Don't let features distract you from the real product

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Before reading this post, I want you to stop and think about the last time you tried out new software. What was your first impression like?  What kinds of things did you enjoy? What did you find annoying? Ok, keep that experience in mind as you read the rest of this post.

The message that companies send us with their marketing is that we must want products with lots of features.  Websites use massive feature comparison lists (like the image at the top of this post). The last line of most phone commercials is something like "can your phone do that?"  Car commercials talk about how this car has more horsepower than some other car.

Now think back to the last time you tried out new software.  Did you care about the feature list?  Did you think "wow, other software can't do this"?  If you're anything like me, features didn't even remotely factor into your opinion.  You probably just knew if it felt right.  People are very good at instinctively knowing when they like something and no amount of features or buzz words will impact this.
Your ability to intuitively evaluate your experience as a user is pretty remarkable, but unfortunately a lot of companies do everything they can to suppress this ability.  These companies survive with slick marketing and sales instead of a great product.  As a user, you should try to see through these distractions.

If you're trying to decide between different products, the first thing you should always do is try them (if you can).  Sign up for the free trial.  Take a test drive.  Do whatever you can to get your hands on the products because that will generally tell you more than any online reviews can.

Some companies don't offer free trials.  The only reason I can think of for doing that is because they know they don't have a good product.  Most of the time I don't even consider buying things that companies are too ashamed to let me try out for free.

Obviously I'm not saying that you should ignore reviews or avoid doing research.  My point is that companies love to distract you with flashy infographics, whitepapers, feature lists, and testimonials.  These things are all great, but none of them answer the most important question: does the product feel right to you?

Random tip: If you're trying to decide between two different options, sometimes it can help to actually flip a coin. Most of the time, right before you see the results, you'll find yourself hoping for a certain outcome.  It's not until the moment of truth that you really come to terms with what you want.  If this happens, ignore the result of the coin flip, and go with your gut.  If you don't have that "moment of truth" just do whatever the coin flip decides.

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