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What Can Marketers Learn from the Common Pitfalls of Product Design?

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Andrew Chen, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz and former Head of Growth at Uber, recently had a great thread on Twitter about how over-exposure to your product can negatively affect your ability to evolve that product over time.

“When you work on the same product every day for years, it’s easy to assume that everyone uses the product the same as you do,” wrote Chen. “Of course that’s not true!”

In fact, as Chen notes, the users a product designer is most similar to — core users who use your product or service to the fullest extent — are not the ones she should be focused on. “When you do the analysis, the most important user perspectives aren’t just your core users, but all the folks out on the edges who are casual, churned, or blocked somehow,” he wrote.

We experience a very similar problem in marketing. Marketers are more familiar with their brand than anyone else, and they often forget that not everyone is as exposed to the brand as they are. (In fact, most marketers would be horrified if they thought hard about how little consumers think about their business.) They grow fatigued with creative, or create complex, even convoluted communications that prospective customers have neither the time nor attention to decipher. Product designers are taught to keep it simple — marketers would be wise to do the same.

Marketers also focus too much of their attention on the “core users” that Chen mentions, when the bigger opportunity is on the edges of their business, i.e. the millions of people who have yet to try your product or service. One of the least true but most commonly believed marketing truisms is that 20% of your customers will make up 80% of your sales. For countless businesses — Ford, Coca-Cola, Crest, Unilever, and Chen’s former employer Uber — this is not nor will ever be the case. Growth will always be reliant on high volumes of people purchasing a product somewhat regularly. (For a car, that’s every few years. For tooth paste, every few weeks.)

Does that mean core users or your most loyal customers aren’t important? No, they are vital and should be highly valued. But if your goal is to grow your business, the opportunity does not lie with those you’ve already convinced to click the buy button. The opportunity is to convince and convert the countless individuals who’ve never used your product or service in the first place.

That opportunity reminds me of a quote from another figure at Chen’s firm, founder Ben Horowitz. He’s fond of saying, “your story is your strategy.” You can’t be focused on growth if you aren’t telling a story to that speaks directly to the wants and needs of those who will help you grow: prospective customers. Oftentimes companies claim they are focused on growth, but the story they are telling is fundamentally about retention. They are speaking to their current audience, and developing products and services for loyal customers and power users.

The story your marketing organization is telling will betray your true strategy. Make sure it enables growth instead of getting in the way of it.

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