Product Development Trip: A personal journey through 7 myths

What exactly drives a product to success? How should we develop and market our product to maximize its impact? What is the reason behind product failures?

We came to realize very similar myths during product development consulting. Single product startups and larger enterprises with product portfolios share the same beliefs… About why the next product will be successful, and why the last attempt did not make it. Early to say with full confidence, but it seems these myths even follow each other in the outlined order. Well, at least my personal 2-decade long journey showed such a pattern. Allow me to share my experience, they might prove useful for you to spot or even skip a few of those phases.

Beware! The real trick about the myths is: they all work. To some extent.

Myth 1. Killer ideas. I love our ideas! I am so much into our concept that it seems impossible that the world can be anyway reluctant about our product. Our PRODUCT! Way beyond anything on the market. It is so amazing, that whenever our potential clients can get a hold of it – boom, success, practically sells itself, they will love and promote it, no question!

I remember the late ’90s: we attempted to build an „Internet startup”. I may not call it anything more specific: the business model had to change a couple of times, moving from content to advertising to IT services. For any case, we assumed the benefits of Internet-based services were as straightforward to anyone as they were to us. So why bother with professional sales, marketing or business development? The product will sell, obviously. Even our marketing budget was based on the remnants of product development budgets!

Myth 2. Think proposition. Our product is too simple! I mean, I see the idea alone is not enough to generate market success. We need to think beyond functionality, considering all sort of buyer contexts! Where the potential client encounters our product. How it is discovered. How to install, get help, and so on. We should build propositions after mapping the key characteristics of the customer journey… and then clients will also see straight and clear why the product is great!

I remember, when proposition wheels became quite popular amongst TelCo product marketers, roughly 10-15 years ago. The primary function of such wheels was to push product marketers’ thoughts beyond technical features. Unfortunately, that is not a well-documented era – since then, the approach has been replaced by the application of value propositions and customer journey maps. However, the challenges of these methods remained the same.

Myth 3. Cool product, stupid clients. Beautiful product, excellent usability, customer journey mapped… yet limited success. I got it: those stupid customers do not understand my product. Or they misunderstand their problem. Clear: we need to educate them! We will explain the benefits and the reasons, clearly and keenly. Let’s execute educational campaigns and of course train our field colleagues and representatives. When they get it, customers will buy.

I remember… well, that’s probably the most widespread argument in case of product failures. Communication budget will solve it! So let me share 2 examples about believing in education. A B2B anecdote from our own house first: Ákos (founder of AbilityMatrix) was reluctant to talk about our solution’s original version unless at least 45 minutes had been available from those interested. Dedicate your time if you want to deal with us!

Second, the early, rather slow years of mobile internet. Back then, the mobile industry’s common understanding established that customers were not yet ready to understand and use the services. From that environment, in a few years time, Apple, Google, and Facebook emerged as dominant players, practically without any communication or education campaigns. So much about stupid clients.

Myth 4. Organizational efficiency. I think the product is excellent, but we are hindered by our delivery processes and, well, our colleagues, again. We are one team, in the same boat! Sales have no intention to deal with the product, they do not like it, would also prefer higher commissions. And I have no idea what the tech dept had in mind during delivery, coming up with their own ideas at the end. But at least it is getting clear: we need to focus on changing our organization to gain efficiency and performance! Let’s introduce new incentives, change governance gates, update responsibilities and policies, so the blocks will be removed.

I remember many occasions when colleagues (employees) solved their relevant problems at competitors. The embarrassment was even higher when actual developers and marketers of our product switched to more suitable solutions in their real life. That is a typical alarm signal about a mistargeted product – rather than a pure display of employee disengagement or inefficiency. Still, solution attempts targeted underperformance through reorganizations, quotas, regulations. These worked when they targeted the removal of obvious obstacles, but could not generate yield beyond.

Myth 5. Innovation management nails it. So, it seems we should revisit the management of ideas. We should aim for fresher, better-shaped concepts flowing in. Improving ideation quality and quantity, followed by professional innovation management results in a portfolio definitely containing the most marketable solutions.

I remember startup years again. Whenever we had to develop a new product or pivot into new directions, we often looked for inspiration through involving external viewpoints, outside the core team. In the enterprise environment, similar happened through early stage partnerships or hackathons. Personally, I just loved these venues and brainstorms! Stimulating atmosphere, lifting inspiration and a great help to initiate changes. Positive cultural impact. Oh, and some of the ideas also prove sustainable as a business – outside the organization. But. I can not reckon a single example (yet?) when an enterprise really integrated external concepts into their core business.

Myth 6. Better storytelling. Our rational approach is obviously not enough. Whenever we hand over the product to marketing communication (budget included), they claim the product is boring. They are even reluctant to read my favorite features ☹. „Just one from many”, I hear, „normal people do not think like that, unable to identify so attention will remain low”. We should communicate in the context of stories!

I remember working for mobile operators where we were fortunate enough to experiment with storytelling. We built different stories for the same product essence – and analyzed our audience’s multi-faceted reaction. The conclusion: yes, stories differ in their brand impact, in the perception of the product and in the first purchase intention. BUT the relevance of the product remained largely unchanged – „the moment of truth” arrives after unpacking.

Myth 7. Drive with data! Yep, our marketing engineer is absolutely right! We have an extreme amount of data about our product which we should leverage. And we can also buy external data/researches. Moreover, we can transform the product to generate data – another source! So we have a direct connection with our target audience. We will measure, integrate, process, put some AI behind and no one can stop us anymore.

I remember working on a digital product, where we measured literally everything we could. Communication messages. Timer periods. Campaigns. First user interactions. Further user flows. Segments. From A-B to A-Z testing. Manual and automatic approaches. After optimization, we were always significantly better than how we started… but real breakthroughs happened only when one of the top experts highlighted which data will be relevant, where to touch. They knew something above the others.

Have you faced already some of the above myths? Welcome to the product marketers club, always learning and looking for something new!

Yet, something is still missing, right? So we can amaze. The thing our top experts knew in Myth 7.

The customer. Knowing human expectations in greater depth.

Having a second look at the myths, all of them are „push”. However the process is shaped, ultimately we toss a product to our desired audience and hope the overlap will be big enough between their pain points and our solution. We did not start the development process by digging into our clients’ human psychology and expectations. Nor did we really consider our clients when improving propositions or even building organizations. At some point, we lose why and how customers perceive value from our product.

After the above basics, it is time to renew product development. Maybe there is a shorter trip to greater products with less struggle… At least we believe so. And now you know the core subject of another article – how to design customer-centric products matching our organization’s abilities.

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