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What Makes You The Number 1 Product Manager?

Listen:

Amazon often does this thing where they start with the customer instead of just coming up with a product and then trying to figure out how to sell it. They call it "working backwards." This strategy totally works for any product decisions, but it's especially important when they're making something new.

The Press Release Exercise

When it comes to launching new stuff, product managers usually start by writing a press release for customers. This press release is all about their pain points, how current solutions fall short, and how the new product is going to crush it. If the benefits don't get customers excited, the product manager needs to keep tweaking the press release until it sounds super awesome. It's way easier and cheaper to make changes to a press release than it is to change the product itself.

Here’s a template I use to describe a new service or product:

  • Main header: The product name anyone directly understands, like “Ultra-compact power charger”
  • Subheading: One subtitle, not more than 150 chars, like “Never run out of power for your mobiles”
  • Short overview: A summary, direct and logical. The customer will never read it all, so keep it short.
  • Problem: What does the product solve? Add data, market studies, etc, Like: “over 60% of mobile device users run out of power daily and can’t recharge in time”
  • Solution: How does your product solve that particular problem? Write that in two short, nice written sentences.
  • Quote from a sparring partner: Getting a quote from a peer might be a sign that there is a market (for the powerbank in the example I doubt, since the market is flooded)
  • Starting point: An easy explanation of how to get this thing rolling.
  • Hypothetical customer review: Provide a hypothetical review describing the experienced benefit.
  • CTA: Where to get it, or where to find more information.

How To Write Your Press Release

First, it's an internal press release, but you can also send it to design partners and customers participating in your product discovery program (if you have one) to get feedback. 

So, you're writing a press release now. Make it short and simple. Keep your paragraphs to 3-4 sentences, and don't go into too much detail. Think like your customer. Figure out what they need, want, and dream about. Make your product or service fit those needs and come up with a convincing argument for why they should choose you. Show them how your deal meets their needs and makes their lives better. If you're struggling to describe the value and why the customer should buy it, it might be a sign that your idea is going to fail hard.

Besides writing, I have a thing for crafting press releases in a special style I call "Family talk." The idea is this: At the family's dinner you got asked what you’re doing, and you explain the product to your kids and parents. Listen to what they tell you from what they understand, that's the essence of "Family talk”. It cuts out the technical and product related jargon we all use.

I often ask PM's to write me a tweet (Xeed?) about the product. If they are worked the way backwards, with the distilled message, that should be easy.  

What’s the sense behind this exercise?

When a project gets going, the press release is the red line. It's there to keep the product team on track. They can always refer to it and ask themselves, "Are we making what we said we would in the press release?" If they find themselves spending time and money on features not mentioned in the press release (a.k.a. overbuilding), they need to take a step back and figure out why.

This way, we make sure that the product we're building is focused on giving customers what they want. We don't want to create a bunch of extra stuff that no one needs, which just adds to the development time and costs more money to maintain. And let's be real, those extra features probably won't add much value for the customers anyway (at least not enough to mention in the press release).

TL;DR

The product teams at Amazon use a strategy called "working backwards”. Instead of starting with a product and trying to sell it to customers, they start with what the customers need.

Using that strategy you know you're building something people actually want. Think of it like writing a press release for your customers, describing the benefits and how it solves their problems in an unique way. If you can't write a clear message explaining in a short way why it's valuable, then the product idea is going to fail.

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