In a recent post I talked about the benefits of productizing your business model along with some functional ways to achieve productization.
A product, in and of itself is really only 1/2 of what you are selling to your clients. The other 1/2 of the equation is the "experience".
It sounds a bit "fluffy" but in my career as a service provider and in my purchasing history as a consumer the experience matters. I would even go so far as to say that in some very noticeable cases the experience can outweigh the product itself (to some extent anyways).
These halves, the product and the experience, can cut both ways.
Sometimes a product is so good that the experience can be average or even below average and the provider will still make out and sometimes the experience is so fantastic that an otherwise average or above average product is elevated to what can be priced as a premium product or service.
Let's get a few obvious variables out of the way first. It is understood that:
- Experience matters more to some people than others
- Experience matters more in certain industries than others
- The actual product matters more to some
- The actual product matters more in some industries
If we stipulate that the 4 scenarios mentioned above are true, which they are, it still doesn't change the basic premise that you are probably leaving revenue and growth on the table if you settle on one side or the other.
While it's true that you can be successful even if your product to experience ratio is like a seesaw heavily weighted in one direction over the other, it is also true that you would probably be more successful if you made both the best each could be.
Defining Where Product Meets Experience
I'll layout a couple of examples here to help illustrate the point:
- The "Big Four" in the link research tools space; Ahrefs, Link Research Tools, Majestic, and Open Site Explorer
- The two more well-known "tool/reporting suites" Raven and Moz outside of much more expensive enterprise toolkits
In my experience Ahrefs has been the best combination of product and experience, especially lately. Their dataset continues to grow and recent UI changes have made it even easier to use. Exports are super fast and I’ve had quick and useful interactions with their support staff. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that, from groups of folks I interact with and follow online, Ahrefs continues to pop up more often in conversation than not.
To me, Majestic and Link Research Tools are examples of where the product is really, really strong (copious amounts of data across many segments) but the UI/UX is not quite as good as the others. I realize some of this is subjective but in other comparisons online this seems to be a prevailing theme.
Open Site Explorer has a fantastic UI/UX but the data can be a bit behind the others and getting data out (exporting) is bit more of a chore than point, click, download. It seems like over a period of time OSE has had a rougher road to data and update growth than the other tools I mentioned.
In the case of two of more popular reporting and research suites, Moz and Raven, Raven has really caught up (if not surpassed) Moz in terms of UI/UX. Raven pulls in data from multiple sources, including Moz, and has quite a few more (and easier to get to and cross-reference) features than Moz.
Moz may not be interested in getting into some of the other pieces of the online marketing puzzle that Raven is into but I think it’s still a valid comparison based on the very similar, basic purpose of each tool suite.
Assessing Your Current Position
When assessing or reassessing your products and offerings, a lot of it goes back to targeting the right market.
- Is the market big enough to warrant investment into a product?
- How many different segments of a given market do you need to appeal to?
- Where’s the balance between feature bloat (think Zoho CRM) versus “good enough” functionality with an eye towards an incredible UX (think Highrise CRM)?
If the market isn’t big enough and you have to go outside your initial target, how will that affect the balance between the functionality of your product and the experience for your users, customers, or clients?
If you are providing SEO services your "functionality" might be how easy it is to determine the reports you provide and their relationship(s) to a client's profitability or goals (or both). Your "experience" is likely a combination of things:
- The graphical presentation of your documents
- The language used in your reports and other interactions with the client
- The consistency of your "brand" across the web
- The consistency of your brand presentation (website, invoices, reports, etc)
- Client ability to access reports and information quickly without having to ask you for it
- Consistency of your information delivery (are you always on-time, late, or erratic with due dates, meetings, etc)
When you breakdown what you think is your "product" and "experience" you'll likely find that it is pretty simple to develop a plan to improve both, rather than beating the vague "let's do great things" company line that no one really understands but just nods at.
Example of Experience in Action
In just about every Consumer Reports survey Apple comes out on top for customer satisfaction. Apple, whether you like their products/"culture" or not, creates a fairly reliable, if not expensive, end to end experience. This is doubly true if you live near an Apple store.
If you look at laptop failure rates Apple is generally in the middle of the pack. There are other things that go into the Apple experience (using the OS and such) but part of the reason people are willing to pay that premium is due to their support options and ability to fix bugs fairly quickly.
To tie this into our industry, I think Moz is a good parallel example here. Their design is generally heralded as being quite pleasant and it's pretty easy to use their tools; there isn't a steep learning curve to using most of their products.
I think their product presentation is top notch, even though I generally prefer some of their competitors products. They are pretty active on social media and their support is generally very good.
So, in the case of Moz it's pretty clear that people are willing to pay for less robust data or at least less features and options partly (or wholly) due to their product experience and product presentation.
Redesigning Your Experience
You might already have some of these but it's worthwhile to revisit a very basic style guide (excluding audience development):
- Consistent logo and colors
- Vocabulary and Language Style (the tone of your brand, is it My Brand or MyBrand or myBrand, etc)
Some Additional Resources
Here are some visual/text-based resources that I have found helpful during my own redefining process:
- How to quantify user experience
- Krug's Rocket Surgery Made Easy
- Don't Make Me Think Revisited
- Lynda.Com Developing a Style Guide
- A free course from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania on branding and marketing
These are some of the tools you might want to use to help in this process:
- Running copy through Word for readability Scores- Office 2013
- A Windows tool that can help improve your writing- Stylewriter
- A Mac tool to help with graphics and charts- Omnigraffle
- A Windows tool to help with charts and graphics- SmartDraw
- A cloud-based presentation tool that helps the less artistically inclined (like me)- Prezi
- Online proposal software- Proposable
- A text expander for Mac, comes in handy with consistent "messaging"- TextExpander
- Windows alternative that syncs with TextExpander- Breevy
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