If your new product or service isn’t gaining traction, ask yourself “What’s my California Roll?”
I’ll admit, the bento box is an unlikely place to learn an important business lesson. But consider the California Roll — understanding the impact of this icon of Japanese dining can make all the difference between the success or failure of your product.
If you’ve ever felt the frustration of customers not biting, then you can sympathize with Japanese restaurant owners in America during the 1970s. Sushi consumption was all but non-existent. By all accounts, Americans were scared of the stuff. Eating raw fish was an aberration and to most, tofu and seaweed were punch lines, not food.
Then came the California Roll. While the origin of the famous maki is still contested, its impact is undeniable. The California Roll was made in the USA by combining familiar ingredients in a new way. Rice, avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds, and crab meat — the only ingredient unfamiliar to the average American palate was the barely visible sliver of nori seaweed holding it all together.
Familiar Done Differently
The California Roll provided a gateway to discover Japanese cuisine and demand exploded. Over the next few decades sushi restaurants, which were once confined to large coastal cities and almost exclusively served Japanese clientele, suddenly went mainstream. Today, sushi is served in small rural towns, airports, strip malls, and stocked in the deli section of local supermarkets. Americans now consume $2.25 billion of sushi annually.
The lesson of the California Roll is simple — people don’t want something truly new, they want the familiar done differently. Interestingly, this lesson applies just as much to the spread of innovation as it does to tastes in food.
For example, the graphical user interface, a milestone in the popularization of the personal computer, used familiar visual metaphors like folders, notepads, windows, and trash cans to appeal to mainstream users terrified by the command-line interface (perhaps even more than the thought of eating raw fish). The computer underneath was the same, however the familiar veneer suddenly made it accessible.
Quaint but unnecessary representations of the familiar became a hallmark of Apple products. As Claire Evans wrote for Motherboard, “While under the direction of the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s design aesthetic tended heavily towards the skeuomorphic. The Apple desktop calendar, famously, is rendered with accents of rich Corinthian leather; its bookshelves gleam with wood veneers, its chrome always brushed, its pages stitched and torn, its tabletop felt green.”
Now that Apple serves a generation familiar with how its products work, it can shepherd them from California Rolls to sashimi, so to speak. “We understood that people had already become comfortable with touching glass,” explained Apple’s Jony Ive. “They didn’t need physical buttons, they understood the benefits.”
However, Apple still uses its tried and true methods whenever the company wants users to adopt a new behavior. For example, the rebranded Apple Wallet helps users feel comfortable with the technology by making payment options look just like mini credit cards. Even though there’s no technical reason to do so, Apple understands the power of the familiar.
(Un)Familiarity Breeds Contempt
According to BJ Fogg of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, “non-routine” is one of six “Elements of Simplicity” — the factors that affect the likelihood of any particular human action occurring. Fogg wrote, “When people face a behavior that is not routine, then they may not find it simple. In seeking simplicity, people will often stick to their routine, like buying gas at the same station, even if it costs more money or time than other options.”
Of course, we also have a love for “new and improved” but in relatively modest proportions. “New and improved” is great for things we are already familiar with — like cereal and dish soap — but not for products where we lack a frame of reference.
Unfortunately, our aversion to things that are outside the norm is particularly hard on companies producing radical innovation — no matter how beneficial they may be. If using a new product does not feel familiar, it faces severe challenges. According Fogg, “People are generally resistant to teaching and training because it requires effort. This clashes with the natural wiring of human adults: We are fundamentally lazy. As a result, products that require people to learn new things routinely fail.”
What’s Your California Roll?
When describing the Apple Watch, Jony Ive said his goal was to build “the strangely familiar.” The smart watch is exactly the kind of innovation that is still too new for all but the most early of early adopters. And yet Ive obsessed over the details of the Digital Crown, an esthetic adopted from traditional watchmaking. Clearly, Ive knows what he’s doing — industry analysts expect the company to sell 19 million units this year.
As the pace of innovation accelerates, human behavior, not technological restraints, will be the deciding factor of whether products are adopted or discarded. If new products and services are to positively impact our lives, they must find a gateway into our daily routines. The familiar done differently is the way to users’ minds and hearts — and sometimes their stomachs.
Here’s the gist:
- The California Roll introduced Americans to sushi by using familiar ingredients arranged in a new way.
- The California Roll Rule: People don’t want something truly new, they want the familiar done differently.
- Things that are truly new need to use familiar mental models to gain user adoptions (i.e., Apple’s use of skeuomorphs.)
- Unfamiliar interfaces are more difficult to use and impede adoption.
- If your new product or service is not engaging users, ask “What’s my California Roll?”
What do you think?
What was your familiar gateway into a new technology or product? Can you think of other companies who have used the “California Roll Rule” to introduce new products in a familiar way?
Top Consumer Psychology Articles
- So, You Want To Become a Great Product Manager? [Q&A with Jackie Bavaro]
- Will Clubhouse be a Habit or Has-Been?
- The One Fitness App That Hooked Me For Good
- Here’s How Fortnite ‘Hooked’ Millions
- How Apps Can Shape Your Future Self
- How Netflix’s Customer Obsession Created a Customer Obsession
- Want to Design User Behavior? Pass the ‘Regret Test’ First
- How to Trigger Product Usage that Sticks
- How to Get People to Help Each Other, Online and Off
- Here’s How Amazon’s Alexa Hooks You
- How to Use Psychology to Make Persuasive Video
- How to Use Personality Science to Drive Online Conversions
- The Unbelievable Future of Habit-Forming Technology
- The Secret Marketing Power of Evolutionary Psychology
- Don’t Ask People What They Want, Watch What They Do
- How Cognitive Biases Can Help (and Hurt) Your Business
- What Most People Don’t Know About Behavioral Design
- How to Start a Career in Behavioral Design
- Your World is Full of Placebo Buttons (and That’s a Good Thing)
- How to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend
- 3 Pillars of the Most Successful Tech Products
- Here’s How to Ethically Manipulate Other People
- How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use
- How to Hook Users in 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Die Dashboards, Die! Why Conversations Will Reinvent Software
- The Secret to Sending Emails and Notifications That Work
- How to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- Hooked for Good: How Habit-Forming Products Improve Lives
- Good Products Start With Good Questions
- Human + A.I. = Your Digital Future
- Why ‘Assistant-As-App’ Might Be the Next Big Tech Trend
- People Don’t Want Something Truly New, They Want the Familiar Done Differently.
- 4 Ways to Win Your Competitor’s Customer Habits (Slides)
- Here’s Why You’ll Hate the Apple Watch (and the Important Business Lesson You Need to Know)
- The Secret Psychology of Snapchat
- The Psychology of Notifications: How to Send Triggers that Work
- How Technology Tricks You Into Tipping More
- The Limits of Loyalty: When Habits Change, You’re Toast
- 4 Ways to Use Psychology to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money
- The Psychology Behind Why We Can’t Stop Messaging
- The Psychology of a Billion-Dollar Enterprise App: Why is Slack so Habit-Forming?
- Framing Reward is as Important as Reward Itself
- A Free Course on User Behavior
- It’s Not All Fun And Games: The Pros and Cons of Gamification at Work
- Getting Traction: How to Hook New Users
- Designing for Behavior Change Book Review
- The Sneaky Trick Behind the Explosive Growth of the Kardashian Game
- How Successful Companies Design for Users’ Multi-Device Lives
- The Link Between Habits and User Satisfaction
- What Triggers The Best Word of Mouth Marketing?
- What Tech Companies Can Learn from Rehab
- The Secrets of Addictive Online Auctions
- Teach or Hook? What’s the Real Goal of Online Education?
- Using Mind Control to Raise Startup Cash
- How To Build Habits In A Multi-Device World
- How To Cope with Your Insane Jealousy Of The WhatsApp Deal
- Why Do Fads Fade? The Inevitable Death Of Flappy Bird
- You’d Be Surprised By What Really Motivates Users
- Nostalgia: A Product Designer’s Secret Weapon
- How You Can Help Users Change Habits
- Is “Lean Startup” Right for Your Idea?
- Hunting for Habits: Keying in on smart design to make a product irresistible
- Are Companies Too Obsessed With Growth? How to Measure Habits
- Refresh: The App a Secret Agent Would Love
- Angel or Devil: Who’s Really Investing In Your Start-Up?
- In 10 Years, We Won’t Use Personal Technology
- 4 Simple Things I Did to Control My Bad Tech Habits
- “Yes, And”: The Two Words that Created a #1 App
- From Laid to Paid: How Tinder Set Fire to Online Dating
- What if In-App Purchases Came to Real Life?
- Hooking Users One Snapchat at a Time
- How To Save Your Startup From The “Spotlight Effect”
- Bible App: Getting 100 Million Downloads is More Psychology Than Miracles
- How to Boost Desire Using the Psychology of Scarcity
- Marketplaces & The Curse of the Network Effect
- Today’s Behaviors, Tomorrow’s Startups
- Venture Capital and The Superstitious Investor
- The Future is Driven by Interface Changes
- Why Business is Addicted to Habits
- Viral Loops Or Viral ‘Oops’?
- Making a Marketplace
- What Killed Turntable.fm?
- What You Don’t Know About Human Intuition Can Hurt You
- Designing to Reward our Tribal Sides
- New Video – “Hooked: Building Habit-Forming Products”
- How Technology is Like Bug Sex
- Ways To Get People To Do Things They Don’t Want To Do
- The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough
- Mass Persuasion, One User At A Time
- How Investment Drives Engagement (Slides)
- Getting Your Product Into the Habit Zone
- Where Have The Users Gone?
- Infinite Scroll: The Web’s Slot Machine
- Designing User Habits Video
- Psychology of Sports: How Sports Infect Your Brain
- This is Your Brain On Boarding: How to Turn Visitors Into Users
- User Investment: Make Your Users Do the Work
- Behavior by Design Video
- When Designing for Good Is Bad
- Stop Building Apps, Start Building User Behaviors
- The Next Secrets of the Internet
- User Growth and Engagement: A Hacker Metric
- Spotting the Next Facebook: Why Emotions are Big Business
- The Billion Dollar Mind Trick: An Intro to Triggers
- Why Everyone Hates I.T. People
- Hooking Users In 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Abolish The Reference Check
- Variable Rewards: Want To Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy
- How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)
- How To Design For “Normals”
- The Hook Model: How to Manufacture Desire
- User Habits: Why Startups Must Be Behavior Experts
- What Is, and Is Not, Your Product’s Job
- Pinterest’s Obvious Secret
- Personalized eCommerce Is Already Here, You Just Don’t Recognize It
- Where is the Web Going?
- The Developer Divide: When Great Companies Can’t Hire
- Being a Quitter Makes You a Good Entrepreneur
- Behavior by Design
- Why You Should Run Your Business Barefoot
- Are you a Startup Star, Wacko, or Wannabe?