Who Are Your Customers – Comparing Products Part 2

The first step to comparing products is understanding your customers.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but your product’s capabilities are meaningless unless you are comparing them from your customer’s point of view.  This article is part 2 in a series on comparing products.  Check out part 1, then continue with this article on the first steps of comparing products.

Overall Product Comparison Process

This is may be a long series.  Each article will start with a recap of the overall process.

Getting useful information from comparing products requires you to:

  1. Introduction & Overview (so that the step-numbers align with the article numbers)
  2. Identify your customers. (This article)
  3. Articulate the problems they care about solving.
  4. Determine how important solving each problem is, relative to the other problems, for your customers.
  5. Characterize how important it is for you to solve the problems of each group of customers.
  6. Discover which (competitive) products your customers consider to be your competition.
  7. Assess how effectively each competitive product solves each important problem.
  8. Assess how effectively each competitive product solves each important problem, for each important group of customers.

With this information, you can create a point of view about how your product compares to the others.

From that point of view, you can determine where to invest in your product.  That’s the whole point of doing the comparison – not to be self-congratulatory, but to guide forward thinking.  I’ve stopped being excited when I find existing “product comparisons” and game plans when starting to work with a product team.  To date, they have always been “positioning papers” designed to emphasize the product’s strength – usually prepared for internal sales teams, but unfortunately, sometimes prepared for executives (‘Look!  We’ve done a great job!”) Those documents are a useful source of information to get you started down the product comparison path, but if you let them guide you, they will take you down the primrose path.

Identify Your Customers

You want to have a model that represents how you are approaching your market. As a product manager focused on solving customer problems, you should have a customer-centric market model.

Your goal is to identify groups of customers that share sets of problems, and share a point of view about how important it is to solve those problems.  Effectively, this is a definition of a persona (yes, I know there are better ways to define personas).

The important thing is that you identify groups of people that will reach the same conclusion about your product, by answering the following questions similarly -

  • Which problems that are important to me can I solve with this product?
  • How well does this product solve those problems?
  • How does this product compare to other products?

Personas, Goals, and Contexts

The image above is adapted from Robert W. Bailey’s diagram from Human Performance Engineering, (although I first saw it in the Handbook of Usability Testing).  One use of Bailey’s diagram is to understand that to assess the usability of a product, you have to take into account the human being who is using the product, the environment in which they are using the product, and the actions the person is trying to perform.

My extensions of the idea are that

  • Groups of people with similar sensibilities (personas) will form similar conclusions about how much they like a product when,
  • They are using the product in similar contexts,
  • To achieve similar goals

One benefit of abstracting this way is that you don’t get caught up in the mechanics or procedures of how someone is solving a problem (the actions).  Focus on the action is appropriate when evaluating the usability of a particular product, but not when comparing how different products solve the same problem.  I also like something that reminds me that people use products in different environments and situations.

Example Personas

Usually, when I see personas they are focused purely on marketing and demographic data, or they are based solely on contextual inquiry intended to inform a design aesthetic.  The former may tell you where to market a product to groups of people (magazines, tv ads, luxury travel websites, etc), and the latter informs how to implement solutions.  What we need is something that helps us assess the relative importance of solutions to problems shared by groups of people.

This series of articles is looking at the Kindle Fire as a proxy product by which I will explain the techniques (without actually performing a data-driven analysis – I’ll invent data for the purpose of this article series).

I found a presentation on Slideshare:

BlackBerry Consumer Preferences and Segmentation

Where some MBA students documented the research and analysis of the market of prosumers – “professional” consumers.

What I particularly like is the way they presented a summary of part of their analysis on slide 27.  That’s the part we’re going to pretend applies to the Kindle Fire (because it might just).  Note that their presentation includes a “RIM Confidential” clause in the footer, so it might have been removed by the time you read this article.  I’ll briefly describe what they did.  They did an analysis of survey results, identified groups of people that placed similar importance on different activities and aspects of smartphone usage, and identified three “clusters” of people with statistically significant shared sensibilities.

  1. Hi-Tech Prosumers – people who placed high value on most features, anticipated high usage of most features, were price-sensitive, had lower incomes (less than $75K USD per year) and were the younger members of the target demographic.
  2. Typical Blackberry Prosumers - people who placed high value on network features, moderate value on other features, made heavy use of “standard” capabilities, but did not plan to use apps, or multimedia.
  3. Basic Prosumer - people who placed high value on phone features, were heavy users of text and voice features;  had low use of other capabilities, but anticipated becoming heavy users of “smartphone capabilities” (email, calendar, browsing, apps, camera, etc) when they purchased their next phone.

What’s notable is that they did the right type of analysis – finding clusters of people that can serve to quantify market value of different personas – this will inform the determination of the relative importance of different groups of customers (step 3 in the process of comparing products).  By interviewing individual survey respondents that are in each of the clusters, they can get the additional information they need to develop personas.

For this series of articles, I will pretend that three personas were developed, in order to demonstrate this approach to comparing products:

  1. Hi-Tech Prosumers – people who get excited about convergence, highly value additional multimedia capabilities, live a multi-device existence, and are acutely aware of competitive products.
  2. Typical Amazon Kindle Users – people who placed high value on the reading experience, the convenience of being able to easily get new content, and the absence of a subscription fee.
  3. Basic Consumers - people who read primarily on paper media, have recently started consuming multimedia on their computers, and anticipate becoming part of the “post pc era.”

I will also invent additional data as we explore the rest of the product comparison process.

Developing Personas

Please don’t finish this article believing that persona creation is trivial – it isn’t.  I’ve heard the saying before that a bad persona is better than no persona at all, and I believe that.  Without a target persona, you will almost certainly create the elastic user anti-pattern.

Persona creation is more of a precondition of this process than a part of this process – you should already have personas developed for your product.  This article is not intended to go into the details of how to create a persona, but rather a review of the aspects of that persona development that are needed for the product comparison process to be effective:

  • Identification of people in your market that share perspectives on problems – e.g. knowing that for one group of potential customers solving problem X is important and problem Y is not, even when problem Y’s solution is important to another group of customers.
  • Being able to estimate the relative number of people that are represented by each persona – e.g. knowing how much revenue potential exists for sales to each group of people.

Summary

Recapping the overall flow of this series of articles on product comparison

Getting useful information from comparing products requires you to:

  1. Introduction and Overview (so that the step-numbers align with the article numbers)
  2. Identify your customers. (This article)
  3. Articulate the problems your customers care about solving.
  4. Determine how important solving each problem is, relative to the other problems, for your customers.
  5. Characterize how important it is for you to solve the problems of each group of customers.
  6. Discover which (competitive) products your customers consider to be your competition.
  7. Assess how effectively each competitive product solves each important problem.
  8. Assess how effectively each competitive product solves each important problem, for each important group of customers.

With this information, you can create a point of view about how your product compares to other products.

Attributions

* Thanks Alaska Dude for the Lovely Lass photo.

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

This article was published on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 at 8:45 am and is filed under Business Analysis, Product Management, Product Strategy.
You can leave a comment on this post

2 Comments

  1. Showing a loop of Customers > Products > Market > Market Segments > Customers highlights the typical product development / go to market problem – where do you start?

    When you have your loop going, you can iterate and fine-tune e.g. modify product / messages for different segments, and your customers can help you uncover new use cases.

    But where to start? Lean Startup recommends you start with minimum viable product, throw it out to the market and see if customers find it and if there is a problem worth solving.

    I think you should start with what you know best, ideally that’s the customers – but not everyone can start there

    • Thanks, Giles, and welcome to Tyner Blain!

      I wrote an article, Product Managers and Innovation earlier this year, touching on exactly this point.

      You can start inside-out (I have a hammer, I wonder if there are people sitting around with unused nails – or better – people who need to attach things), or outside-in (people need to attach things – I’ll invent a hammer and nails).

      For start-ups in particular, my experience / intuition is that successful ones start with a founder who knows a market (outside-in) and has an idea for a solution (inside-out) already in mind when the company is formed. I bet that the ones that started inside-out have a tough time getting to the “next” product, where the ones that start outside-in are more likely to figure out ways to leverage their existing brand to solve additional problems.

21 Trackbacks

  1. By Joshua Duncan on November 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    great post -> “@sehlhorst: Comparing Products pt2 http://t.co/AG31ZzdW Tyner Blain article #prodmgmt #baot #prodmktg”

  2. By Rich Mironov on November 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    RT @sehlhorst: Comparing Products Part 2: Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/nqSFgdLU #prodmgmt

  3. By Alltop Agile on November 22, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Tyner Blain – Scott Sehlhorst: Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/MF7UvYXv

  4. By Karol M McCloskey on November 22, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers?[includes personas] http://t.co/227GeozS @sehlhorst

  5. By Vivek on November 23, 2011 at 9:29 am

    RT @sehlhorst: Comparing Products Part 2: Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/nqSFgdLU #prodmgmt

  6. By Skip Cody on November 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/usSujgti #prodmgmt

  7. By Ghassan Herzallah on November 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    @SkipCody Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/XbV9xUnk #prodmgmt (Skip your stuff always worth re tweeting)

  8. By Primary Intelligence on November 25, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Great read by @sehlhorst "Comparing Products part 2" Insights into #personas #mr and other validation for products http://t.co/YLEBtgDj

  9. By April Dunford on November 28, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    By @sehlhorst: Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/PQ4N9nDB love it #prodmgmt

  10. By Glenn R. Brûlé on November 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    RT @sehlhorst: Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/zYOCj08M

  11. By Olaf Kowalik on November 29, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    "Your product’s capabilities are meaningless unless you are comparing them from your customer’s point of view" http://t.co/UbbtisXg by…

  12. By Gregory Yankelovich on December 1, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Great article for product managers and marketers RT @sehlhorst: Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/XYs6XfVS

  13. [...] Identify your customers. [...]

  14. By UX Feeder on December 12, 2011 at 4:51 am

    Delicious: Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers?: http://t.co/ljatFrwp [UX popular]

  15. By UX Factory on December 12, 2011 at 4:53 am

    Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers?: http://t.co/aoasitpJ

  16. By Steen Grønbeck on December 14, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    By @sehlhorst: Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/73EwVk4T

  17. By Gregory Yankelovich on December 20, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Excellent reading – By @sehlhorst: Comparing Products Part 2 – Who Are Your Customers? http://t.co/Z6O7pprt #prodmgmt #prodmarketing

  18. [...] Identify your customers. [...]

  19. By João Cerdeira on January 31, 2012 at 12:17 am

    RT @sehlhorst: Who Are Your Customers – Comparing Products Part 2 http://t.co/aPIzqZns

  20. By João Cerdeira on January 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Who Are Your Customers – Comparing Products Part 2 http://t.co/q7OqSOHK #productdevelopment

  21. By maz iqbal on February 21, 2012 at 11:24 am

    By @sehlhorst: Who Are Your Customers – Comparing Products Part 2 http://t.co/j3UGqPti | useful for taking a customer perpective on product

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>