them to happen more often.

    Your list has helped me look at this as questions to ask as we put our services together.

    I’ve also blogged this (http://paulgardner.info/?p=179) and used your list in full (hope this is OK, if not, let me know and I’ll remove it) as I think it’s something other churches should consider!

    God bless

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    @Paul: This is fine. I like how you applied this to church. I experience more WOW moments there than anywhere else.

  • A.L.Bundy

    If there is a common thread in these ten points, it is the presence of God’s Spirit. He powerfully speaks to the human soul through unlikely avenues, always leading us toward love of God and love of each other, simultaenously making us feel privileged and humbled.

  • John Young

    Many good thoughts Michael. I think one of the few company’s that pulls this off year after is Disney. Todays’ wow is tomorrow’s routine. Not taking a shot at a good organization but remember the first few years of Promise Keepers and the WOW guys felt. It’s been very hard to have anything resembling that. Perhaps those taking this seriously should have alongside this list of DO’s, a list of “where did they loose their focus” of the many that were too close to their product to see it going flat.

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    @John: Yes, Disney is a good example. I think Pixer is a better one. I have never seen one of their movies that didn’t have it. Apple is also one that consistently delivers the WOW.

    PK did have it. I think Women of Faith and Revolve, two conferences that we own, have it.

    You are also right that today’s WOW is tomorrow’s ho-hum. Great companies have to continuously raise the bar on themselves.

  • http://www.christaallan.com Christa Allan

    Drowning in a sea of essays and exams to be graded, I read your post and felt sad, yet inspired. For many students, the biggest WOW is that this school year is screeching to a halt.

    As a high school teacher of English, I doubt if every lesson would be a WOW-er. I’m thinking comma placement in participial phrases. Not so much WOW-ness happening there.

    But reading these elements, I feel challenged. If I can create even one of these in my students, we’d end a year with mutual WOW experiences.

    So, thank you, and now back to grading. . .

  • http://RockTheDesert.typepad.com marina

    This post is one of the very best I’ve read on any blog. My current career/calling involves two very different worlds – overseas missions (personal evangelism & church planting in Africa) and worship/creative arts at a local church (Scottsdale, AZ). The WOW experience is what I desire to create and what will ultimately intertwine throughout both worlds…Thanks for the inspiration and the practical application! Your blog is one of my top 5!! I plan to repost it on my blog (with proper attribution). Thank you.

  • Derek A. Cameron

    Very interesting. I was born in Scotland and went back there on a tourist trip in 2006. It was great. I also enjoyed your write-up on the original Thomas Neilson.

    My complaint as a reader is this. I’ve bought so many books over the last 10 years that have turned out to be 3,500-word essays spun out to a chatty 70,000-word book. The consequence is that I rarely buy newly-published books, no matter how appealing the cover. Also, I hardly ever go into physical bookstores, since I’ve discovered from experience they won’t have anything worth reading. When I look at my latest purchase of 5 books from Amazon, 3 of them are at least 25 years old, and the other 2 are at least 1,500 years old.

    I think the solution is some consolidation in the industry. There should be fewer publishers and they should put out fewer new titles.

  • http://www.colleencoble.com Colleen Coble

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot since you first mentioned it, Mike. I’ve been noodling over new ideas with this in mind, which is quite a challenge. Looking over the list, it seems to come down to evoking strong emotion that lasts with the reader. To have the reader experience the book (novel in my case), not just read it.

    I’m a new Apple convert as of a year and a half ago. Have you seen the new ads? LOL http://www.apple.com/getamac/ads/

  • http://managetochange.typepad.com Ann Michael

    Hello Michael-

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while and never yet commented.

    All I can say is WOW! ;-)

    I can’t wait to pick this apart and apply it (I’m a publishing consultant).

    Ann

  • http://www.teawithtiffany.blogspot.com Tiffany Stuart

    This post has me excited and looking for the wow in every day living. As an observer, I love to capture life’s moments. I take pictures of everything. And then to think of bringing those moments into words, well, there’s another wow.

    This post hit me in that deep place. I loved it. I live to experience wows and share them.

  • http://www.homesanctuary.com Rachel Anne

    Thanks for this list of WOW’s. You made me stop and think how it can be applied to many areas of endeavor. I’m not a professional writer, but I’m a blogger with a great group of loyal readers: I ask myself how I can keep serving fresh posts each day and the answer is with wow elements. I can see how this can be useful in my business and home life. Thanks for the thought-provoker! Great way to start the week.

  • http://gaither.com/blog/?user=emilys Emily Sutherland

    Thank you for your blog entry about finding the WOW factor. As a writer in the Christian entertainment world, I have long been concerned about the future of Christian art (music, literature, and especially Christian television programming) because it seems that those “wow” moments are so few and way too far between. Believers, of all people, serve a WOW kind of God! It doesn’t take sensationalism or “hype” to point people to the Hope of the Ages! Of course, skill is imperative when crafting extraordinary work, but I love the simple observations you listed that set apart the run-of-the-mill from the breathtaking.

    I’ve worked for Bill and Gloria Gaither for a little more than a decade and have experienced more than a few “wow” moments as I’ve observed their unique gifts up-close. It is fairly astounding how many recordings land on our desks from artists and writers who want to get noticed, yet have nothing unique or original to bring to the table. They’re singing other people’s songs exactly like they do (at best). They may have the potential to create their own unique art, but so often these young hopeful are taking short cuts. They’re regurgitating others’ “wows” instead of taking their own unique journey into the core of who they are to let God create something special that belongs only to them. I’m a firm believer that uniqueness emerges when we are brave enough to find where our limitations end and His grace begins. See, now you’ve got me preaching!

    I say all that to say, thank you for urging all of us emerging writers to look for the “wow factor” instead of the “zzzzz factor”! I hope to have the chance to speak to that someday, whether through a book or whatever other outlet God allows me to find. With blogging and other internet-related changes in our culture, this next generation of artists and writers could make a powerful impact in the world if we could bravely go where no one else could go, and that’s to the very depths of our hearts to see what unique things God might want to say through us!

    Blessings and many more WOW moments to you,

    Emily Sutherland
    Writer & Director of Content
    http://www.gaither.com

  • http://MaryRSnyder.blogspot.com Mary Snyder

    Mike

    Wow! I’m printing this off and posting it on the ceiling. Now you’re wondering why I would do that, right? It’s for those times when I lean back in the chair and stare up at the ceiling in hopes that I can craft just one more sentence. This list will inspire to dig deeper and find that Wow in all that I do – parenting, family, church work, writing, marketing, and beyond.

    As a new author with Thomas Nelson, I’m humbled that the Lord has called me to His service and I pray that He will use my work to Wow someone closer to Him. Thanks for an amazing post.

    Mary

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    Good thoughts. I would love to see more books and other products that wow me. Mostly, what I see is companies trying to wow their customers with low prices. I will say, however, that it is much easier to talk about creating wow than it is to do, especially in creative endeavors.

    A few years ago I taught a Sunday school class for the first time at a church I had recently joined. I wanted to wow the class and leave my mark early. I failed. While focusing on wowing them, I failed to focus on the more important things. The sun rises every day, but I’m still wowed by it. Sometimes, it is the things that we do over and over the same way that wow people and when we step away from those things we lose the wow factor.

  • http://www.GiftsofPassage.com Amy Hollingsworth

    Michael,

    Your post reminds me of these poignant words by Frederick Buechner:

    “We are all of us more mystics than we believe or choose to believe. … We have seen more than we let on, even to ourselves. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of our lives, we catch glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by; only then, unlike the saints, we tend to go on as though nothing has happened. To go on as though something has happened, even though we are not sure what it was or just where we are supposed to go with it, is to enter the dimension of life that religion is a word for.

    “Some, of course, go to the typewriter. … There are always some who have to set it down in black and white.”

    (From Listening to Your Life, pp. 168-169.)

  • http://www.brandilyncollins.com Brandilyn Collins

    What a terrific post. Lots of think about.

    It’s hard enough to get the “wow” product, but then you’ve got to market it correctly, which is also difficult. We’ve all seen the dichotomy between points one and two in the publicity for books and movies or whatever. Too much type can hurt the product. The more anticipation you build, the harder it is to exceed expectation.

    I’ll never forget the ads for the Infiniti when the cars first came out, and how that huge marketing campaign royally tanked. For months they built anticipation by not showing the car, just pictures of nature. By the time the car was finally unveiled, the anticipation was far too high. People went, “Is that all there is?” Jay Leno’s great line about the budget-busting fiasco–”The Infiniti’s not selling too well, but sales of rocks and trees have sure gone up.”

  • http://www.bookcoverexpress.com C. Stevenson

    Wow is something I seek daily in my line of work, but I’ve noticed something: People seem afraid of the wow. I really believe some people are not just missing the wow, they’re denying and avoiding it. There’s a comfort zone we all dwell in and it’s difficult to step outside of that even for a wow.

  • ken stoll

    I read this and reflected on it—caused me to think “WOW”. This will be a post I reflect on again and again on as a writer myself. Just the ability of one simple story to impact us when told creatively. Thanks for sharing—your posts are right on.

  • http://www.jacksonmarketing.wordpress.com John Jackson

    WOW What a great article! To my mind the power of WOW is in the unexpected, so I would question Anticipation being included in your list.
    WOW never disappoints, so where for example you use a trip to the beach to illistrate WOW anticipation, there is still potential for WOW not to materialise. For example the weather could be poor, you may have to cancel the trip, your car may breakdown etc.
    All of these factors could effect the WOW factor and as soon as it has been diluted by even an ounce of diasppointment it fails to be WOW.
    Possibly anticipation should be replaced with unexpected?

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael S. Hyatt

    @John: I think you may well be right. I am working on a new WOW post where I am going to talk about disappointment.

  • http://www.deafmomworld.com Karen Putz / DeafMom

    This is my first visit here and I’m thinking–this is a WOW post!

  • http://www.deafmomworld.com Karen Putz / DeafMom

    This is my first visit here, and I’m thinking–this is a WOW post!

  • http://www.ambergunn.com Amber Gunn

    Michael, I have a 2 small businesses here in Austin, TX. I googled “WOW experience”, and here you are! Your post was profound, and I have to tell you that I believe it TOO is universal. It was truly inspiring. Thank you!

  • http://www.theunbreakablechild.com Kim

    Best. Blog Post. Ever.

    Very nice!

  • 1aBloobbyamouff
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  • Helen Kidd

    WOW is showing grace when you say you are a servant and the person is treating you like a servant. WOW is being thankful for everything you have even when you are unemployed. I would submit, however, that there must be a "wowwer" word than "wow." So many talk, so little do. Example: I spent many years in a company where the word "WOW" was connected with 2 people. They did workshops; it was part of their language. The problem was that they didn't realize they themselves weren't WOW! Not in appearance but in practice. People walked out of their presentations. So when I hear the word WOW, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard or hearing the song "Feelings" for the 800th time in a row. I absolutely agree with every principle stated, Michael, it just takes me several hours, days, or weeks before I can read anythinig with the word "WOW" in it.

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  • http://www.londonwriterssociety.com Clyo Beck

    Thank you for this post. It may not be what fledgling – or indie – writers want to read, but you are absolutely right. Everyone's had his or her fill of mediocre "same old, same old" experience. I will be sharing this with my newsletter subscribers and taking your advice to heart myself.

    P.S. I tried to post a thank you after another of your posts in which you give advice to authors on how to get published, but it did not show up, or at least I did not see it. So if it does post later and this sounds redundant, that's why. :-)

    P.P.S. Also added you as someone I'm following on Twitter.

  • http://twitter.com/novelistjack @novelistjack

    Many of my most memorable WOW moments have come from novels. Hopefully, I’ve been able to generate a few of them for my readers. That’s my goal, anyway. So I got to wondering if I could adapt your list as a tool for novelists. Here’s what I came up with: http://bit.ly/8ZfHk4

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  • http://www.kathyfannon.com Kathy Fannon

    I think my biggest 'wow' moments have come from watching our children in marching band.

    Our school does competitive marching so the kids begin rehearsals the first Tuesday after the last day of school in June. They rehearse Mondays and Tuesdays from July through the 2nd week of November. They attend 3 weeks of band camp in August and every Saturday from September through November includes rehearsals, invitationals and competitions.

    When our daughter was a sophomore our kids won state competition. It was such a thrill as we watched them march the best show of their lives. For the four years she was in band, I sat in the stands with tears in my eyes and my heart filled with pride.

    Now our son is in his junior year and I still feel the same awe I felt from the beginning of our daughter's freshman year. I'm 'wow'ed every time those kids step onto a football field! They are amazing! (And that's MY baby out there!)

  • http://twitter.com/2020VisionBook Joshua Hood

    If only we could bottle “WOW” and sell it! Then again, as authors, I guess that’s what we’re trying to do, isn’t it? :)

    Joshua Hood
    2020visiononline.org

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Exactly. And those that don’t do it are destined to have their books languish in warehouses.

  • http://twitter.com/eccle0412 Jackie Anderson

    It seems the moment may be personal according to the expectation/observation of the individual.  I have had many Wow moments, in fact opening the Truth and ruminating on the presence of God can wow me every morning, if I let it.  The more familiar I become with the grandeur the more I see it.  The list is good in delineating the basic elements. 
    I think people together, functioning in unity is a wow thing. I often use the word “delightful”.  Recognizing delight and its fullness can make almost anything a wow.

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    Great thoughts. I was surprised though that there was no question at the end of the blog!

  • Anonymous

    Wow! This was an impacting post and one which I will come back to often as I write my first book and continue building products. I’m reading a book called Pop, Create the Perfect Pitch, Title, and Tagline for Anything, but realizing that the content has to live up to the title when it comes to “wow” is the secret to the above. Thanks for your insight!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This sounds like a great book. I just downloaded it. Thanks.

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  • http://adam.heleniak.eu/ Adam

    I’m not sure if I quite agree with point 7. Universality is not essential to get the wow experience. Good example is music or art where tastes are so diverse- what makes me shiver in music will probably leave all of my friends indifferent.

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  • Sherry Langland

    I’m reading this for the second or third time since it was originally posted, but today’s timing is perfect for me. A new school year starts in just a few more days, and as a teacher, I want my students to have these kinds of moments in their learning. It’s up to me to try and create the best environment to allow these moments to take place. That is my challenge.

  • L2Brennan

    Great post (again) Michael … should be a checklist/requirement for all marketing programs, customer engagement and product launches!