Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Evolution of Product Marketing

This post comes from a discussion I had with someone about the book, Founders at Work. I haven't read it myself but it did make it to my future reading list. We were talking about how many products evolve and end up very different from the original idea or conception.

For example:
  • Flickr was first created as a feature, not a product

  • Paypal was originally founded to do handheld photography

  • Facebook was supposed to be an online yearbook for college students - not the world

All of these products have changed for the better. So what happened? What redefined the original purpose of these products? We did! Not 'we' as marketers but 'we' as people and users of these products. The rules of the game have changed. Traditionally this process is redefined with a select group of beta customers. Feedback is gathered and the product is refined and sometimes redefined entirely.

This definition and refinement process is one that product marketers are trained to navigate. It's the same ol' game but in a brand new playground - the Internet. The fact that we can listen to customers even when they aren't talking to us is really powerful. We no longer need to hold a glass to the door of the focus group, we've just need to tap the wire to the forum. Instead of getting 10 guided opinions we know have access to thousands of brutally honest ones.

As noted above, companies that listen to the market will have the opportunity to transcend their original vision and hear the roar of success that comes with giving a million eager customers exactly what they're asking for. Sadly, those with a tin ear risk going home with nothing but a Darwin award. In this game of B2B Survival of the Fittest - the company with the shortest path between product marketing and customers, wins.

Two examples of companies that are leveraging the Internet to get customer feedback early and often are:

  • Google labs which allows anyone to play in their playground by releasing 'beta' products and encouraging users to provide feedback.

  • whose open API allows developers to use their programmable web as their sandbox.

By taking the initiative to bring our customers into the development process we can get to the unexpected sooner. Cisco's human network campaign sums it up nicely, "Welcome to a place where an idea is created by one, tweaked by many and shared with the world. Where collaborative applications are rewriting the rules of business."

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