Let community user needs accelerate your biz

Win in your market by developing for your customers’ Community User Needs.

Community involvement is quickly becoming the best way to create new product awareness.  However, this “Pay it Forward” marketing approach does not yield instant returns.  A company must cultivate a strong presence in the many online communities in which their market segment thrives.  Developing a voice on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram remains important.  But there is more. Markets today also foster strong web-service infrastructure communities, open source development communities, and big data communities that lie underneath their consumer facing offerings.

The needs these communities generate for your users must also be considered. Good marketers prioritize their product’s key features by delivering against their customers’ top needs.  The focus has been at a product level, with careful attention to positioning against the competition.  But smart companies are now designing for these new Community User Needs as well.  They represent the missing third leg of user need  driven product development.

Traditional view of User Needs

User needs are best considered as either Qualifying or Differentiating.  Qualifying user needs address those aspects required to compete – the product will be unsellable without satisfying these needs.  Product Reliability is a qualifying need.  Regardless of your product’s other virtues, intermittent failures will prevent sales.   Qualifying needs are table stakes.  Consider MOOCs for example: Qualifying needs might be “Breath of offerings”, “Reliable up time”, and “Monitored student forum in place”.  No one would return or refer a friend if the classes were few, the videos were flaky, or little educational support was provided.  Such a MOOC would not qualify to even compete.

Differentiating needs validate your value proposition, providing the benefits the customer is seeking and the juice of competitive differentiation.  These needs should be vitally important to your user, and weakly (if at all) provided by your competition.  Differentiating needs in the MOOC space might include the  “Number of top-teir universities on network”, the “Availability of certificate programs”, or the “Ability to self-launch a course.”  No one MOOC company can likely deliver all these market requirements better than their competition.  But they can focus on over-delivering one at the expense of another, winning the market sub-segment most valuing that need.

Community user needs should be added to this mix.  When thinking about market development, products that accelerate from launch have embraced one or more strong community elements.  As with traditional user needs, developing for this third class of needs requires upfront planning during the product specification process.  The functionality required is deeply embedded in the product’s architecture and the ecosystems too complex to develop later.

Are Community needs really different?

What makes Community needs fundamentally different from Qualifying or Differentiating needs?

Qualifying implies table stakes.  And at some point, perhaps some of the community elements will be basic requirements. But not yet – few product managers would claim that some socially driven aspect is core to the market itself.  This class of needs is so undeveloped as capabilities that they are seldom even mentioned, much less tried to your specific category.

Differentiation goes to the heart of the value proposition.  What set of your product’s benefits are core to your product and differentiate you from competitive offerings?  Community aspects might be core in some cases, but unlikely deliver the promised benefit for most products.

Community needs represent something different.  Your motivation of addressing them is not for competitive differentiation; your motivation is market momentum. The web has flattened product delivery and marketing communication.  “You” are becoming the channel – some third-party partner will no longer drive your success.  Paradoxically, while product development is increasingly being emphasized to drive business success, the development being suggested is to address a fundamentally changed marketing environment.

Motivating Market Momentum

If addressing community needs speeds our momentum in the market, we need a framework against which to determine where to focus.  Community needs are forming around these categories:

Category #1: Giving back to the communities comprising your market.

Software is eating the world.  What once took hundreds of employees can now be accomplished by a few individuals with net access.  Why?  Because they can access key software capability for free — made available as open source software.  They can access huge data stores upon which to build their application or service – private and public Big Data databases.   They have a reachable market of users with standardized platforms running on their tablets and phones – mobile devices using Android or iOS.  Smart firms are leveraging this world to speed their development, and achieving a tight development focus on their unique contribution.

Contributing back to the community grows the very market they are fulfilling.  It becomes a natural act.  What might be put on GitHub that others would leverage, building more brand equity for you? Which of your data sets might be accessed via an API, and then enhanced by others?  What user data when shared openly improves your customer’s experience?  Becoming a cog in these underlying communities leads to more opportunities more quickly.

Category #2: Engaging in the ecosystem underlying the market.

Market categories are supported by networks of vendors focused on growing that segment. While this has always been true, the web has empowered even the smallest of companies to access these ecosystems.  Probably the best example is Amazon Web Services (AWS).  Building a scalable web service capable of growing to millions of users can now be done by anyone.  You no longer need to buy servers, hire rack space, or deal with load balancing.  Need to put a subscription service in place?  Check out Zuora.  Payment gateway?  Stripe has made it simple.  How can you speed your own momentum and visibility by leveraging others?

Category #3: Leveraging social media APIs.

Market momentum demands targeting the right consumers, getting passed along by the crowd, and building apps that leverage the social network. Twitter is the real-time pulse of the “us”.  Twitter’s API allows you to add rich content to your tweets.  You can search and grab tweets around any subject.   Google’s API allows you to access Google+ users from within the context of your app.  Facebook Open Graph API embeds your apps within the largest social community.  There are many other social networks.  Use these platforms to magnify your social voice, connect with key influencers, and make your app a daily habit with your users.

Category #4: Driving customer referral to friends and colleagues.

Every marketer’s end goal is to motivate a user referral to a friend.  Nothing rings truer with a prospect than a personal recommendation.  Leverage your user base to facilitate such “pre-sale demos”.  Where meaningful, make elements of your products social to allow friend engagement.  How can your customer’s own community power your market momentum?

Category #5: Automating rapid feedback on user engagement.

This category of needs speaks more to usability than community, but it belongs in this list.  Today’s development world cycles quickly.  Linking to your users and understanding their behavior with your product allows you to develop  faster for less money.  Monitor and engage with your users.  Know their startup experience – it is your moment of truth.  Monitor user attrition – it can be lethal.  You can’t find enough new customers to cover a 30% attrition rate every month.  What do your best customers (your paying customers for Fremium biz models) want?  Automate and measure to move fast.

Examples of Community User Needs:

User needs should be stated in a way that allows measurement against the competition.  Some examples of user needs for various the categories are listed below.  A “user need” should be framed as to provide an arena for competitive comparison. Taking the “Social Score” need below: A product manager would estimate her product’s ability to get a high score (usually on a scale of 1-10) and then rank the competitor’s ability to deliver this need relative to hers.  Each firm may be using different specific features or engagements to accomplish this – but the end user sees this need being met.  See this post on user needs for process details.

#1. Give Back #2. Ecosystem #3. Leverage Social #4. Customer Referral #5.  Fast Improve
Active with developers Subscription services Social Score Pre-sale demo User start-up experience
Community value Payment accessibility Influencer targeting User referral capability User attrition
 Health Big Data  Mobile app access FaceBook presence  Social engagement Product improvement cycle

 

Something new is forming that is becoming central to a company’s success: Community User Needs.  These  needs are starting to achieve the same organizational interest and undergo the same R&D  justification hurdles that core user experience needs have always faced.  Development done against meeting these needs requires upfront tradeoff decisions that impacts final product specifications.  But as with functionality designed to meet qualifying and differentiating user needs, rational arguments and fact-based analysis can be used to assign value and understand the costs for development in the support of community user needs.

Brainstorm the community user needs for your market.  Include these in the Design Objective phase of your product development process.  Deliver a fact-based analysis of the marketing value of building momentum early.  Convince your management that these are not ‘nice to haves’ – you cannot afford the marketing benefits they provide using a traditional approach.  Your development team will not only respond, they will probably offer extremely educated suggestions for capabilities only possible with a deep understanding of the workings of the web.

 

Want more on the future of marketing?  Follow me @gilbertdw.

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