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Products (or services) succeed when they solve a relevant, widely prevalent problem in the market. The three hurdles every product faces before it hits or misses are what I call:
- Shelf Life
It is very simple. First of all, you’ve got to create awareness of your product amongst your target audience.
Second, once they become aware and come to you (online or offline) you need to persuade them that your product is the best in solving their pain point(s).
Third, you need to make sure that your product has a long shelf life – not from a perishable sense – but from a market defensibility perspective. How long can your product maintain its uniqueness or its differentiation before it is subject to attack from competition? Success breeds wannabes – the question is how long do you have before the wannabes arrive?
So how do you figure all of this out? In my opinion, product managers have a big role in helping figure this out for the following reasons:
Product managers typically best understand the pain points of the target audience that are worth solving. They are chartered to do the deep dive to understand the pain points, to understand the terminology used by the target audience, to understand where the target audience hangs out to gather information etc. Given this, product managers need to be heavily involved in determining how to create awareness of the product among the target audience.
This is where many marketing departments in companies fail – they take all the upfront market research that has been done and believe that they know better and end up putting the marketing lipstick on it. The end result is what customers have learned to hate – marketing literature that is full of fluff that does not resonate with the audience – the “scalable”, “reliable”, “revolutionary”, market leading”, “customer centric”, “new generation” kind.
They then spend a ton of money spreading the word around in places where the target audience is not present. Would you buy a full page Wall Street Journal ad if you sell “malpractice” insurance to doctors or spend time sponsoring a session at the next Medical Convention in town? If your company rents private jets to corporations (oops, a touchy subject these days!) would you be better off buying a banner at the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert or a full page ad on the Wall Street Journal? Sounds silly, but it still amazes me as to how marketing departments squander money by targeting wrong marketing channels.
Once you have created awareness, the best way to persuade an audience is focusing on the business benefits of using your product as opposed to engaging in discussing features. You need to persuade your target customers on how they can improve their bottom line using your product.
For example, 3D CAD modeling software helped Boeing create the first airplane that was 100-percent digitally designed and preassembled on computer – the Boeing 777. The discussion likely did not revolve around individual features in the CAD software. Instead, the shared vision to take airplane design to a new level that reduced manufacturing costs by eliminating physical prototypes, likely sealed the deal.
While trying to persuade your audience, feature wars are a futile exercise – your product will have features that competitors don’t have and they will have features that you don’t have. Instead companies that focus the customer’s attention and time on how they can provide the greatest value for the customer that will result in tangible business benefits will end up being the winners.
You could create all the awareness of your compelling product among the target audience, but you still need to figure out how you will defend your position and for how long. If the barrier to entry for your product is low, then your success could be short lived.
There are many ways companies lock up shelf life:
Solving a known, widely prevalent problem in a very disruptive way – for example, Apple’s iPod succeeded because it was the first product that did three things in a very superior way
- Extremely simple user interface
- Outstanding integration between the player, computer and the software that connects the two
- Focus on doing just one thing right – listening to music.
Though Apple was not the first company to launch an MP3 player, it quickly established a leadership position in a very competitive and overly crowded market. As you all know, its leadership position is untouched to this day.
Locking a service delivery model – If you are able to lock in a service delivery model via exclusivity, you have bought yourselves shelf life for the duration of exclusivity. For example, AT&T was able to buy a long shelf life via its exclusive agreement with Apple. Apple’s iPhone success left AT&T’s competitors scrambling to find other ways to defend their positions.
Protecting the intellectual property via patents – for example, Nutrasweet had a monopoly for decades in the aspartame market until its patents ran out. I am all for patents, but not many small companies have the wherewithal to bet their businesses on their ability to successfully defend their patents.
I believe that companies need to do all of these three things – awareness, persuasion and shelf life – extremely well to have a successful and sustainable business. And believe it or not, a lot of this will stem from the information gathered by product managers. Don’t stop using that information just for building that product. Use it for creating awareness and persuasion.
Gopal RSA Security, Salary.com and OnForce. Currently, he is a Senior Product Manager at OnForce, Inc (www.onforce.com). He is a passionate blogger on product management topics at www.productmanagementtips.comis a product manager with over 13 years of experience in the software industry at companies such as SolidWorks,