Companies can describe themselves by their centricity. Customer centricity is the most popular description. But it is not the only one. Most of the time companies are internally centered, seeing the world through departmental and organizational lenses. Competitive centricity arises when the actions of others demand a company response. These are general centricity discussions. The final of the four is Product Centricity.
Product Centricity – we are what we sell and the brand image we project
Product Centricity exists when a company organizes, and acts based on the products and services it sells. Brand centricity is a version of product centricity. Product centric companies tend to be consumer oriented or marketing-based firms. The big consumer products companies are examples: Proctor and Gamble, Unilever. Other examples of brand or product led organizations include mono-product companies like SAP or Oracle in High Tech, Tesla in automobiles or Apple, perhaps the most product led company around.
Product centric firms lead with and see the world through their products. The success or failure of the company exists through its products. In high tech this has given rise to product led growth strategies describes by Gartner as “strategies based on technology and capabilities rather than customer/market validation.” Companies like Slack, Dropbox, Survey Monkey are product led growth companies, where the product itself and customer us of it drive sales and revenues.
Product Centricity – more than a presentation or brand campaign
Channeling company focus and energies through a product lens should increase organizational alignment and efficiency. Apple is an example of where that has worked. Product centricity requires orientation and dedication to the idea of a company being the sum of its products rather than the savvy of its people. Considerations for achieving that level of focus include:
- A clear, consistent, and full description of the product(s), their value, and their intent. Without such a description, partial or high-level product or brand discussions fuel internal centricity as groups vie to define the ‘true’ nature of promise of the product. If engineering things one thing, manufacturing another because branding just changed its mind – then you are internally centric not product centric.
- An aspiration for the product and its place with customers, in the market and in the future. It may seem like a paradox, but product centric companies understand their customers, they just do not give them what they want today. Michael Schrage put it best, product companies know who do they want their customers to become.
- Internal alignment with an almost manacle focus on achieving the immediate product plans. Too often this level of alignment is seen in terms of a visionary and driving leader. A view that is misleading and incomplete. Creating great products requires an organization and the focus. The product plan or roadmap often represents that focus. It is the foundational document for product centric firms outlining more than features, functions, and marketing – but how and where the company creates value and wins.
Product centric firms should be laser focused. Product centricity should clear out much of the noise created by customers, internal politics, or even competitive chatter. Product centricity does not suppress internal debate, innovation, or a diversity of views. Rather it gives them a common focal point – the product.
Signs that focus is breaking down include:
- Blaming the customer for product difficulties. The logic here is strange but goes something like this – we have the superior product, but customers are not choosing it, therefore something must be wrong with the customers. This implies that customers are poorly informed, misunderstand, are not sufficiently mature or intelligent, to recognize your obvious product superiority. Feeling the need to make the world safe for your product is a sign of this situation.
- Using brand as an internal weapon to squelch ideas, innovation, and debate. I have personally seen this when marketing and branding people either set limits on discussions or squash discussions because it is not ‘consistent with our brand.’
- Slavish dedication to the original product architecture, technology, or core product principle. Statements like, ‘we are a XXXX company not a YYYY company’ or ‘the code at the core of our product will never change’ indicate this situation. If things can never change, then the clock is running on the life of the product.
- Internally, product centricity breaks down when a group believes they have or are responsible for protecting the ‘true’ product or brand. This unleashes a form of internal centricity where the group seeks to impose the ‘truth’ on others, often with disastrous results. I have seen this most often when marketing believes that everyone else has it wrong and it is up to them to fix the company.
These are situations where the brand or product becomes a barrier to innovation and growth.
Product Centricity is a self-fulfilling strategy
There are more customer or internally centric companies than product centric ones for one reason – the product. If the product is the company, then the company is only as good as its product. When product or brand strength ebbs, the product centricity ebbs. Consider Xerox, Benneton, Nokia among others; all great companies so long as they had great products.
Companies that loose product supremacy often abandon product centricity in favor of a brief internal centricity to cut costs and then rotate to a customer centric strategy. This makes product centricity a self-fulfilling strategy. Product centricity works until it doesn’t. This does not make product centricity inherently weaker than other centricities, just makes the bar for execution that much higher.