When it comes to products that I can’t live without, my list is pretty small. In fact, I’m not really a stuff guy. For a product to cross over into this existential category, it needs to connect deeply and on a variety of levels.
Last Christmas, my family got me a Peloton exercise bike (not very subtle, I know). My initial reaction was muted, to say the least. I didn’t love the idea of bringing SoulCycle into my home.
Then I tried it. What won me over was how thoughtfully it integrated personalization. I was welcomed into an experience that gave me a genuine connection to the product. On my first ride, I got a shout-out alongside riders who had completed their 500th. It was like I was a part of something, a little less alone as I sweated it out in my living room. This left a lasting impression on me, and I’ve been talking about Peloton ever since.
Which got me thinking about the power of a great product. Of course, as a chief product officer for a software company, I know this intuitively. In fact, I live it. It’s practically my mantra. But I’m also inclined to be skeptical, not easily impressed. But here was a product that was doing more than delivering on its brand promise. I mean, it’s an exercise bike. How great could it be?
It turns out, pretty great.
Making the right first impression
In driving loyalty and advocacy, a disproportionate burden falls on the initial product experience. In product management, we call this onboarding. It encompasses all of the things we do in our products to make a positive first impression for new users. But surprisingly, we have found that 33% of companies say they have no specific onboarding experience.
Onboarding, in turn, creates delight and becomes the seed for a habit to form. With Peloton, it was the personalized welcome that I didn’t expect, but which made me feel part of something special and inspired me to keep on riding.
Products have to create delightful early experiences to inspire longer term use. In fact, 80% of consumers admit they’re more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences, Epsilon has found. And this now applies to arcane business software as much as it does for a consumer product like Peloton. Why? Because there’s an abundance of alternatives and, in the age of SaaS, switching costs are lower than ever before.
Product teams must now consider how to create product experiences that accelerate users’ proficiency, and ensure they discover and take advantage of value-creating features without running into roadblocks along the way. User education and guidance needs to become an integral part of the product itself. When users ramp up fast, habits are more likely to form and they’re more inclined to want to talk about it.
From mad men to math men
For product leaders, this requires a different way of thinking. Marketing roles have shifted from intuition and instinct to relying on data-driven insights. The same transformation is happening in product management.
The most successful product teams couple onboarding with a trove of product usage data. Usage data helps them uncover how users navigate through a product, and most importantly, where they fail to deliver. That gives these product “math men” an even deeper understanding of their product, so they can find new ways to help users find value and uncover the delightful moments they’ll tell others about.
So is product the new marketing? Absolutely. Hyper-competition and abundant customer choice are forcing companies to deliver amazing products and impeccable experiences. And the ones that get it right are afforded powerful market advantage through word of mouth.