If you want to be a bad product manager, rush an undifferentiated product to market in order to grab market share. Sure, a competitor may have beat you to the market, but now that they are out there creating demand for an innovative offering, you don’t have time to waste. Your version may not be terribly unique and it may be a bit less than what the competition offers. Still, there may be customers who don’t like what the competitor has so you’ll get their business, or you can skim on advertising and sell yours a bit cheaper to create more demand. Either way, it should be pretty easy to get a successful product out of it, right?
If you want to be a good product manager, look to differentiate your product and avoid being a “me too.” Speed to market is certainly important, though it is almost always better to be later to the market with a better product than slightly quicker with something that does not stand out. Being first is good, though no guarantee. (Amazon.com was not the first online bookseller; the iPod was not the first portable MP3 player; Google was not the first search engine; Dyson was not the first vacuum; the list can go on and on…)
In Product Leadership: Creating and Launching Superior New Products, Robert Cooper offers some amazing statistics on “truly superior, differentiated products”:
One of the top success factors we uncovered is delivering a differentiated product with unique customer benefits and superior value for the user. … Our NewProd projects studies show that such superior products have five times the success rate, over four times the market share, and four times the profitability as products lacking this ingredient.
“Truly Superior, Differentiated Products” had an average 98% success rate and 53.5% market share, while “Me-Too” Products averaged an 18.4% success rate and 11.6% market share. Though the desire for quick revenue and immediate return within organizations is often strong, though there is good cause for launching the “right” product. In the end, the extra effort put into figuring out how to differentiate a product will be well worth the effort.
Cooper offers these “seven ingredients of a unique, superior product with real value for the customer”:
- Meets customers’ needs better than competitive products.
- Is a better-quality product than competitors’ (however the customer defines quality).
- Has unique benefits and features for the customer.
- Solves customers’ problems with competitive products.
- Reduces the customer’s total in-use costs (better value-in-use).
- Has highly visible benefits for users.
- Is innovative or novel — the first of its kind on the market.
More importantly, he adds: “Note that product superiority is defined in the eyes of the customer!” While you may believe your product to be superior on one or more of these dimensions, it is ultimately up to the market to decide whether this is the case. Too often the view of product superiority and differentiation is different from those within the company versus those in the market.
It may be tempting to launch a follower product to ride the waves of a leader, without showing distinct differences in a product offering, product managers will be facing uphill battles. Look for ways to differentiate, to provide additional value, and to create a product that everyone else will try to copy.