The Straightforward Guide to Product Strategy

Some ideas occur from a thorough process of planning and evaluation. Others are born entirely by accident. Did you know that bubble wrap was originally intended to be used as wallpaper? Or that the famously “sort-of-sticky” Post-it note was developed in an attempt to create a more powerful adhesive?

It’s easy to look at these eureka! moments and assume that product design is easy. Unless you’re Alexander Fleming discovering Penicillin in a petri dish, this isn’t usually the case.

In most cases, companies will falter without having a solid product development process in place. This is particularly true in a post-pandemic era. Companies are being pushed to their limits to innovate, streamline, and overhaul their products.

And the framework guiding these decisions is known as your product strategy.

What Is a Product Strategy?

In most cases, companies will falter without having a solid product development process in place. This is particularly true in our post-pandemic era. Companies are being pushed to their limits to innovate, streamline, and overhaul their products.

The framework guiding these decisions is known as your product strategy – a high level plan outlining what your company hopes to achieve with a new product, as well as action steps for reaching those goals.

These action steps could describe the process of launching a new product outright, or, as we’ve seen during the pandemic, they could describe how to pivot your products to accommodate your market’s changing needs.

As an example, we’ve seen many companies adjust their product strategies to respond to new demands during the pandemic:

  • Vacuum manufacturer Dyson has begun producing life-saving ventilators;
  • Liquor distilleries have switched to producing hand sanitizer;
  • Clothing manufacturers are producing face masks at great scale;
  • Movie studies are streaming new films instead of relying on theater chains.

Why Is a Product Strategy Important?

Product strategies are an essential part of making sure your products find their market, regardless if you’re launching a new product or pivoting to a new approach.

Overall, a solid product strategy helps you:

  • Define what you need to build and when

Instead of diving head first into your product roadmap, a product strategy can help you prioritize which features, products, and updates you need to implement. You’ll also be able to outline a strategy for analyzing product feedback, so you can let your customers be part of the decision making process.

  • Improve team communication

A clear product strategy will help teams across your organization better understand your products, and know how their efforts contribute to the overall success of your product. For example, a clear product strategy can help customer success teams get to know your product inside and out, so they’re able to articulate the different ways in which your product can benefit customers, and provide outstanding customer support.

The pandemic has forced us to become more proactive and creative in our approaches, a trend that’s sure to continue throughout 2021. Companies will need to update their product strategies in turn to accommodate this new norm.

The Most Important Product Strategy Elements

There are three main product strategy elements you’ll need to consider: Your market, your business goals, and your product’s key differentiators.

Target Market

If you want to learn how to create a product strategy, start with your market. This applies to what customer needs you serve with your product as well as to whom you’re selling. Who’s buying your product? How will they use it? Think ahead here and look for data-driven insights into your customers’ pain points, then come up with proactive solutions to address them.

Zoom didn’t wait for customers to demand a multi-use video communication platform during the pandemic. They thought two steps ahead about existing and potential customers’ needs, and positioned themselves as a platform for learning, business meetings, socializing, etc; ‘zoom’ even became a verb! Needless to say, Zoom saw sales skyrocket.

Product Differentiation

What sets your product apart from your competitors? Think of this as your unique selling proposition that encourages customers to choose your product over another. Ideally, this will be a powerful sticking point in your market’s mind and be the first thing they think of when they think of your product/brand.

If you’re Starbucks, this might be a line of high-quality, unique coffee products delivered in a warm, inviting atmosphere. Is Starbucks coffee really better than the brew at your local coffee shop? Maybe. In truth, it doesn’t really matter – what matters is that Starbucks’ branding creates differentiation in their markets’ eyes, allowing them to charge a premium for their specialty products.

Business Goals

Your final input relates to your long-term goals. What do you want to get out of this marketing push? Are you trying to expand your product line? Break into a new market?

Put some thought into your vision, but don’t get too dogmatic about sticking to your plan. As detailed by Melissa Perri, product consultant and Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Business School, there’s value in staying flexible:

“Our plan should be to reach our business goals. We need to switch from thinking about Product Strategy as something that is dictated from top to bottom, and instead something that is uncovered as we learn what will help us achieve our objectives.”

Getting Started: Steps to Develop Your Product Strategy

The process of developing these product strategy elements may seem abstract on paper, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Learn how to do a product strategy with these simple steps:

1. Identify your target audience

Know the details of your desired market, their demographics, shopping habits, preferences, and pain points. This is where you’ll start collecting the wealth of customer data at your disposal.

2. Listen and learn

Built off the above, really listen to what your audience has to say and determine what product features can best address those needs. This step will involve some heavy lifting, sorting through customer survey data, interview feedback, shopping trends, social media, and historical purchasing data to find answers.

While it’s easy to analyze the quantitative data you collect, you might struggle to gain insights from your qualitative feedback. However through the power of AI tools like MonkeyLearn, it’s easy to manage this data in a simple, user-friendly way. For example, MonkeyLearn’s sentiment analyzer automatically combs through huge amounts of customer response data in a matter of minutes to determine how customers feel.

Combining this with topic analysis tools provides deep insight into how customers feel about a given topic or certain aspects of your product. These are fine-grained insights that can provide valuable context for your product strategy, like new features you should include or existing features that need updating.

Additionally, AI tools offer real-time analysis to provide fast insights you can use to update product strategies on the go. With MonkeyLearn, it’s also easy to automate processes, like ticket tagging and routing. To truly listen to your customers, your customer service team will need to regularly pass on product feedback insights to the product team, so that they can work on improving your product on the go.

3. Define goals and visions

Referring back to our three levers, what vision do you have for your product and what goals will you set along the way? Think in terms of both actionable, short-term goals and long-term aspirational visions.

4. Define your current state

If the above vision is an aspirational view of where you want to go, your current state details where you are today – as well as how those two scenarios differ.

5. Create roadmap

If your product strategy elements outline the process, your roadmap details the concrete, actionable steps you’ll take to see it through. If you’re struggling to understand just what a product strategy is, this deliverable can help put rubber to road, so to speak.

6. Revisit and review

Don’t assume that you’re done planning after your process is complete! You’ll need to revisit your product roadmap and target conditions throughout to ensure everything stays aligned with your goals.

Build a Data-Backed Product Strategy

The above guide outlines the basic product strategy elements, but the most important part of any product strategy is the data used to build it. Without having the right customer data to inform your process, you’ll have a hard time ensuring that your new releases find their market. That’s where MonkeyLearn comes in.

With our help, you’ll receive personalized machine learning models that provide insight into your biggest datasets. You’ll be able to train these models to identify user intent, sentiments, keyword usage, and more, all to inform your product roadmap. This is the easiest way to build and refine your product development strategy over time.

Visit MonkeyLearn to learn more about what a data-backed approach can bring to your product launch.

Rachel Wolff

February 11th, 2021