We typically define a good product as one which serves a function. It creates value for the user, and its makers, by fulfilling a specific set of user and business needs.
Great products are the ones we find difficult to part with, the ones which permeate our lifestyles and get promoted in casual pub conversations with friends. These products reach beyond the function they were bought for. They gratify the softer, underlying human needs that aren’t so obvious, the social and emotional.
To create products that deliver long-term value, Product people should consider how that core product vision extends beyond a ‘job’, interface design or the device in hand. This means connecting the product strategy with a broader experience and brand strategy.
Product design isn’t about making ‘the thing’
It’s about considering how each touchpoint with your user - be that in pre-sales, brand interaction, or customer support - communicates the vision, principles and core of what the product stands for. It’s a shift in outlook from considering Product as functionality and output, to the Product as a holistic, multifaceted experience of your brand.
I always struggle to resist using a sports analogy; so this time, I’m using a sports example. I recently ran for Strava who sponsored the official race pacing team of a major London running race, perfectly demonstrating alignment in product, brand and experience strategy to expand the product value beyond an interface.
Vision and principles
Let’s start with the big picture, or in Product terms, the overarching vision.
Strava is Swedish for “strive”, a statement of the brand’s mission to build a highly engaged, global community of athletes.
Their vision is to create a platform that inspires athletes, makes sports fun, and forms a dedicated community that elevates people to unleash their potential, be it a first 5k or a Tour De France.
Whilst sponsorship is typically paired with brand awareness, the decision to sponsor a pacing team rather than slap a logo onto some merch moved into brand alignment.
Those who’ve laced up and put themselves through an organised running race will know the emotional and physical yoyo’s that take place during those miles. Sponsoring 30 people tasked to motivate, advise, and run alongside participants sharing in the highs and lows of their experience was a statement of that brand vision and those principles.
This decision literally embodied a community of like-minded individuals pushing beyond personal boundaries, side-by-side. It showed an understanding of the customer’s emotions, needs and motivations in the moment.
Strava continues to develop its app with new features for their expanding user segments, such as launching a subscription model with premium features and extending tracking to suit more fringe sports. However, their core features for any vertical remain constant. Let's look at the core app features side by side with the job of the Marathon Pacer:
Core product functions are matched, extending the product’s value beyond the smartphone screen and to a lived experience outside of the app, reaching beyond its existing user-base and connecting to athletes in a profoundly human way.
Requirements vs needs
Your greatest employees go above the core responsibilities of the job that you assign them. So do great products.
When creating products, we invest a lot of time in understanding the tasks our users want to complete, and how we can facilitate them. Often, there’s an underlying social or emotional need motivating or influencing that action. Recognising these, and how to fulfil them, creates a more meaningful, memorable experience which can later foster love and loyalty to your product.
Tomas, for example, now in his 50s, was running his first race in 5 years in remission from serious health issues. As a pacer, being the hand that passed him jelly babies, the voice of can-do optimism and the hands on his back to turn the final few miles of “I can’t” to an elated finish line ‘I just did that!’ was not just rewarding for me, but an extension of the overall Strava experience for him. It was more than just a race, a metric, or a job. It was an experience that he needed on a more human level, delivered by Strava.
Touchpoints like this create a product experience that reaches people beyond the screen, having connections and outcomes beyond cost per acquisition. Product is experience, product is brand.
So what now?
Product Managers should recognise that the experience of the product is lived beyond the device or interface. Here are some things to consider when building out a product proposition or strategy.
Define design principles that sing your product’s vision
Have a clearly defined purpose and manifest these into design principles. Align and share these with brand and experience people. What do you stand for? Know it, and really believe it. Your vision and principles are your Why and How. They’re the inspiration for your design, the rocket fuel for your work. You should feel excited to bring them to your customers in any way you can.
Map everything out
A service or story map can be an extremely powerful tool in understanding where your product vision and principles can both manifest and colour the experience of your product at every corner.
Map your customers’ journey and the contact points they might have with your brand including pre-sales, mid-flight, and maybe most crucially when things go wrong. Write out their requirements, tasks and differing needs at each stage, and consider how you might deliver against them.
You might be lucky enough to rope in the support of an experience or service designer to do this. And speaking of support…
Align with sales, marketing, operations
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and certainly not by one person. As the lynchpin between the business, tech and the customer, it’s critical that the Product Manager aligns with teammates across the business - brand, marketing, design - so that your Why and How are consistent across the entire customer experience, and inspire the team business-wide. This could be achieved informally, through regular conversation and 121s, or for larger organisations, more formally using tools such as process or experience maps.
Reaching beyond the product
You can build a good product; it can solve a common problem well for masses of people, with a stunning interface, great UX and with all the quirky colloquial copy that you like, but ultimately it’s the whole journey that defines your brand, and customer’s experience with it. A consideration of your product beyond the touchscreen is what allows businesses to reach beyond the product, and create meaningful connections.