The magic in products is knowing what to leave in

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Reading Mark Suster’s excellent post on product design left me with this thought – what if more products were literally designed by the customer? As a thought experiment, leave aside any skepticism you have about the customer making bad choices (e.g. Faster horses vs. a Model T Ford) and imagine what these products might look like when released.

Products designed for the customer start very simply, and focus on a minimum number of clicks to get something done. Great examples of this include Google’s search button and Uber’s button to summon a car. Each of these hide immense complexity yet don’t ask the customer to understand how all of those levers and dials work.

Next, these products work everywhere and feel the same everywhere. When you pick up different Apple products or use the Apple web site, these pieces of the “product” – really, the overall customer experience – feel like a coherent brand. Perhaps the best examples of brand coherence are Coca-cola, Starbucks, and McDonalds. You may not like all of the brand attributes of these brands, but you know what you’re going to get when you find them anywhere in the world.

Finally, the product designed for the customer needs to be personalized only for that customer. It is easy to make it unique. On an industrial scale, think about what Toyota does in just in time manufacturing, building a car that matches an individual customer’s orders. Or Makerbot, which literally prints the product you need from raw materials. Or, which helps you assemble your own instant view media catalog. Uniqueness – or the feeling of “that’s mine – keeps the customer coming back over and over again.

Yet that feeling of uniqueness must always be convenient and easy. The consumer benefit for a product is something the customer needs – even if they didn’t know they needed it before they learned about it. Great products focus and amplify customer need while addressing that need with the simplest interface possible. So the next time you deliver a prototype to the customer, take something out and see if they notice. When the customer asks you, “where is that thing I found really useful?” you’ll know what to put back in.

Keep the Marketing Simple, Stupid

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This is the 10th in a series of posts on Agile Marketing – the working definition of which is to “Create, communicate and deliver unique value to an always-changing consumer (or business) in an always-changing market with an always-changing product.” (see the original post here.) If you survey a group of people about the most obvious and beneficial traits of Agile, one of the primary answers you’d hear is: “simplicity.” Why build a complicated mousetrap when a simple one will get you most of the way there?

During the Agile process – and especially if you are using marketing sprints to get work done – it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew. An idea can blossom into lots and lots of work when you consider the different channels, customers, and approaches you could take. If you aim for an “up-and-stumbling” model in your marketing, you’ll make mistakes and you’ll get your ideas out in the marketplace faster. It helps to keep the overall idea simple.

A simple idea is not necessarily the answer (that is, your good idea might also be complex) but to be successful at the user level it needs to appear simple, intuitive and obvious. Consider this example: a CEO needs to learn how to send a form from a web site to result in an email to her inbox. She has never done this before, and she’s tech-savvy but not a programmer.

What is she more likely to do: spin up a trial account at Wufoo and make a form in 15 minutes using their sample application, or use a marketing automation system to  define an activation funnel, create triggers to action, and expose a form that needs to be deployed on a web site or integrated with an existing ecommerce system? Yep, she set up the account at Wufoo, because in a few minutes she was able to get most of the utility she was seeking from a simple solution. She (and her company) may outgrow this hack quickly and in the meanwhile, Wufoo has the opportunity to sell more complex ideas to her in the guise of her “simple” solution.

What can you learn from your simple idea? You can learn the answers to many questions: where does the customer spend her time? Is she successful in completing an activity that we think she should be able to complete? Does she want to complete it? When she asks for help upon hitting a road block, how does she phrase the question(s)? By analyzing these questions you can meet the customer where they’re at, not just deliver the results of your latest development or marketing sprint and hope that they don’t “use it wrong.”

Keeping the marketing simple is not always easy in an Agile environment. Product features are delivered fast and furiously and if you’re a new customer you probably don’t know why you need the latest and greatest. Like the CEO who has 15 minutes to solve a problem, you simply want to connect point a to point b in the simplest way possible. So your marketing should be calibrated for the feature-benefit combination that makes it easy for  a busy CEO to understand: what do you do, why do you want to do it, what do you get, and how do you know when you get there? Keep it simple, and you’ll have an easier time explaining why they should try your product (even if the idea under the simple question is quite complex.)

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