Products are not objects. Products are systems.Today’s products have ethereal and intangible facets that combine marketing, technology and interfaces into complex ecosystems.
The sum of these parts is the product.
When Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo, product people like me rejoiced. (Yes, we have little clubhouse and it’s a minimalist white cube just as you suspected.)
We consider Mayer one of our own. Media coverage has described the decision by Yahoo’s board as between being “a product company or a technology company” or, more often, “a product company vs. a media company.”
But, the lines between, media, technology and product appear to have been drawn by people who have never built a large-scale media product. Both technology and media share more commonality than differences. The products of each are largely intangible with consumer interaction at the heart of the product experience.
Radio was the first, mass scale intangible product. Transcending the physical box in the living room, radio was sound and suggestions of mental pictures that traveled through the air, the primary physical manifestation of entertainment or news broadcasts happened at the moment the signal hit the eardrum. In the 1950s, TV became an even larger scale representation of this idea. Eventually, software and Internet applications joined.
I learned the trade of the contemporary product person while programming radio stations. My products mixed music, news and DJ talk with personal appearances, contests, the personalities of the DJs, TV commercials promoting the station and research. Each aspect contributed to a larger, singular experience. The currency for consumers to buy this product was attention. As my career progressed, I moved on to television advertising packages and technology platforms remaining in the world where the physical was a consumer reaction or experience. I see every facet of the experience of using a media trading platform from the reporting outputs to the marketing to the technology interfaces which are used to integrate with other systems – as the product.
The best product people today – like the great 20th century industrial designers such as Braun’s head of design, Dieter Rams, and designer Philippe Starck – champion the combination of simplicity, elegance, usefulness and beauty. We make software to deliver ads on websites, social media apps plugging into larger ecosystems like Facebook and video games. But, we make products in a post Steve Jobs world and it was Jobs who mainstreamed the idea that the aggregated experience of a product is made from all the different interactions with its intangible and tangible aspects. For example, the retail and unboxing experiences have meaningful effect on the perception of the form factor of the iPad or iPod.
If contemporary products are systems, companies are made up multiple product systems, supply chains, retail, people and the market. While the complexity is many times increased in a large company vs. the simplest iPhone app, it’s still a multi component system. The top technology companies (Apple, Google) and the top media companies (Pixar, HBO) are both product and systems companies that are led by people who are at their heart, product people.
A media or technology company operating today has no choice but to be a product driven company. It’s the attention to the small details and how these details interact to the experience in each and every system that makes product thinking and the contemporary product person at the heart of the most successful.
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