In our latest Product Talks event, US product management consultant and blogger, Roger Cauvin, guided a group of Sydney-based product managers through an interesting discussion – balancing commercial objectives with user experience.
The premise of the discussion was that various commercial initiatives do not have to be inconsistent with principles of strong user experience. It is possible, although sometimes challenging, to find a balance that satisfies both interests.
Types of commercial initiatives
The discussion kicked off with Roger providing an overview of some common commercial initiatives:
- Corporate branding:
Brand managers are focused on maximising the awareness and perception of their brands and often a corporate brand is mandated for use with a particular product. Some examples were discussed whereby a broad multi-product brand was applied to very different market segments, leading to confusion and misperceptions about the product.
- Regulatory compliance:
In an increasingly regulated business environment, new rules apply that can make some products and services more complex to sell or use. For example, the level of security now required for some online transactions can be a disincentive to purchase and may actually encourage some users to switch to more traditional transaction methods.
- Company processes:
Unsurprisingly, company processes, rules and methodologies are common, particularly in larger organisations and the group discussed many examples of when such processes complicate things to the detriment of the user experience.
- Revenue/cost control:
As the economy tightens up, organisations seek efficiencies and cost savings and this often impacts on user experience. Examples of offshoring processes or customer support were given.
- Social responsibility:
Voluntary and mandatory adherence to new social expectations around community and environmental responsibility have influenced business. Whilst users increasingly demand that organisations take a more proactive role, this often means more complex processes or changes in product design or function that users may not have wanted.
Discussion within the group also introduced some other possible sources of commercial focus, including the aptly named “Executive pet project” in which a product or service is created for political reasons with important checks and balance steps being skipped or rushed with negative results.
Roger than recapped principles of user experience, outlining that it was influenced by many factors. Initially design helps to determine the experience but the effects of sales, marketing, operations, customer demands and competitive forces acting to shape and mould it.
Finding the balance between commercial initiatives and user experience
Roger proposed some ideas and suggestions for trying to find the right balance between corporate initiatives and user experience:
- Adoption of rules:
Introducing rules and then following them are an effective way to ensure that all products and services are designed, developed and managed in consistent ways with a focus on satisfying customers and providing value to the organisation. By ensuring senior level support of rules and by having necessary flexibility, organisations can better manage political or process based disputes and issues.
- Finding synergies:
Even when commercial initiatives and user experience seem opposed, it is possible to identify synergies – aspects or elements that have a positive relationship. The example of Google’s search revenue model was discussed – ultimately, users prefer not to see advertising messages when engaging online, however Google has challenged this mindset successfully by making ads that are relevant and useful for the user, rather than distracting. This enhances the user experience and generates revenue for Google.
- Launching separate brands:
Particularly important around the product marketing functions, leading organisations have taken multi-brand approaches, either as related sub-brands or as entirely different brands to ensure that products are correctly positioned in the relevant market.
- “Spinning” to maintain positioning:
When a commercial initiative negatively affects user experience, product managers must find an aspect of the initiative that strengthens the product’s positioning and highlight this strength. For example, some mouthwash products taste awful but the spin is that bad taste helps fight germs.
Commercial initiatives and user experience need not conflict
The debate then heated up as we discussed the topic in the context of real world experience from attendees. With participants working in software, not-for-profit, television, media and professional services, there was a wide range of perspectives and opinions.
The event concluded that commercial initiatives and user experience need not be conflicting forces. Through a number of simple steps and principles, both can be incorporated into any stage of a product, from design and development through to ongoing management and marketing.
Next Product Talks
At our next product talks we will be discussing the topic of Social Media and product management. How are the new conversation based tools and technologies of Web 2.0 influencing product managers? What opportunities and challenges will be faced and will the dynamic between product managers, their organisations and customers change?