Do traditional consumer businesses need product management?

“We got rid of the classic product management function. Apple didn’t have it either. We morphed the function to a more Apple-style product marketing function. We combined product management with product marketing and we said that you can’t develop products unless you know how to talk about the products.” 

– select excerpts from Brian Chesky’s quote

It is common in technology-driven companies products with new features fail due to poor positioning and marketing execution. The case of mismatch between product and its marketing remains true for traditional consumer businesses as well, where marketing over communicates the product benefits. 

Traditional consumer businesses are equipped with sophisticated marketing expertise and the ability to position simple products in novel ways that motivate consumers to act. Most traditional consumer businesses rely too heavily on creating perceived value which excites consumers into trying, but products behind the claims often fail to deliver the actual value and low repeat purchases lead to failure of products. It would be hard to argue a case against developing products that deliver value that consumers can evidence (especially since it means charging more money). Then why do traditional consumer businesses not develop successful new products?

In our collaboration with several consumer brands, we found that there is a mismatch between expectation and expertise that leads to this. In most firms, brand managers are responsible for discovering changes in consumer needs and for generating business advantage by delivering against them. However, brand managers lack know-how and research & observation techniques that lead to the level of nuanced need identification and specifications required for sharp product design briefs.  Since they are tasked with pushing the business topline and bottomline, they turn the only lever they know how to twist to deliver – positioning.

One could argue that with consumer businesses, products don’t need to evolve as frequently, but with rising usage of more products and services per capita, many product and service formats have started competing with each other and hence purely relying on positioning and marketing execution is a unidimensional approach to competition.

A good product manager would act as a creative problem solver and their agenda should be to strike harmony between all stakeholders and unlock value for all.

In conclusion, a product manager would translate the concept or proposition into value that can be physically evidenced by consumers, while driving business results.

We are NorthSide. A strategy and execution company that partners with young businesses in their start-up and scale-up journey to help build robust brands, develop differentiated products and transform business models.

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