If you want to be a bad product manager, make your product everything for everyone. Who wouldn’t want an “all-in-one” solution? Since different types of customers may have different priorities, rather than trying to decide which customers and which priorities are most important, just meet them all. Sure, there might be a lot of stuff in your product, but that just means that customers will think that it does everything great.
If you want to be a good product manager, make your product solve a specific problem for a specific type of customer. It may sound appealing to make your product attempt to solve every problem for every type of customer, though in most cases, trying to make it everything for everyone usually results in a product that does nothing for no one.
For complex technology products, many options provided are rarely — if ever — used. Additional complexity added to attempt to appeal to different types of users usually just makes the product more difficult to use for those core consumers. Also, when the product does not focus on solving a specific problem for a specific user, it becomes difficult to communicate the benefits to the market. Either the message is scattered — “This fixes all of your problems, no matter who you are!” — or it results in disjointed messages for different target markets.
More important to consider, however, is the fact that consumers may seem to value products which focus on one specific problem over products which focus on many. The article “Jack of All Trades or Master of One” summarizes new research by Alexander Chernev, professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, and suggests that products which specialize are perceived to be superior to others, even on attributes where the products are in fact equal:
Chernev found that a product specializing in a single attribute is perceived to be superior in that attribute relative to an all-in-one product having multiple features. This happens even when the two alternatives are clearly described as being equivalent on that attribute. For instance, consumers expect whitening-only toothpaste to whiten teeth better than toothpaste that both whitens and prevents cavities…. Therefore, when evaluating choice sets comprising both specialized and all-in-one options, consumers tend to consider the overall performance of the alternatives to be equivalent. This leads them to draw two types of compensatory inferences: compensatory devaluation, which lowers the perceived performance of the all-in-one option, and compensatory polarization, which enhances the perceived performance of the specialized options on their differentiating attributes.
Even when two products are in fact equal in a given area, there is the perception that the focused product is superior in that area. For product managers, this means that it may be beneficial to identify the most important attributes to a customer segment and focus the product development and marketing around that attribute, rather than trying to improve and promote “across the board.”
It is worth noting that this study did not take into account price, though a subsequent study (also summarized in Jack of All Trades or Master of One) investigated how price can change and improve perceptions of all-in-one products. Still, all other things being equal (including price), there is good evidence to suggest that focused products are perceived to be superior.
One needs only to look at the proliferation of specialized products in the marketplace to see evidence that this strategy is effective. (After all, if these products were not profitable, would they continue to be produced?) All-in-one cleaners now have stiff competition from cleaners for very specific purposes. “Every pain” medicine is placed alongside medications for every known type of pain. General web portals which can serve many user needs have to contend with start-up web applications which focus on specific, common tasks.
This is not to say that an all-in-one strategy is always bad. Product managers can still choose to pursue an all-in-one strategy; they just must be aware of the impact it may have on the perceptions of customers. Even then, an all-in-one product should be that way because it provides value and solves specific problems for the customer, not just all-in-one for the sake of being all-in-one.