Product is an ecosystem not an end result

This started as an internal hot topic - why do people so often misunderstand what ‘product’ means? As we talked through various opinions, it dawned on me. The word is the problem. It’s being used to describe so many things. From our day-to-day experience in the digital world at least, product is used interchangeably with services, apps, websites, the list goes on. 

So, this is a stab at putting my thoughts into writing in the hope that it creates a more lively conversation.

bright animated tree with a hanging apple

Products & services. What’s the difference?

The distinction between products and services is becoming more blurred, so I thought it would be useful to start with (my) definition of what each of these means.

Products are the (typically) tangible interface between your users and your business. So it’s important that your products represent your business in the best possible light. Good products should always solve a problem that’s worth solving or provide a benefit that a user could not live without. A product can be standalone and provide value to users. However, no product, in reality, is standalone - particularly as products become part of larger propositions or programmes. That’s when the services around them become vital to a product’s success.

By the above definition, services are the intangible interface between your users and your business and tend to be associated with management or experiences. Services are often combined with products; a wrapper to provide users with value beyond the product itself. Things like customer service and maintenance are examples of these wrappers.

There are three types of products and services in terms of value to a business. External ones that generate revenue directly and those that indirectly amplify another product or service; and indirect ones that increase productivity or reduce costs. All of these things are what make them viable to a business. That is, it makes sense for a business to invest in as the value is worthwhile.

Viability, therefore, is fundamental to a business’s success. Without it, the product or service will never (or should never) be built. However, many businesses think about viability first when it comes to building a new product or service. Without considering desirability, ongoing, it’s hard to create the value that the product or service should offer to users.

What does this all mean?

I believe that product is not just about the end result or the outcome, or even the value to a business. To me, product is our approach to creating and optimising a product throughout its life cycle through strategy, delivery, tech, user experiences, design & quality assurance, rapidly adapting to changing user behaviours, technical advances, and business needs. It involves actively encouraging ideas and providing the ecosystem to test and learn.

I believe a product can only be “good” (solve important problems or provide invaluable benefits) if considered to be a production line - the whole process from initiation to first release and ongoing optimisation. It, therefore, must include continuous iteration to update based on user needs. And that’s where we always start - with user needs or desirability rather than business requirements. 

Many clients come to us with a business need. Through our holistic product approach, we’re able to connect the dots between the business needs and the corresponding user needs.

By solving user problems or introducing remarkable benefits we are able to exceed everyone's expectations, in a measurable way. The result is a deeper, stronger connection between businesses and their users. Driving value for both parties. 

So, in summary...

When I say product, I mean holistic product life cycle thinking and doing, to create extraordinary relationships between users and businesses. 

Do you agree? I’d love to hear if this resonates with you, or if you disagree entirely. Please get in touch if you’d like to join the discussion!

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