I don’t want to hear about your buzzword laden product, and neither do your customers

Jon Harmer
3 min readAug 3, 2018
https://www.amazon.com/Wenger-16999-Swiss-Knife-Giant/dp/B001DZTJRQ

I see so many companies position their products and tell people all about their features and technology and everything. Especially software engineer-type founders who have trouble with human-type stuff anyway. Countless startups are so in love with what they’ve built that they can’t help talking about it, but it’s definitely not just startups that have this problem. Big companies are just as guilty of this, especially in increasingly commoditizing or competitive industries (like consumer electronics — haven’t we reached the point with TVs where more pixels and higher refresh rate aren’t even noticeable?) And it seems like a natural, good thing to do, especially when you’re wrapped up in it day-in and day-out yourself. Who wouldn’t want my lime-scented touchscreen 4K monitor that uses blockchain, rolls up into a ball and can be kept in your armpit? I mean — do you know how hard it was for me to come up with this idea and build it?

http://dilbert.com/strip/2001-04-14

I’m a firm believer in the outside-in approach to product management, product marketing and even marketing. The idea here (and yes, I’m going to sound like a broken record about some of this — deal with it,) is that you have to start with an understanding of your target customer(s) and their problems first and work your way backward into your product/organization/technology, etc. Anne Handley calls it “relentless customer empathy.”(https://litmus.com/blog/how-to-write-great-email-copy, https://www.amazon.com/Everybody-Writes-Go-Creating-Ridiculously/)

And if you’re in one of those competitive industries I mentioned before — try competing on something other than price or technology jibber-jabber.

Try competing on customer empathy — make your thing easier to use. What features can you take away from your product? The Flip camera was an excellent example of this before cellphones (and Cisco) killed it. Traditional camcorder manufacturers were competing in a feature-adding arms race — built-in video effects, buttons, buzzwords, specs, more buzzwords, etc. Then Flip came along and eschewed all of that in favor of simplicity. Understanding that what their customers really wanted was to easily capture and share important moments was the key insight that allowed them to compete differently. One button to record, built in USB charging, easy sharing and non-proprietary video recording format removed much of the friction associated with capturing and sharing memories.

And if you think about it, the cellphone camera, once it reached a certain level of quality and connection speeds supported quickly uploading larger media, continues that exact mentality, and is why the Flip isn’t necessary anymore. Now you don’t even need a separate device to capture the moment (the best camera is the one you have with you, they say) and you can upload and share it nearly instantly. My Samsung even launches the camera if I double tap the power button. Almost all of the friction has been removed from the process. People can (and frequently do) live-stream their lives because it’s easy to do.

This isn’t to say that features and buzzwords have left the process, but just look what you can do when you focus on the user / customer empathy and on making the experience simple — you can define or destroy entire categories of products.

There are lots of ways to systematize this thinking in your organization at scale. Personas help you understand who your customer is, empathy maps help you give context to their problems and motivations, and customer journeys help you understand pain points and how difficult things are to use in your space. I’ll dig in on some of those in future posts. Just do a little homework and you’ll be way better off, waste less time, and make better products.

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Jon Harmer

I understand users and buyers and their problems. I help solve those problems and communicate that value.