What Is A Product?

The title is a question we have been kicking around at Neo for the last few weeks. I often refer to us as a product agency, as opposed to digital agencies that do marketing websites and campaign work. But what is a product?

Here’s an initial stab.

A product is a repeatable capability that delivers value to its customer. A product might be consumed, personalized, or come with bespoke services, but it is not inherently bespoke at its core.

The product designer’s job is to create a replicable experience that will deliver the most value to the right set of customers.

The product lies at the center of a suite of capabilities that together form a total experience for customers (and often partners too). For customers, these capabilities include how you market to and acquire them, how you support and continually engage them, and how you charge them.

Characteristics of a product:

  • there is a core, repeatable engine that powers the customer experience
  • it can make money while people sleep
  • ideally it delivers continued value, rather than existing as a one-time thing (unless purposefully designed as a consumable)

These days, any product that aspires to be more than a boutique, artisan thing is also powered by software. There might be physical hardware or human services involved, but there is almost always software involved to make it scalable, streamlined, and ultimately smarter for the customer.

The interesting thing is that every product company out there is turning into a software product company. This is a profound thing, and requires some profound changes. It requires a new excellence in design, engineering, and business. It requires new processes and ways of thinking.  A wave of startups have been taking advantage of the incumbents’ difficulty in making that transition, but it does feel like the giants are starting to wake up to this reality step by little, baby step.

  • Good stuff, Giff. I think you should add that products must also capture value.

    I don’t buy into the definition of a startup as “a repeatable and scalable business model,” because I think it’s misleading. A repeatable and scalable product makes more sense in my mind.

    • I don’t know that a product must capture value, but I do agree that it should. A startup must, that’s for damn sure.

      OK that’s enough theory for me. On to more practical matters 😉

      • Right, so you’re including products that quickly die without funding in this definition :).

      • Right, so you’re including products that die without funding in this definition. 🙂

        If a product falls in a forest and no one hears it, was it a product in the first place?

        • Stop making me talk theory owens 😉

          I guess my answer would be that yes, it is a product, but not one that we would respect. Of course the definition of “create value” needs to be wide and cover non-profit and community products as well as free products, powered by funding, that eventually create value through an exit.

          • Perhaps a better way is that the product must be sustainable.

          • rene

            Bit late to the conversation – just discovered the blog (shame on me)… I would add that the product must deliver meaningful, measureable outcomes for its users (as opposed to simple outputs). How will the product impact the user? Will it allow them to accomplish a task quicker, more efficiently? Will they actually learn what they set out to do, e.g. acquire new skills etc.?

  • Hi Giff, I have a very short definition for what is a product : “it’s something people choose to use or buy”. “Choose” is very important, and it summarizes a lot of things, I believe.

    • You buy a cleaning service cleaning your house. You buy an accountant doing your taxes. You buy lots of bespoke services that aren’t scalable because there’s no repeatable engine

      • I see what you mean. I find it’s a good description for a certain type of product (software, customer facing products maybe ?).

        Strictly saying, a product is either a good (something made of matter) or a service (immaterial). Digital products don’t fit perfectly in one or the other category, so there is clearly something missing that you are defining (scalable, repeatable, etc)… But I believe it’s not simply a Product.

        For instance I don’t get “It can make money while you are asleep”. Who is “you” ? The user or the vendor ?

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts !