Monday, April 17, 2017

It’s All About the Product, Silly!

The seminal Harvard Business Review article, Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma, transformed the way corporations approach strategy. The article argues that to become an industry leader, corporations must choose to focus on one (and only one) of three value disciplines.

The value disciplines are Operational Excellence, Customer Intimacy and Product Leadership. According to the article, Operational Excellence means “providing customers with reliable products or services at competitive prices and delivered with minimal difficulty or inconvenience.” Examples of companies typifying this value discipline include Amazon, FedEx and Wal-Mart.

Customer Intimacy, as defined by the article, is “segmenting and targeting markets precisely and then tailoring offerings to match exactly the demands of those niches.” Consider Home Depot, Disney and Starbucks.

The third value discipline, Product Leadership, is defined as “offering customers leading-edge products and services that consistently enhance their use or application of the product, thereby making rivals’ goods obsolete.” Think Nike, Google and Apple.


While the article argues that companies can become industry leaders by going after one of these value disciplines, bb7 dares to argue that there is an area in business where you can succeed at all three value disciplines. That area is (naturally) product development. Yes; it's all about the product!
We believe that, if your product development strategy scores in all three value disciplines, you will achieve market dominance.

Operational Excellence can be achieved through product development in many ways. A major way bb7 helps companies with this focus is through design for manufacturing (DFM). Customer Intimacy can also be improved by product development. We advocate user research; it’s an important step in the product development process for uncovering user needs and developing a path to user-centered designs. Product development is obviously necessary for Product Leadership, and a major way to maximize the impact in this focus is through product road mapping.

bb7’s Kerr dental wand case study is one of many examples in which a product achieved market dominance by hitting all three value disciplines. bb7 worked with Kerr on evolving dental curing wands, resulting in the Demi Plus and the Demi Ultra.

We achieved customer intimacy through user research, which revealed many customer needs and directed the team to focus on improved ergonomics, usability, weight and cleanability for both the Demi Plus and the Demi Ultra. Meanwhile, we upheld Operational Excellence by incorporating DFM at every step - bb7 worked with Kerr’s manufacturing source from the very beginning to ensure feasibility and efficiency.

The team aimed at Product Leadership through product road mapping. While developing the Demi Plus curing wand, they simultaneously worked on its successor, the Demi Ultra. The Demi Plus was advanced but the Demi Ultra was developed to take advantage of future technology. Product road mapping provided Kerr with a first-to-market product - the Demi Ultra curing wand was the first and only curing light to feature two ultracapacitors, which recharge to full power in under 40 seconds. The ultracapacitors never need to be replaced or serviced and allowed the curing wand to be fully sealed (no vents for cooling required).

The Demi Ultra was born from product road mapping to achieve Product Leadership but it also incorporated findings from user-research to achieve Customer Intimacy and DFM principles to achieve Operational Excellence.

If a company approaches product development with concurrent emphasis on user-research, DFM and product road mapping, it can simultaneously target all three values: Operational Excellence, Customer Intimacy and Product Leadership. If a product achieves all three, that company will be poised for market dominance. In short, “It’s All About the Product, Silly!”

About the Author:  Maggie Graham is an accomplished marketer and performer. Target audiences and theatrical audiences need to hold on to their socks – Maggie will knock them off. For more than fifteen years, she has worked across the country in sales, marketing and entertainment. She has worked in product development for over a decade.

Her marketing work has included experience with multiple design firms, a Tony award-winning theater, a market research company and a web development agency. She is responsible for all things marketing-related at bb7: campaigns, events, advertisements, public relations, content and more. Notably, she was the mastermind behind bb7’s website.

Her entertainment career has included acting, ballet, improvisation, standup comedy, film, teaching and puppetry. She has worked with Second City, has been featured in media (print, television, radio, etc.), and was named runner up by the Chicago Reader for best stand-up comedian.

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