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Christian Nimsky's Weblog

Filtering by Category: Product Development

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:


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.

Thanks, Steve.

Christian Nimsky


Yesterday Steve Jobs passed away and there have been a flurry of reactions from people all over the world.  Many of those reactions came from people who purchased the products that Steve and his team designed but have never created a product themselves. Some reactions also came from colleagues, some from real leaders who know what they’re talking about and some who are just leadership pundits not wanting to miss out on this week’s press cycle. Some of those reactions have come from people who create products - products that touch millions of people at a time.

This post is written from the standpoint someone in the latter group, and I have been a member of that group for the last twelve years.  Steve’s approach and his story has been tremendously influential to product people the world over and to me as an individual.  Through the world’s reaction to his death I was struck by how effective Steve has been at creating a daring vision and then projecting that vision in a way that people saw how to conform reality to their dreams.  This applies equally to internal employees, stockholders, the press and pundit crowd or consumers who are buying the products and integrating them into their lives.  People have gotten used to joining in with Steve’s vision, and now that Steve is gone they miss him and are wondering who will lead them next.

While showing us how to make our dreams a reality, Steve has also had a strong hand in shifting global tastes to emphasize design. Instead of going for lower cost, bigger marketing spend, fancy distribution strategies or other methods, Steve showed how loyalty and owner evangelicism can shift the framework through which we ascribe value to things at a fundamental and economically disruptive level. 

Steve has touched many of us personally and I believe that Steve’s full impact will not be known for some time. In a world where development costs and barriers to entry have lowered to the point where anyone can make and distribute a piece of crap to efficiently address a “market” - and many do - Steve taught us to care about elevating our existence in an almost Renaissance-like fashion.

Thank you Steve, for showing us that there is a way to grasp greatness and that “grokking” the consumer and the solution can change entire economic systems for the better.  But now it is our responsibility to stop waiting to be led…instead we must take the torch that you lit and carried for two decades and to learn to carry it on our own.

This Ain't Your Daddy's Window Sticker

Christian Nimsky

Or, how passion and skunkworks can unlock innovation



I don’t write about work much but I felt this was worth sharing.  At Kelley Blue Book we have a great product team and big plans.  This story however is about innovation led by designers and engineers.

Like most decent-sized websites we have an ambitious roadmap and lots to do just to keep our business operating and growing each day.  The upshot is we don’t always get as much time to work on disruptive ideas as we’d like.

This year we’ve opened up the gates for Skunkworks projects, and three have already come to fruition.  I will show you one here, and talk about how we manage it.

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