I want to recommend an article that in my opinion is a must read for anyone that considers themselves a product nut.
By product nut, I mean someone that really lives and breathes the product development process according to the discipline of having a clear sense of what "job" (or jobs) the target customer of the product will hire the product to do for them.
In turn, this mindset translates to codifying a holistic theme of the experience that the product must deliver and all of the niggling details that have to be aligned for the integrity of the product to be realized.
The article is called, "The Pitchman: Ron Popeil and the conquest of the American kitchen," and it was written by Malcolm Gladwell for The New Yorker before Gladwell became a cause celebre with The Tipping Point and Blink.
While it is easy to dismiss products like these as sucker's bait (pun intended), one of the focal points of the article is on Popeil's newest project (at the time), the Showtime Rotisserie, a chicken rotisserie oven.
That the product will go on to generate well over $1B of sales suggests that there is more to Popeil's approach than slick (or schlocky) marketing.
And here is where Gladwell's approach is just a joy to read. Part story teller and part sleuth, he gets beyond the simple sound bite to the core of what drives Popeil and his process. The fundamental takeaway is the inseparability of product design and product marketing in building products designed to be coveted by the customer they are target for.
I net this out on two levels. One is the essentialness of understanding that the "steak" and "sizzle" of a product are part and parcel of the overall experience. Two is that in thinking in terms of product lifecycle, one is more likely to thrill customers if they take a "theme based" approach to product releases.
Or as Gladwell captures, the secret to success is making the product "the star," and making design decisions accordingly. The following excerpt from the article captures this in practice:
Why does this work so well? Because the Showtime--like the Veg-O-Matic before it--was designed to be the star. From the very beginning, Ron insisted that the entire door be a clear pane of glass, and that it slant back to let in the maximum amount of light, so that the chicken or the turkey or the baby-back ribs turning inside would be visible at all times.
…But Ron understood that the perfect brown is important for the same reason that the slanted glass door is important: because in every respect the design of the product must support the transparency and effectiveness of its performance during a demonstration--the better it looks onstage, the easier it is for the pitchman to go into the turn and ask for the money.
To be clear, one does not get a sense of cynicism or inch-deep veneer, but rather, the utmost sincerity of an entrepreneur who has conceptualized the end experience for the customer through the rigor and tinkering of consistently eating his own dog food, and then working backwards to how it is to be sold and what the product needs to showcase to lubricate the sales process.
It's clear that Gladwell, in covering Popeil, has great appreciation of the ideation process, from the initial "AHA" of opportunity to the building up of a straw man prototype, tearing it down, iterating and building up again from there.
Part of this comes down to the importance of tinkering, as this excerpt captures:
S. J. Popeil was a tinkerer. In the middle of the night, he would wake up and make frantic sketches on a pad he kept on his bedside table. He would disappear into his kitchen for hours and make a huge mess, and come out with a faraway look on his face. He loved standing behind his machinists, peering over their shoulders while they were assembling one of his prototypes.
But a lot of it really comes down to having a vision, having the courage of your convictions and being willing to pitch and pitch prodigiously, as captured here:
The response to it has been such that within the next three years total sales of the Showtime should exceed a billion dollars. Ron Popeil didn't use a single focus group. He had no market researchers, R. & D. teams, public-relations advisers, Madison Avenue advertising companies, or business consultants. He did what the Morrises and the Popeils had been doing for most of the century, and what all the experts said couldn't be done in the modern economy. He dreamed up something new in his kitchen and went out and pitched it himself.
…Like most great innovations, it was disruptive. And how do you persuade people to disrupt their lives? Not merely by ingratiation or sincerity, and not by being famous or beautiful. You have to explain the invention to customers-- not once or twice but three or four times, with a different twist each time. You have to show them exactly how it works and why it works, and make them follow your hands as you chop liver with it, and then tell them precisely how it fits into their routine, and, finally, sell them on the paradoxical fact that, revolutionary as the gadget is, it's not at all hard to use.
A final thought. As broadband becomes ubiquitous and video ad creation becomes within the reach of non Madison Avenue types, why wouldn't every business that considers themselves as having a differentiated value proposition create an infomercial that pitches their story?