Clearly communicate your product’s purpose

If you want to be a bad product manager, create mystery around your product. Be coy with your name and message to the market. You want to “build buzz” and by making your soon-to-be-released product an enigma, you can get people excited about it. Telling potential customers what the product does would just ruin the surprise and squash any potential viral marketing opportunities.

If you want to be a good product manager, make the product’s purpose absolutely clear. There are rare instances where some mystery and intrigue is really essential to a product’s success (The Blair Witch Project comes to mind). For most products, you need to immediately connect with customers. Grab their attention by communicating the value of your product, not by trying to be sly or overly clever.

Especially in this information-overloaded world, the need for a clear message is even more paramount. When customers are flooded with thousands of messages each day, you can’t risk losing some potential interest because people can not figure out what it is your product actually does.

Can you clearly communicate the value of your product in 5 words or less? Try it; refine it. Boil the value down to its core essence. Create a 5-word statement that hooks customers’ interest and would get them to want to learn more.

Everyone wants to “build buzz” but most incorrectly see buzz as a promotional issue. The best way to build buzz is not through some clever advertising campaign but through having a unique and valuable product that can be clearly and easily understood.

IMified is a great example — it’s a product that lets you use any instant messenger program to connect with other programs. Post to your blog from Google Talk. Update Google Calendar from AOL Instant Messenger. Its purpose is clear and it fills an unmet need in the market. If you’ve heard of it, it’s not because of some expensive advertising campaign or “viral marketing” initiative. They posted one message to the TechCrunch Forums (read more about it on the IMified blog). The message clearly described the purpose of the product and its value. There’s even a compelling 4-word description: “Instant productivity over IM.” From there, the word spread, with bloggers and news outlets passing the word along. It’s a great example of how a simple product with a clear message made a huge impact very quickly.

Over on Speedbird, Adam Greenfield describes Two things product designers and manufacturers need to know, one of which is that

Your product needs to tell me what it can do, and what I can do with it … To the degree, then, that the things you’re designing and bringing to market are capable of doing things other than the obvious … you should be thinking long and hard about ways to explain their “action potentials” to people encountering them. Graphically, materially, formally, even dare I say explicitly. Your users and customers will thank you for it.

Looking to grab attention? Don’t do it through some too-cool-for-you campaign or sneaky slogan. Engage your customers by making it very clear what your product is for and why someone would want to use it.