What are products?

Summary: Before you embark on a new business idea, you need to understand what products are. Products (and services) are solutions to jobs. Value is the things you love vs the things you hate in relation to those products and services.

Make something exceptional

I must start this article with a quote from one of the best product makers in the world, Steve Jobs.

“We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life.

Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”

Your products are your way to make a difference to the world.

Every business is here to provide products or services – these are solutions. To survive, to flourish, to be worthwhile, a company must be of better service by making better solutions. These solutions are at the very heart of being of better service to consumers and when you provide them, consumers vote for you with their money by buying what you have. It is therefore vital you know what these products and services, these solutions really are.

On the subject of money it helps us at this point to acknowledge too many businesses get wound up in doing things for money. That includes making products.  I and my company has been there and done that too. When you talk about caring or serving others, be it through greater products or otherwise, be careful that it’s not in some artificial or self centred way designed just to make money. If money is the reason you do something, you’ll always, always be beaten by someone, somewhere that does if for the love of it. That has a passion to give the consumer more. I’ve been on the giving end and the receiving end of this rule of nature. Yes, caring for others will make you more money, but that misses the point. The very reason of serving others is the joy to be found in your business, increasing this joy should always be your real motive, it’s why you have to do it. When you do you get to spend you life doing something you love. Then, the money is secondary, important because it allows you to do more of what you love. The money becomes just a pleasant result of a more important cause.

A company personality and its products

A company is a group of people, it is therefore like a person. It needs to have a personality all of its own and that has to a caring one, a fun one.
What would you think of a person that was only nice to your for money? Would you say that person was really a good person?

It’s the same with a company and the products it makes and the service it gives. Your company needs to act like a really really good person. An angel, a saint, a best friend. I refuse to accept any other way is right.

I’ve just heard how much my company has taken this week. An almost obscene amount of money considering we’re still a comparatively small business. Of course it’s wonderful to hear and it reminds me of how we’ve come – it’s a real landmark because it’s the highest total we’ve ever done… and we still have 5 hours of business to go today and 9 tomorrow on Saturday too. Yet at the same time, I’m taken back by how really small we are. We’ve taken a lot of orders to do that, an in the end we’ll effect all those peoples’ lives for the better. Yet, I know there are companies that serve the same number of people in seconds not weeks and they do it in ways that far outreach what we do in terms of significance. I want more but I don’t want more money, I want to serve more. Find a bigger challenge, a challenge I know we are good enough to meet. I remind myself of how we got there with nothing – by really caring and taking pride in what we do – and the rest will follow. In my heart I know it won’t be too long before we double or triple that. But so what? What do I really mean when I say “I want serve more?”

These are all just figures.  They do not replace the passion and satisfaction of a job well done. They do not replace the warmth you feel when you  make people’s lives better in some way. That to me is what business is about – how can it really be about anything else? It’s a reason to get up in the morning. It’s finding the challenge that interests you, the challenge to devote your life too and meeting it, or dying smiling and trying. After all is said and done, what if you are left with millions of pounds and you’re left having devoted your life to just that – millions of pounds? Financially, I’m able to talk about this with qualification, because I have been very well off by most people’s standards. And yes, money, Ferraris, envy, prestige, greed, all were the driving factor. At first. Once you have money and you get more, you begin to look for more in your life and try to find what you enjoy. You realise that it’s not about you it’s about other people.

At its very heart, one thing I enjoy is seeing my business treating everyone that comes into contact with it like a best friend. It’s about listening to their concerns, being thoroughly dedicated to them, giving them a great time, and wanting to do everything you can for them. Because if our business, is a best friend, that’s what friends do. They care for each other, respect each other, and love each other. That’s how people should be with each other and how companies should be with people. It’s just right. Suddenly capitalism, your company, your products are not artificial, not cold, not meaningless, they are human, packed with real emotion and feeling.

In order to support people affected by your business, employees, customers and collaborators, and be the best friend you can, your company needs to act in a way most others don’t. It’s always needs to be on its best behaviour, watching out for these others selflessly. Its needs to work hard to give more, listen closely, watch details, admit when it made a mistake, and be honest.

A science and an art

So this brings us back to products. A major way you can give more to people is to offer people better solutions, something that is really better, something that makes them happier through the products and services and the overall experience they have with you. It follows you really have to care about what you make, about what you do. The product or service must provide a solution to something you and your team have a passion about. It must meet a challenge that you see and want to overcome. Without this, what you do will fail to be real. You’ll always be at the mercy of competitors who really do care about what they do, but more importantly, you’ll be at the mercy of something you don’t love doing – a compromise – your life cannot be a compromise.

Much of the information that follows in the next few chapters is technical, but I’ve tried to ensure that I never stray too far from the human side of business and either should you. The “friendship” your business needs to develop with everyone it touches. The love and passion that needs to come from within it. The need to make something you really care about, because with this one life, you have to make sure you do something worthwhile with it. It’s this human aspect of product creation that you must always keep at the forefront of your mind. It injects a passion and feeling into your products, something that technical information alone would find it hard to do. Creating these things you make with love and care gives you an amazing sense of fulfilment, and when the money roles in, you get to do more of what you love – the reason to be in business starts and ends there.

I don’t sit with the academics – those that know the pure science of business – and I don’t sit with many of the entrepreneurs – the gut feelers – I sit with both. Business follows the laws of nature. How can it not? It is something done by people, right here on earth – it is therefore subject to the same laws of nature as everything else around us. In that way business, and products are very much like nature itself – look at nature from the outside as a casual observer and there is a beauty, a feeling they give us, a wonderfully almost simple exterior. Everything, for the most part, seems to just work. Yet, if we dig deeper, if we get our microscopes out, we see there are amazingly complex mechanisms at work to create this apparent beautiful simplicity. Likewise a great business and products are fuelled a passion, a beauty, a simplicity, but behind all this a deep, fully quantifiable but as yet not fully understood science. Business and the products it produces rely on human emotion, feeling and instincts but also on mind boggling detail and patterns – detail and patterns that can be read – just like DNA. If you understand both sides – the art and the science, and know how to use them, without letting either dominate or displace the other, I think you’re ultimately able to perform better than those that see business as “either or.”

At the end of it all, making a great business, a great product, a great experience is about sitting back and saying “Wow – we did that!” Making great products is like painting a wonderful picture, it’s a real labour of love, a creative endeavour and it’s a limited life time opportunity – one you are privileged to be able to undertake. As you can only make so much – make them good.  Make something special. Overcome that challenge. Richard Branson says you can’t paint these pictures by numbers alone, he doesn’t believe you can formally analyse them, that each is different. I only half agree. Unlike Richard Branson I think you can get a really close by painting these pictures by numbers, through a routine and I think they way Richard Branson has done that shows you it’s true – even if it as he admits, much has come from his gut – his work follows a pattern, applied across many business – all focused on a beautiful simplicity – a better consumer experience. A Virgin experience. How Richard Branson describes this is not as important as what it is. In my view, every result has an indefinable cause or causes and business is no different. Although such analysis can seem formal and cold, it like business itself, takes on a different life, when you combine it with passion and emotion. We can get close to the same experience that master painters use to create their works of art, by breaking it down into stages as we learn. We can make sense of this almost overwhelming tangle, if we just realise that when we isolate it part by part, the complexity begins to melt away. Just don’t forget your feelings as you go!

On this technical side, don’t dismiss how you can look at products and services as being obvious. There’s so much more than meets they eye, and ultimately, it’s how you look at products and services that really counts.  If you get this wrong, you business will go nowhere, because your products will be worthless to the people that use them – consumers. To be successful you need to really know what products are from the consumers’ viewpoint. If you get this right, most of your ideas will be right because they will be highly relevant to the end user. If your initial idea and resultant product are wrong however hard you work and however well you make it, you’ll make something people just don’t really care about.  Product development takes a long time and the first few steps of this monumental journey are key, get it wrong and you will end up a long way off where you wanted to be. I’m going to show you how to get it right – but to do that we need to know what products are – really are.

Solutions to Jobs

Products and services are just solutions. In other words they are there to achieve something for the user. More specifically, every product is there to fulfil a job, whether it’s feeling sexy, learning algebra, compete in a sport or scooping ice cream. These are all jobs, they are something that the user wants to achieve – a target. People are motivated by achieving things that are important to them or because they have to. It’s a law of human nature. When we do these jobs, we feel a little, or a lot better for having done so. Why, we don’t know, but we do. One job that can mean the world to one person, is meaningless to another. In each case the job, its importance and how it needs to be done to be a success lie in the mind of the person seeking to achieve it.

When a solution allows people to do a job well, it provides them with value.

Value – Things you love vs. things you hate

Value is love vs. hate … or in technical terms, perceived benefits minus perceived detriments. Notice the word perceive – all that matters is what the consumer perceives, that’s the only reality that counts.

Because every product is there to do a job and achieve something, it is there to offer value through providing certain benefits.  These benefits are always either functional, psychological, emotional, financial, social, time or convenience based. In other words, do something for me, make me think something, make me feel something, save me money, make me fit it, save me time, or make it easy for me and so on. Notice the mention of psychological benefits. There are benefits like a “weight off my mind” but because a lot of benefits can be imagined by the user. That is one of the real powers of the brand. What people imagine and think they actually feel, and what they feel they act out. What they imagine therefore becomes very real for them, and real for those around them too. So as long as a user believes it’s a benefit, it is a real benefit. This is the power of perceptions coming into play – ignore them at your peril.  This is one reason why Virgin can just stick its name to any old commodity and people automatically begin to trust that service or product. Its why using Lynx deodorants and shower gels feels that little bit better than a lesser brand. It’s a large part why driving a Ferrari makes you feel more impressive than driving a Ford.

So what about the downsides – the things we hate? Remember value is perceived benefits minus perceived detriments – and these are also functional, psychological, emotional, financial, social, time or convenience based. I suppose the funny thing about these, is often they are designed to be benefits – often they were once ground breaking features and benefits others times, they are features and benefits that have just gone wrong. Value shifts over time. Even what was once an exceptional benefit, slides down the scale to become a detriment over time. Value, like nature, evolves, it’s in a constant state of flux. Once of the most obvious things people want to avoid, e.g. a detriment, is cost – people hate paying for things unless they are getting good value for money! People weigh up perceived benefits (what they love) against these perceived detriments (what they hate) to decide whether they are getting good value from the solution.

A detriment may be a real problem or frustration and very obvious to all – such as high prices, low quality, long delivery times, or complicated processes but it may also be far less obvious because it is just taken for granted. For example, having to get a taxi home, when friends you know could be just meters away and sharing the same route split the cost is a detriment of doing that job! Borrowing money from a bank, going through their processes and paying their high mark ups is a detriment. In the past detriments that were taken for granted were things like sharpening razors, walking to the barbers, waiting days for letters to arrive, having to buy paper to write on, going to the library for information. Today’s big detriments are tomorrows world changers.  Indeed today there’s a few big ones I can think of now  – having to throw away your razor – something we all do and take for granted – why not an ever lasting razor with an electric sharpener? Chocolate, sweet and tasty, but unhealthy and loaded with a calories and sugar. Great looking luxury cars that harm the environment and are unreliable. Tights – ladies are forever complaining they ladder all the time! There’s plenty to love but there’s also plenty to hate too about all these products.  In 20 years, don’t expect any of these irritations to be around any longer. People have a good way of getting rid of what they hate, and as a company, it’s one of your duties. In fact, it’s the reason you exist.

To find a detriment you’d ask a customer – “Do you like that? Is that a good or bad thing? Is that a positive or negative? Would you do it if you didn’t have to?”

There are so many ways of looking at value – love minus hate, positive minus negative, happy minus sad, pleaser minus irritator, wanted minus unwanted, the list goes on. Realise that solutions are here to help, there really shouldn’t be thinks you hate or dislike in them, anymore than there should be poison in medicine!

Creating product value is about focusing on what’s important to consumers in terms of doing the jobs they want to do. Not what you think is important to them, not necessarily what competitors think is important to them, or even worse, only what is important to you as a company. Whatever innovations, great improvements, or big ideas you have, they need to come from consumers thoughts and feelings first about the jobs they are trying to do.

Unique Superior Value

Not only should the value you provide be better in the ways that matter to consumers, it should also be unique. Making superior value is not going to be a worthwhile endeavour if you can’t make it unique or protect it quickly from imitation. The more unique and different in the more ways that are of most important to consumers, the better.

Ebay, Facebook, Amazon, Ferrari – all provide unique superior value – because it would be difficult to surmount any of the them. Even if you did, quick retaliation would likely prevent any uniqueness being developed.

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