June 29, 2023 Product Strategy: Defining Your Product Stance How can you ensure your digital products succeed? By taking a design-first approach to your product strategy and defining your product’s stance. Denny Royal Chief Design Officer The statistics for startup success are daunting. Between 80 and 85 percent of startups fail, with some estimates putting that rate closer to 90 percent. Of course, that also means that between 10 and 20 percent of startups succeed. How can you help ensure that your business is in the latter camp? One common type of failure is what Tom Eisenmann, author of Why Startups Fail, calls a “false start.” These failures are marked by neglecting to research customer needs before engineering begins, thus wasting time and capital. The products are based on an idea more than on actual user needs, and in rushing them to market before collecting feedback, creators “jump the gun.” Avoid Failure with a Design-First Approach Failures of this nature are often the result of taking either a market-first approach or a technology-first. That is, analyzing what competitors are doing and attempting to out-maneuver them (market-led), or building within the existing tech stack (technology-first). Those failures are avoidable if creators take a design-first approach, keeping the end-user at the forefront of every developmental decision. Among the crucial components for a successful design-first approach is defining your product stance. What is the soul of your product? What does it stand for? To determine that requires a fundamental flip in perspective as you prepare to enter the market. It’s not that you have a flashy idea for an app. It’s that people have a need that’s going unmet. Uncover Unmet Needs The best products address a user need—maybe one they’re not even aware of—and products that fail often do so because they neglect to address one. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive; a powerful idea can also resolve an unmet need. But your chances of building a product that people are excited about and want to use are far higher if the product addresses a need rather than building on a creative idea alone. Uncovering that unmet need begins with research, and lots of it. Technology and empathy should go hand in hand during this process as you consider what needs your product can meet and how this will improve life for your end-user. Consider what your product can offer that will be a differentiator in the space. This work should go beyond things like colors, logos, and typefaces and get at more fundamental human questions: Who will use the app? How should it feel when they use it? What will make this product stand out to users who may be fatigued by the sheer number of apps on their devices—especially if it’s in a space like healthcare or finance, where engaging with the app isn’t often “fun”? Is there anything that can go beyond making this a functional, useful service and elevate it to the status of a product that people care about and feel fond of? Product Strategy in Practice Let’s say, for example, that you are developing an app for teenagers with Type 1 diabetes—an underserved group in the current care market. Your research has determined that this group has different needs, unique concerns, and a specific relationship with technology from the rest of the community of diabetes patients. They want a place not only to check and monitor blood sugar and track activity levels and food intake but also meet and network with other young diabetics. They have an unmet need for a social media component within the app. This insight flows into your value proposition: diabetes care that doesn’t feel like a chore and makes young people feel a sense of community with their peers. Now, you can determine the product vision: how the product will deliver on that value proposition, through its features, information architecture, and overarching goals. A concept map is one way to ensure that the conceptual components of the product come together to effectively meet user needs. The product concept map links people and things with the action being done to them. In the case of the diabetes app for teens, nouns might include “Teenaged Type 1 diabetics,” “parents,” “blood sugar,” “activity levels,” and “food.” Verbs might include “monitor,” “track,” “check,” “send,” and “engage.” With this list determined, you can lay out the concept map by determining how each verb relates to our Type 1 diabetic teens—like a word cloud with more active intention. You can expand this list over time to include additional words and concepts that illustrate the myriad complexities of your product as you identify new services or shift your vision. This map will help you visualize and determine a core concept, for example, “Your app empowers Type 1 diabetic teens to monitor their blood sugar, take charge of their own care, and build a community.” Now, we are arriving at the soul of your product: empowerment, taking charge, fostering community. These powerful, meaningful words vividly spell out what your brand is about and what (and whom) your product stands for. Final Thoughts Defining your product’s stance with the approach outlined above is important not only because it will determine the app’s personality, but because you can build out the experience of using it around that stance. Empowering teens to manage their own care might look like introducing push notification reminders, as they’re busy young people with lots on their plate, or a buddy system that helps teens hold each other accountable. In this way, taking time to find the stance of the product benefits everyone. It makes your app more focused and useful, which helps it more effectively meet user needs. It also makes users feel seen and heard—meaning they’ll be more likely to continue consistently using the product. Tags DesignDesign StrategyProduct Design Share Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on Twitter Fulfilling Users’ Needs Adopt a design thinking mindset and ship digital products that win. 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