“You've got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”
What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer? Why us? These are the three key questions we should ask ourselves when we're working on a new product.
It's not a question of positioning, that comes later. At this stage we're looking for a set of benefits that is so strong that they're almost self-evident, so we can take customers on a journey with us. Which is what answers the third question: why us?
When something like this comes along, the connection becomes obvious. Yet, it is the rare organization that sees the obvious before knowing the answers. In June 2007, the iPhone was a revolutionary product. We couldn't buy anything like it.
Plenty of smart phones were on the market, Moto Q, Blackberry, Palm Treo, the Nokia E62 — their ease of use was debatable. People got really good at figuring out how to type on the little keyboards. Smartphone makers kept iterating on the device, making it somewhat incrementally more usable.
Not one of those companies thought of reinventing the device altogether. After Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, other companies got to work to build other touch-screen devices. Once we know the answer, everything is obvious. Naysayers only had to see the lines of people sneaking around Apple stores to know demand was strong — a $700 device selling like hot concert tickets.
The one device took years to make and many turns, according to the Secret History of the iPhone:
“The stars aligned. They also aligned with lithium-ion battery technology, and with the compacting of cameras. With the accretion of China’s skilled labor force, and the surfeit of cheaper metals around the world. The list goes on.
It’s not just a question of waking up one morning in 2006 and deciding that you’re going to build the iPhone; it’s a matter of making these non intuitive investments and failed products and crazy experimentation — and being able to operate on this huge timescale
Most companies aren’t able to that. Apple almost wasn’t able to do that.”
It was an intense time. It takes years and so many moving parts to make something like that happen. And the demo Jobs did during the Keynote Address at Macworld San Francisco on January 9th, 2007 could have gone terribly wrong at any time. To show the four features people already used on other phones, Jobs used several devices, swapping them under the podium.
Meanwhile backstage the team — and it was a team of people each who had a team to work on their assigned function — was holding its individual and collective breath as Jobs concludes with a call to Starbucks to order 4,000 lattes.
But before getting to that part, Jobs resets expectations. He's introducing three devices… which are actually only one — the iPhone, a device 5 years ahead of any other phone. In addition to the technical details that will enable customers to do all the things they want, they already know how to keep this new phone charged and up to date. Thanks to the iPod, 100 million Apple customers were already used to syncing with iTunes.
“You've got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology,” he said at Apple WWDC closing keynote in 1997. Ten years later, Jobs was on stage showing how to make calls, take photos, use the calendar, and send sms from the iPhone. The things people do on smart phones, with a completely reinvented customer experience.
The same principle works for products we deliver to other businesses. When we look at the market and competitive options, we want to find the equivalent of that intersection between smart and easy to use. Maybe the product is higher quality at an advantageous price. For many organizations service in an option.
When we do the work upfront to identify incredible benefits and create something meaningful, customer attraction is built in. From there, we want to look for ways to help people join in beyond the conversation. Do those well and telling the story becomes much more interesting.