Whose Life Are You Changing?

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The other day I received the second in a series of rather melodramatic LinkedIn updates from one of my contacts.  The storyline went like this:

June 21:  Today marks the end of an era… I have had a blackberry since September 2001. RIP Curve. Long live my white iphone!!!

June 30: had a blackberry for 10 yrs. iPhone for a week. Just kinda figured out the bb changed how we work. #iPhone changes how we live.

What interested me about these tweets wasn’t the relative merits of two smartphones, or the angst of changing brand loyalty, but rather what they said about product strategy.  They reminded me that underpinning all great products is a compelling core value proposition directed at a target market.

The Blackberry was developed for business use.  By enabling access to email while away from the computer, it changed the way people worked.  Having a Blackberry quickly became a working-person’s status symbol, then an indispensable business tool.  The demand for the product exploded among companies of all sizes and RIM made a fortune.

The iPhone was developed for personal use. By combining music, messaging, games and other apps with a mobile phone, it changed the way everyone from kids to seniors spent their time communicating, accessing entertainment and sharing information.  It became a status symbol for everyone and is now as common as the wristwatch used to be.  Apple has made an even greater fortune.

What’s amazing about these two products is how well they address the needs and desires of their target market. Very few product managers get to bring a product like the Blackberry or iPhone to market, but all product managers must have a clear understanding of the target market (is it big enough?) and customer value proposition (is it strong enough?) of their own products.  If this actually happened, marketers and sales people wouldn’t spend so much time struggling to explain the value of quirky products to ephemeral prospective buyers.

So, explain to me, who’s life are you changing with your product? If you figure this out before you actually develop the product, odds are you’ll have a better chance of creating something desirable and taking it to market successfully.  Then you might make your fortune too!

PS.  The iPhone is so ubiquitous that it seems like it has been around forever.  In reality, the end of June marks just the fourth anniversary of its introduction.

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