Last spring I suddenly found myself unemployed during the pandemic.
Escaping the city, I spent 10 weeks applying and interviewing for product management roles from the odd familiarity of my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house in the suburbs. In researching each of my potential new products, I yearned to find out what made each of them competitive, special and successful. Through this research on all types of products, I learned that product success depends on three basic principles.
1. Your product must be essential
The average adult makes 35,000 decisions a day. What drives these decisions? Basically, every decision you make is designed to find a solution to a problem. Let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night with an uncomfortable cold. What are you doing? You can wrap a nearby blanket around you and hope to warm yourself up, you can get up and find socks in the nearby dresser, or you can go downstairs and turn up the thermostat. Whatever decision you make, you are looking for a solution to the problem of being too cold to sleep.
Now, if you are a product manager, what product or service could you suggest to solve this problem? Maybe a heated duvet, thermal socks, or a phone app that can adjust the temperature with just a few clicks. These three products offer a solution to a user problem, which makes them essential.
What happens when a business invests in a product that doesn’t solve any problem? Look no further than 2020’s favorite punchline, Quibi. Quibi launched in April 2020 to be the first native mobile content streaming service. They created five- to ten-minute episodes that could be viewed vertically or horizontally.Julia Alexander, reporter at The edge, put it like that:
“The problem Quibi could never solve was, ‘Why do I need this? “… Without a library of quality content that other streamers have or social capabilities used by other applications, Quibi needed a show to get people to open the app. It never happened. There was no reason to ever open Quibi. A streaming service must feel essential to people’s daily lives in order to survive; Quibi never even made the case to entice people to download.
Your MVP and core feature set should leverage your organization’s strengths and skills to provide solutions to your users’ problems. Before you start working on a new product, spend some time understanding your user through surveys, focus groups, and interviews. Once you have identified the problem you are trying to solve, all of the requirements, designs, and engineering work should then be focused on providing the best solution to this problem.
2. Your product must be intuitive
You cannot stop at a product that is only essential. Users demand that the products in which they invest their time, money and attention are also easy to use and understand. (When was the last time you read an instruction manual for learning how to use an app or website?)
There are two elements to building a intuitive product:
- Good design: Your product design should be clear enough to guide the user through their tasks with minimal effort.
- No bugs: When a user encounters friction – like a page not loading or an error message – it gets out of the flow of the task they were working on and forces them to find a way around it. Or worse, they gave up on the product altogether because it’s so frustrating.
Last year, a UK web design agency conducted a study that measures the effect of poor design and user experience on user stress levels. Slow loading of pages caused a 21% spike in blood pressure, while multiple pop-ups and music autoplay each resulted in a 20% increase.
What happens when you have a product essential but no intuitive? This frequently occurs in industries with high barriers to entry and few competitors, such as utilities. Utilities don’t invest in an intuitive product because they know they don’t have to; with few competitors, their users have no choice but to stay. Personally, I try to avoid using my utility company’s website or my phone service provider’s mobile app as these are the most frustrating digital experiences of the whole week.
I’m not alone either: utility apps consistently rank among the lowest average scores in the Apple App Store. Businesses that think they don’t need an intuitive product because it’s too difficult for their customers to leave may be confused. All it takes is a viable competitor to prioritize investing in an intuitive product – like Starry Internet or Mint Mobile – to disrupt the industry.
3. Your product must be delicious
You can go pretty far with an essential and intuitive product, but one key piece is still missing. Most product managers focus on getting an MVP and then lower the priority of all subsequent improvements to move on to the next product. The secret these PMs overlook is that in order to grow user evangelism and stay competitive, your product must be delicious.
How to define pleasure in the context of the success of the product? The fun is creating moments when your user goes, “Wow!” These moments aren’t usually revenue-generating (or even basic functionality), but they are the parts of your experience that your user remembers. These are small moments, like a confetti animation when a user makes a deposit, a third-party data aggregator seamlessly pulling data and populating a dashboard or some unexpected personalization and personalization. Moments of delight engender brand evangelism, which is essential in a competitive market.
As a product manager, I notice these little things in my day-to-day experiences with digital products. The last time I was pleasantly surprised (and delighted!) With a product was when I received this email from the American Red Cross a few weeks after donating blood:
This email thanked me for my donation and told me that my blood had been sent to a hospital in Maine. I smiled, then Googleed Franklin Memorial Hospital to find it was a rural community hospital a three-and-a-half-hour drive from my home in Boston. I texted a friend and told her how cool it was for my blood donation to help someone in a small town in Maine that I had never even heard of. I then used the CTA in that email to sign up for my next donation.
In most companies, this email would not exceed MVP. It’s nice to have, but it doesn’t serve a functional or necessary purpose. This email is all about creating fun and creating a shareable moment. And it worked: I learned later that my friend had also signed up to donate blood because she wanted to see where her donation would go!
Take a moment and think about your favorite products, apps, or websites. Why do you like them? What makes them special to you? The best products solve a problem for you (essential), are simple and painless to use (intuitive), and trigger unexpected moments of joy (delicious).
These are the types of products you’ll want to come back to over and over again. You’ll tell your friends about it, sign up for their notifications, and even follow them on social media. As product managers it is our responsibility to go beyond the MVP and create the essential, intuitive and engaging experiences our users deserve.