On Making Your Product ‘Stand Out’

A red flower in a field of yellow flowers

A few years ago I read an interview with a young singer who just released her first album. She said that she was very fortunate to team up with a very famous and known musician & singer who helped her produce her album. She didn’t spare any compliments about how experienced he is and how working with this guy helped her avoid many beginner mistakes and produce an album which is much more professional.

To me it sounded great! I was eager to find some new high quality music and a new voice to listen to so I went and listened to some of her songs.

What can I say… Indeed – each tune was in the right place, the melody and the instruments were in great harmony and she definitely knows how to sing. And yet – it all sounded like…a thousand songs I’ve already heard before.

In short – it was very professional, but also very boring.

 

What happened with this singer also applies to any other profession really. There are many ‘playbooks’ out there as for how to properly build or create something. For example – How to build an online presence for your business (here), how to open a retail store (here), how to increase traffic to your blog (here) [I might try this one :-)]. 

In the world of product management, there are also plenty of playbooks. How to write a spec, how to properly design the product delivery process, how to hire a PM, etc..

Heck.. a great portion of the blog you’re reading now is about playbooks…

 

There is nothing wrong with learning a playbook for understanding the best practices of how to execute something. Of course, you need to make sure you get the relevant playbook from the most professional authority you can put your hands on, because there is tons of garbage advice out there.

But even if you put your hands on a professional resource – it might not be enough to produce a remarkable product that stands out. I’ll explain why.

 

Wait… why is it so important that my product will ‘stand out’?

A fair question.

Let me explain what I mean by ‘standing out’. I’ll explain with a real life example:

You all know the Apple App Store, right?

Not sure if you ever tried to submit an app to the store, but any app that is being uploaded to the App Store is being reviewed by the Apple review team and it must be approved in order to be available to download by the end users. The idea behind this review process is to ensure a ‘minimum threshold of quality’ for the apps that make it to the store.

Now, since there are quite a few apps that are being rejected by the review team on a regular basis, Apple has released their guidelines as for how an app needs to be structured and look based on its category and its value proposition.

Here is the thing, though – from personal experience I can tell you that if you strictly follow these guidelines then most chances you will have a ‘professional’ looking app that behaves in a standard way and… looks like any other app in the store (which follows the guidelines). Users tend to skip these apps because they don’t stand out in any way.

The apps which became really successful took a chance and for some aspects of the app – completely ignored the official guidelines. Either their UI was completely innovative or the service they offered has never been seen before and provided value in a very unique way, that in some aspects – totally contradicts the guidelines of the store.

Guess what – not only these apps never got rejected, Apple took some of these apps and featured them on the store.

Hence, strictly following a playbook doesn’t guarantee success for your product. On the contrary. If you’re doing all the plays your competition is doing – why do you expect your product to have a different success trajectory?

Products that stand out are usually products that have a best understanding of their users and provide a tailor-made value for them that was never provided before.

For example – before Tesla – if you were a car manufacturer – there was a well established playbook as for how you market & sell your cars – you strike deals with franchise auto dealerships that can physically showcase your car and they take a commission of each sale.

Tesla figured out that in order to meet its aggressive financial goals it needs to diverge from this playbook and own the sales channel. Hence, instead of striking deals with auto dealerships they opened their own showrooms. They also introduced the concept of ordering a car via their site, which was totally innovative.

I think no one can argue about the end result of this move.

 

Ok, so how do I make a product that stands out?

First – you get your hands on the most relevant professional playbook for the product you’re trying to build. If it’s a casual gaming app for mobile, for example, find a professional resource that explains how you design, market and release a mobile game with the higher chances of success.

 

Second – understand what makes your product (mobile game in our example) unique, why users should try it and how you can deliver the maximum value to them.

 

Third – analyze the playbook and understand what you are going to do differently and what’s the rationale behind it. Don’t diverge from the playbook merely for the sake of ‘doing something differently’. That’s just… not smart. Those playbooks (assuming you put your hands on quality materials) hold wisdom that you shouldn’t dismiss easily.

However, as I noted several times already – if you’re going to stick 100% to the playbook, then most chances you’re missing something out. Probably it’s either on the potential value you can deliver or on your go-to–market and marketing strategy (most often it’s one of these two).

 

It all sounds great… but the product I own is ‘just’ the reporting dashboard of the main product. How is this relevant to me?

A great example 🙂

A few posts ago I wrote about how you properly design a reporting dashboard (see here). For the sake of this example – let’s assume that this post is the best professional playbook you managed to put your hands on.

I assure you that if you stick to everything I wrote in this post you’ll end up with a professional dashboard that delivers value…. but doesn’t stand out in any way.

Why? Because when you write a piece that needs to appeal to a wide range of professionals who share a somewhat similar problem, you need to aim for the biggest common denominator. I am not aware of your specific product and customers. I am only aware of the general need so I can only hope to provide you with enough guidelines so you’ll end up with something decent.

This is how written professional advice is being written all over the world. Nothing unique here about me.

 

It’s therefore up to you to add the extra ‘edge’ to your product and make it stand out.

 

How can a reporting dashboard stand out? By truly understanding the persona who is going to use it and their pains.

For example – I had to design a reporting dashboard for customers a few months ago. I worked according to my own playbook and came up with a spec quite fast. Then I stopped, reviewed my work and asked myself:

“Is this the best value I can deliver for this customer archetype (persona)?”

 

And after being honest with myself – the answer was ‘No. I can do better’. 

I decided that this dashboard is not going to show just the main metrics and their trends. Since the customers the product served had some unique, visual data, in our databases, I thought it’d be highly valuable to deliver some insights about the performance of these visuals on the main screen of the dashboard (including the display of the visuals themselves).  

Now, adding insights to a dashboard by itself, is not an innovative concept, but given the specific data involved and the way I wanted to visualize it – it was far from ordinary.

In fact, when I went to designer and asked him to wireframe this he told me:

“Dude… this is not how you do dashboards. The main screen can’t show this stuff”.

But I insisted. 

Yes. I took a bet because I truly believed the customer can retrieve some great value out of these insights. The near future will show if it was a good one – but whether the bet will pay off or not – I’m honest with myself that I tried to maximize on the value delivered to the customer and didn’t stop where the playbook ends.

To summarize

If you want your product to stand out and become a true competitive differentiator you’ll need to take some risks as well and think out of the box. You can’t just execute on the playbook like everyone else and crave for different business results.

In order to minimize these risks – focus on the persona you’re serving, their real pains and the maximum potential value your product can deliver.

Good luck!

 

That’s it for today!

If you found this post/series useful – let me know in the comments. If you think others can benefit from it – feel free to share it with them.

 

Thank you, and until next time 🙂

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