Why Products Suck #9: They Don’t Fulfill a Need

Part IX in an ongoing series of Why Products Suck (and what we can do about it).

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. It’s becoming less and less difficult to manufacture and develop products. Stories abound of people building new web products overnight or in a week. Rapid manufacturing techniques mean you can get physical products built in days, not months. This doesn’t mean these products are any good, of course, just that it can be done.

Rapid construction doesn’t mean a damn thing if no one cares about the product. Having an idea for product doesn’t mean that people will want it. People care about products that fill a need in their lives. And not just the company’s need to make money off this idea, but a real, unmet need of your customers. What can this product give them that no other product can? What is the value proposition? Why would anyone spend their time and money using this?

For an amazingly large number of companies, start-ups especially, the answer is a resounding, “We don’t know, but we’re certain people will like it.” Or, better yet, “Focus groups tell us they’d use it.” If your product doesn’t meet a need, adoption (after a possible initial burst of interest fueled by novelty) will decline and the product will fail.

Not being able to articulate succinctly why a customer would use your product and what need it fills in their lives is an enormous failure of product strategy. Not a line of code, not a sketch of form, not a chart in a marketing plan should ever be started without this crucial piece of knowledge.

There are any number of ways to figure this out. Competitive analysis is a good place to begin. Where is the hole in the market? What could be there? A vision prototype can help as well, trying to imagine the end state of the product. Design research is another helpful tool to find out the three key things when designing a product: motivations (why would someone use this product?), expectations (how do users think this product should work?), and behaviors (what is the context of use, and what tasks does it need to successfully perform?).

Guesses can be made at these, of course, and sometimes very good ones. But what makes products terrible is when no one even bothers to guess at them. No one looks from outside the organization at what the end user (often unconsciously) needs. Thus, we get flooded with products that aren’t differentiated, that don’t meet any needs or desires, that don’t convince customers to make them a part of their lives. Landfills are littered with these products, as is the TechCrunch Deadpool. In other words, they suck.