By Brian Lawley
President, 280 Group
A product promise is the implied commitment made to customers by a company. It embodies everything that the company, brand, marketing, features and benefits and product description convey. Put simply, a product promise is kept if the customer has an experience that is at least as good as what they expected based on what the company told them beforehand.
Products that keep their promises tend to build loyal fan bases and succeed. Products that don’t, often fail (though if they solve a burning need for the customer and are the only available solution they sometimes succeed anyway).
What are some examples of product promises where companies met customer expectations and it paid off for them? The original Palm Pilot made a product promise that synchronization would work seamlessly. For me it worked so well I couldn’t believe it (at the time). Macintosh (at least the early days) had the product promise that it was the easiest to use personal computer available. Amazon.com had the promise that they offered the world’s largest selection of books and that purchasing and customer service be hassle-free. Google’s product promise is that you will find what you are looking for on the Internet rapidly with a minimum of effort.
Product promises have gotten a bad rap, primarily because of what happened during the boom. Companies shipped crummy products, made claims that were nowhere near true, burned their customers, and then wondered why they had no repeat or referral business. In fact, one of the biggest challenges the tech industry faces today is that it has trained even the most tech-savvy people to be late adopters. Why beta test software or hardware for a company when you can wait until it is solid and many other people are using it reliably? Of course, this mentality leads to no one using anything because everyone is waiting for the other person to endure the pain.
Oftentimes Product Management has to be the gatekeeper to watch over whether customers are truly being taken care of and product promises are being met. Engineering will always have pressure to ship the product, no matter what. Sales will want the product now, and by the way, it had better work right. Upper management will feel the pressure to make quarterly numbers and will tend to want to ship the product even if it isn’t completely ready. QA will tell you what the bug count looks like, and how many severe problems remain. But in many cases the only group that truly has a handle on whether the product will meet customer expectations and keep its promises is Product Management.
At one point during the boom I was offered a high-level job with a company going public in three months. They had an incredible story, lots of talent, a first-class board and executive team, and $120M in funding. But after consulting there for 2 months I declined their offers, despite the fact that they sweetened the pot multiple times and made me by far the best offer I had ever received in my career. Why? I was running Product Marketing and Product Management for them and despite my communication that the product was nowhere close to meeting its product promise, management was barreling ahead and determined to ship it. They did. They never made their numbers. Not even close.
Yes, the founders made some money on the friends and family stock before the market and their share price plummeted. But think of the momentum and wealth they might have had if they had truly kept their product promise. They might even still be in business today.
Does your company really keep its product promises?
Brian Lawley is a Product Management and Marketing Consultant who runs the 280 Group LLC in Silicon Valley. Visit www.280group.com for more information. Copyright 2004, Brian Lawley and the 280 Group. All rights reserved.
280 Group included in Bull Market Resources Directory
The 280 Group LLC is the only Product Marketing firm included in the 2004 Bull Market Directory, a free ebook marketing directory by Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author of the bestselling book Purple Cow*. The Bull Market Directory is a resource for connecting organizations with some of the world’s most creative thinkers and companies such as the 280 Group that can help to define, launch and market breakthrough new “Purple Cow” products.