Discover new uses your product

If you want to be a bad product manager, assume you know how all of your customers will use your product. You’ve done research, talked with customers, maybe even watched some usability testing. You know the different types of users and how they approach your product. There’s not much else you can do with your product, really, if it’s pretty simple. Plus, if people are buying it or using it for other reasons, you shouldn’t be concerned with those customers — that just takes your attention away from the main purpose of the product and your main target market.

If you want to be a good product manager, continue to learn more about new and different ways customers will use your product. As much as you may design very specific tasks and use scenarios, customers will always find ways to use your product that you never intended.

Understanding these alternative uses will help to identify new markets, new ways to promote your product, and new distribution channels. It also can help suggest minor changes that will better support these new uses without detracting from the main purpose of your product.

Duct tape is the classic example of a product known for its versatility. From home repair to fashion, customers have come up with thousands of ways the product can be used. It can even cure warts!

Dryer sheets were originally intended to reduce static cling and freshen clothes, but customers quickly found alternative uses. Bounce now devotes a section of their web site to “Fresh Ideas,” listing all of the ways that the product can be used.

Understanding alternative uses of your current product can also lead to brand extension and other new product ideas.

WD-40 and baking soda are two other examples of essentially commodity products whose continued success has been driven by an understanding of customer needs and uses for the products. WD-40 introduced their Big Blast can when they saw that customers needed a way to distribute the same formula over a larger surface area more quickly and easily. Arm & Hammer had long recommended baking soda be used inside of refrigerators and freezers for removing odors. Open boxes could easily be spilled, though, which led to the creation of a special non-spill version designed for use in refrigerators and freezers. Arm & Hammer has further extended their line of products, making new products tailored for distinct but common uses.

As a product manager, you need to understand and focus on the main purpose for your product — what the main value is and what markets you are serving. In doing that, though, you need to keep your eyes out for new ways your customers are using the product. This will likely give you clues into new markets, new promotional strategies, new product ideas, or changes to your current product to increase sales and usage.

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