The Impact of Customer Power on Product Marketing


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While I often spend time talking about customer experience issues, the real driver for the increased experience expectations is customer power. The shift in power to customers started with the growth of the WorldWideWeb, and has accelerated as a result of social computing. Now, more than ever before, customers have a greater ability to drive their buying cycles, and wield their influence socially, on their terms.

These changes are causing huge impacts within businesses that serve these customers, causing them to reexamine their business processes and practices. While a customer experience focus requires and organizational wide commitment, led by the C-suite, I also believe it presents an opportunity for great product marketers to increase their strategic value.

To me, all great product marketing starts with positioning and, to date, the best positioning framework is still the one described by Geoffrey Moore in his classic, Crossing the Chasm. His formula, published in 1991, still holds up today after more than 20 years:

• For (target customer)
• Who (statement of need or opportunity)
• The (product name) is a (product category)
• That (statement of key benefit – that is compelling reason to buy)
• Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
• Our product (statement of primary differentiation)

Its power comes from the comprehensive nature of the areas its covers. Done right, it provides a guide for defining new product enhancements back into engineering and external marketing and sales activities.

While it still works, I believe that customer power is driving a need to expand the definition with one additional key focus area. My suggestion would be to add an additional bullet around the customer definition portion of the statement:

• For (target customer)
• Who (statement of need or opportunity)
• And desire (statement of experience expectations)
• The (product name)…..

By adding an experience element to the statement, product marketing is on the hook to define the experience dimensions of the product. Expectations could be “low cost and easy to use” or “high value with strong service component” or something similar. By including experience factors, positioning now also guides the strategic approach to customer interactions for all who touch the customer (marketing, sales, service, finance, etc.). I’ve always felt that product marketers who take the time to develop strong positioning statements really are taking ownership of the strategic direction of that product line, not just product marketing. Adding in customer experience factors extends that even farther.

Positioning is only one element of the activities for product marketers (albeit the one that sets the framework for all other tasks) and I plan to explore how customer power is impacting all the elements of product marketing in my new role at Gartner. I’d love to hear you thoughts on this expanded approach to positioning, or other product marketing activities, in light of customer power and customer experience.

Hank Barnes
Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies--particularly around marketing, positioning, and customer experience--for technology providers. Hank has more than 25 years of high-technology sales and marketing experience in both field and corporate roles, both as an individual contributor and the marketing leader for several startups. He is a long-time proponent of customer-centric marketing and the use of customer experience as a key differentiator for business success. His posts here include content from his days with Adobe, SAP, and now Gartner


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