It’s All About the Product

“Product Comes First,” is certainly true. You can’t market something that doesn’t exist. And you can’t support something that doesn’t exist.

In the timeline, you start creating and building the product first.

Does that make the product the most important part? I tend to think Marketing is more important in the quest to go viral, but it’s not a clear winner.

Great product is very important. Cases exist where great marketing and great support can overcome mediocre product but it’s hard, it’s really hard. Great product enables viral growth and a really great product can drive viral growth.

What makes a great product?

First of all, it must fill a market need. It might fill a market need that no one realized was there, like the iPod. Who knew they needed to carry a thousand songs in their pocket? Apple sure did.

“Market Need” could be defined as something desperately needed, it could be something that excites and interests people, it could be something that people wish they had. It might even be something that the market doesn’t realize they need yet. You can’t go viral by pushing a product down people’s throats, so you need to tap into the “pull” from the market segment, that interest in and demand for the product.

Second, the software must function the way users will intuitively function. Some things are obvious: fifteen menu clicks to use a key feature is not intuitive. Customers will throw up their hands in disgust. Sure, you can have a clunky UI and if there’s enough market demand you’ll grow, but you won’t go viral. The inherent degree of difficulty in using a clunky UI is like putting on the brakes when you’re trying to set a land speed record. Lots of groaning and straining and you’ll get going, but nowhere near the potential.

Figuring out how users will intuitively function is a science and art unto itself. Simply described, software must be

  • Easy to use
  • Pleasant UI to look at
  • Logical layouts
  • Obvious features easy to access
  • Less important features take a few more clicks.

To go viral, the layout and menu sequences have to match how the user will naturally tend to use the product. Determining that, ah, that’s the trick!

I include in this that the software does what it’s supposed to do.

Third, the software cannot annoy the user one bit. Clunky installs, complicated menus, confusing descriptions, all detract. For every hard-earned brownie point you make in section two, take away three points for each annoyance.

Fourth, the entire User Experience surrounding researching, downloading, installing, playing with it, buying it, using it has to be smooth and a well-greased road. Every point that inhibits any one of these items acts as a brake and “slows the flow.” Imagine a water hose that has a bunch of bends and kinks in it. No matter how much water pressure is behind it, what comes out of the other end of the hose is only a fraction of its potential.

To summarize, for a product to go viral, it must meet these four criteria:

  1. Fits a market need (whether the market knows it yet or not!)
  2. The software functions the way users intuitively function and does its job well
  3. No annoyances! Penalty points for each annoyance!
  4. The entire User Experience surrounding the software is smooth and trouble-free

Defining that market need and determining how users intuitively function both are fascinating technologies in themselves, and books could be (and have been) written about each. Suffice to say that you need to accomplish both of these well to go viral.

Meeting the above four points is a lot of work and it’s no easy task. It is the cornerstone, it is the foundation, for going viral. Make a great product and you’re ready to go viral. Then it’s up to the marketing folks to let the world know about it and where to find it.

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The Three Pillars of Going Viral

The dot-com boom resulted in a lot of companies exploding with growth and profit. Since then there have continued to be success stories–and a lot of failures as well. Analyzing what was successful over the long term, and looking at companies in the same market segments that have not fared well, three key factors come to the fore.

Those who read this will undoubtedly say, “Well, that’s not true for X company. They didn’t do one or two of these key factors and they made a fortune!” To those detractors I will point out that being in the right place at the right time with a decent product and a decent business model WILL result in explosive growth due to riding the raging rapids of an exploding market or segment.

However if your crystal ball is only the garden variety and you aren’t able to pinpoint the exact right place and exact right time that explosive growth will occur in your market, you’re going to need a plan that’s more under your control.

Note that this applies specifically to the software world, however other industries follow the same trend to a greater or lesser degree.

The Three Pillars of Going Viral are:

  • Product
  • Marketing
  • Support

The politically incorrect version is:

  • Kick-ass Product
  • Effective Marketing
  • Stellar Support

I’ll cover each of these in greater detail in subsequent blogs.

Certainly there have been cases where companies have had viral growth with one or two of the pillars in place. In those cases, they’ve had exceptional Product or Marketing. I will say that if Support is lousy, that explosive growth will flat-line and eventually implode.

I’ll add my Law of Viral Growth: Products that meet a customer need, function the way users intuitively will use that product and are well marketed with great support, will succeed like crazy.

I could go on and on here—in fact I started to—but I’ll leave that for future blogs.