Imagine a world where people don’t listen to what your business says about your new product: they only listen to what other people say. A world where there are hundreds (or thousands) of choices for almost every product. Where every buyer has free and instant access to perfect information about features, prices, customer feedback and alternatives. Where buyers count their pennies and do their homework before buying anything, and in the end they choose just the right product for them at the cheapest price.
We are closer to this situation than most business leaders realize. This new reality applies to everything we buy: consumer products, business software, tech gadgets, services, shoes at retail stories, meals at restaurants, or employees we hire. This brutal scenario is especially important for startups that are trying to create new markets or break into existing ones.
When you are creating a new product (or service) in the early stages of your company, your first priority should be to make a great freaking product. Make an outstanding product your customers says, “This is freaking great!” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; it’s only great when customers says it’s great. If you don’t hear that from your early customers, you had better keep improving your products or lower your lofty growth expectations.
Your product has to be great to somebody
If your product isn’t great for somebody – really remarkable – no amount of marketing effort or price reductions or sales flogging will help you get really big and bring new buyers to your door without effort. Seth Godin reminds us that products that aren’t remarkably great won’t get talked about. And if it isn’t talked about in the new world, people won’t hear about it, let alone perceive it as the obvious choice.
I’ve been pretty grumpy about the state of many early startups and the perceptions of many entrepreneurs and big company innovators who don’t get it. You can’t market your way to the top without a great freaking product that somebody thinks is incredible and wants to talk about. I have been using the less politically correct version of “great freaking product” in frustration when I see a company that doesn’t get it.
Greatness is relative
Not every new product that takes off is perfect. Twitter has had its fail whale problems, but Twitter is still valuable and noteworthy and far better than the alternatives despite the problems. Guy Kawasaki calls this the 10X rule. Your new product doesn’t need to be perfect (bug free, feature complete, etc.), it just needs to be 10X better than the alternative for people to switch and buy your new new thing. Great freaking products create change in the world.
Do people line up for the new iPhone just because of Apple’s snazzy TV ads? Nope. Apple makes great freaking products first — then they market them like crazy. Does the team at TechCrunch want to write about mediocre products that don’t have raving customer fans or remarkable news? Never — TechCrunch readers wouldn’t think it’s such a great news source any more if they lowered their high standards.
Yes, there are many ways to sell mediocre products to certain parts of the market where buyers buy for some other reason — your product is cheapest or you have built a personal relationship with the buyer. Just don’t expect your business to be well known and attract customers easily. Companies with mediocre products almost never grow to be big companies, and most won’t last very long.
Still trying to be great to everyone? I call this the Target Market Trap. Remember, single men and women only have to be perceived as great by one other person to find Mr. or Ms. Right and get married. Narrowing your target market focus helps you get to “great” faster for somebody, which means you’re going to grow and can attack larger markets later.
I’m not saying you can just “build it and they will come” or “product is everything.” Having a great freaking product is just the first thing. You can do great marketing to help spread the word — but only after there is a remarkable story that can be spread.
Your product or service has to be remarkably valuable and feel like the best in class for your business to take off. There really is no other way to make company that will grow fast and be very valuable.
Do you have a great freaking product?