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Christian Nimsky's Weblog

Anchoring Your Product and Marketing Core Propositions with Mad Libs

Christian Nimsky

I have found that when a new product or service is being conceived, people on the team often explore different aspects of the offering, creating variants or describing the solution and its results in ways that vary from short-term tactical to long-term market-changing sets of fundamental principles.  This behavior is natural and shows you that your team is really investing themselves in the product.  It shows they are internalizing it and they are engaged.

There is a risk of taking this too far, and you’ve probably seen it in action: The exploration can quickly turn into an echo chamber, where ideas are reflected back and forth among the team and executives until the group polarizes around a common idea using language that only makes sense to the group.  Your risk is taking the echo-chamber product / message combo outside and receiving…a TOTALLY BLANK STARE from your customers and the industry, because your team has iterated itself into a corner that nobody can understand.

The key to avoiding the blank stare is to transition the team from “talk” to “try” before you get embroiled in group-think.  Whether your team uses a Product Discovery* process to learn about your customers and the right solution (which I advocate - see note below) or develops and markets products using some other method, you need to sense when the echo chamber is starting up and stop the discussion there.

One way to crystallize things is to force the team to discuss and complete a single “Mad Libs” style Anchor Statement that clarifies what the product is solving, for whom and to what result.  People often don’t have a clear thought process on this, and may struggle to articulate it.  Here’s an example of what I’ve put on whiteboards during team discussions:

productanchorstatement.png

You’d be suprised how much this simple exercise can make people think, challenge each other and clarify their understanding of the core proposition they are thinking of taking to market.  From there the Product Discovery process (or whatever method you use) has enough to get started in a practical way.

If you are running a team that is struggling to get to the core of things - or worse - is spinning around trying to get to a core strategy by summarizing all the conversations to include every point of view, you should give this a try.  Constraining the story often forces clarity.

Go create!

* I’ve grown to be a real fan of a clearly delinated Product Discovery process and believe that many problems in both product development and marketing stem from a lack of clarity on what the customer actually needs and what is being offered.  Many people have written about this and Marty Cagan does a particularly good job of encapsulating the key ingredients of good product strategy, product discovery and other aspects of a product-led culture. Because this has already been written about extensively, I will not reprise it here but will refer to it in this post.