Venture Capitalist at Theory

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2 minute read / May 29, 2013 /

Block and Tackle Product Marketing

At the D conference yesterday, Tim Cook said many things without saying much. But one story did strike me. Cook described the product management and strategy process at Apple.

Walt Mossberg asked Cook why the iPhone has only one flavor when the iPod had so many including the shuffle, the nano, the mini, and the classic. Even though both products originally launched as a single model, the iPod flourished into a family of products while the iPhone has remained a single SKU.

Cook responded by telling the story of the shuffle. The original shuffle had no screen, focused primarily on shuffling music and was designed for athletes - a use case that while somewhat well served by the existing iPod, was much better served by a proprietary device. But it was only once the iPod had reached a certain scale of usage that the executive team at Apple could justify creating a child product. By that point, it was apparent that a new customer segment had emerged that wouldn’t cannibalize their existing business. The data proved it.

Say what you will about Apple’s phone strategy, and of course that might all change radically at WWDC in just 10 days, but what did come through and Tim Cook’s description of the product management process at Apple is a clear understanding of customer segments: their desires and needs. Throughout the evening, Cook spoke often about customer satisfaction scores and used the refrain of “customers tell me this and that” frequently.

It was apparent to me that even at the executive levels of the world’s largest technology company, user centric design is paramount at Apple. But we knew that.

The wrinkle is that Apple combines this design with superb product marketing. Customer segmentation, customer studies and use case analysis are at the core of the product development process.

Cook followed Apple’s disciplined process to understand the market, justify the need, develop a deep understanding of the market segment and only then release a product.

Like any discipline, it’s easy to describe but hard to maintain. A disciplined process like this will always be in conflict with product management by epiphany or vision. But I think it’s something we can all learn from as startup founders, product managers and VCs. It’s block and tackle product marketing.

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