Simple Strategies for Product Success

by Andrea Belz on April 16, 2012

Most great ideas don’t turn into great products.  And yet, with a few simple ideas, you can become an extremely successful designer.  What’s the “need-to-know”? There are simple things we can keep in mind to have a successful product.

There are lots of great ideas, but few really great products.  Design sensibilities, like hairstyles and social etiquette, change with time:  Automatic seat belts in cars enjoyed a brief moment in the sun.  We don’t buy those, any more than we buy televisions in large wooden cabinets.

However, although things change, people don’t.  How can you stay competitive in a fast-changing world?

Every Decision Is a Value Proposition

We evaluate if an action is “worth it” thousands of time per day.  Do I care more about the GPS or the camera on my cell phone?  Should I call this customer or the other one?   We only have three resources:  money, time, and people.  Your product must offer one of these in return for the investment your customer is making.  For instance, a better cell phone may provide time, because it takes less time to learn how to use it; faster computer service offers both time and possibly money if you use it for your business.  Even entertainment must be “worth it;” this is why a ticket to Disneyland is $100, not $1,000.

Consider all your customers’ decisions and ensure that your product offers value, and for businesses articulate clearly if your customers are buying money, time, or people with your products?

Plug-and-Play Is a State of Mind

“Plug-and-play” used to describe computer accessories, but it now describes how we expect to integrate changes seamlessly into our lives; thus we use phrases like “turnkey”, “hit the ground running”, or “has no learning curve”.

Few companies do this well; Apple’s ecosystem, reinforced by the operating systems and hardware, is an excellent example.  But every product designer needs to ask the question:  “How much training does this require?”   Is your product’s use truly intuitive, or only intuitive to you because you’ve been thinking about it for several years?  Plug-and-play is a state of mind – your customer’s mind.  Make sure that your product is usable from the moment your customer takes possession.

Customers Are Designers Who Pay You

The old Henry Ford adage that a car can be “any color, as long as it’s black” would not work in today’s market.  Instead, customers today expect to have the freedom to select appearance and functions of all types.  One good example is Rejuvenation, a lighting company where you can select the number of bulbs, the finish on the lamp, the glass shades, and infinite other tweaks on the standard light.

Look for opportunities to tailor your products; make your products customizable rather than custom.  This lowers your cost and provides higher value to selective customers.  Let your customers design their own products as much as possible.

Customers Know as Much (or More) About the Market as You Do

Have you bought a car lately?  Most likely you have searched on many web sites to see the range of prices and features.  This is true for business buyers as well as consumers.  The historical asymmetry in customer-vendor relationships has been turned upside down in a world of free information.

Instead of combating this trend, welcome it.  Incentivize people to take a risk by trying your service and thank them.  Learn from your customers and use this to beat your competition.

Learn from (Instead of Foisting onto) the Developing World

The developing world is a source of good ideas, not a sink for bad ones.  Kodak paid dearly for its arrogance by trying to foist its film business onto new Chinese consumers when digital cameras took off in the United States.  Unlike Fuji, which became an imaging company, Kodak management was unwilling to accept the lower margins of digital imaging and instead tried to convince the growing Chinese middle-class to buy film cameras.  Ha!  Newly minted Chinese consumers went straight to digital cameras – and Kodak continues its slow death spiral as a result.

On the other hand, GE used China as a source of inspiration when the company developed new low-cost ultrasound systems to reach rural residents.  These units cost only $15,000 instead of $100,000; the company set the goal of offering a product with 50% of the functionality at only 15% of the price.  Once GE had this system, the company brought it back to the US for further commercialization.

Emerging markets are not interested in condescending marketing schemes; consider them inspirations, not dumping grounds.  Your customer’s value per dollar spent should be even higher in these environments.


About the author:  With deep technical and financial expertise, Dr. Andrea Belz has become a trusted advisor and valued collaborator of world-class innovators including the California Institute of Technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, UCLA, General Electric, CVI Melles Griot, Best Buy, and many leading investment firms. You can learn more about Andrea HERE

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