Is Your Business All About the Product? Or the People?

Posted by

There is a major shift in business focus that is under way.

Digital media has forced businesses to change. Dramatically. This is nothing new. What’s interesting is that we’re seeing two, distinct, breeds of business being born:

  1. Product Focused. The product focused business is head down and sleeves rolled up in a constant state of evolving the product. From daily tinkers and iterations to massive updates and overhauls. All they’re trying to do is put out the most interesting and relevant products into the marketplace.
  2. Customer Focused. Or, as I like to call this type of organization: "train kept a rollin’." These are the organizations that started off with an entrepreneurial spirit, but are now simply in market: selling and marketing the same product. They shift and adjust their advertising but their core products have, fundamentally, stayed the same with slight updates to ensure market relevancy.

The Internet exposes all.

It used to be difficult to see and understand the differences between the two. While there are a handful of organizations today that may be blurring the lines, you can think of some of the most common brands and ask yourself: are the product focused or customer focused? It’s obvious that the majority of online darlings are – for the most part – product focused, while your favorite soda is probably a more customer focused endeavor. The reason this is becoming an increasingly relevant issue is because the more brands embrace social media, building better websites and trying to figure out a substantive mobile strategy to integrate with their business model, it’s becoming abundantly clear that most major brands simply don’t understand the power and importance of digital media in relation to telling a credible brand narrative.

What we’re really seeing.

What we’re really seeing is a world where most brands are trying to design and market their way out of a flawed business model. To be kinder: they’re trying to use social media to put lipstick on the proverbial pig. But, because digital media is open to all, this strategy backfires. Great design and a cohesive marketing message is, clearly, not enough. Brands can try as they wish to get better at creating content or trying to engage with consumers on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, but if – at the end of the day – it’s just marketing blather and not truly relevant, all is lost… including the marketing investment, time and resources. See, if you want to be a brand that is both product focused and customer focused (and yes, in this day and age, that is the ultimate goal), it can’t be by leveraging marketing as thin veneer to the business.

Facing yourself in the mirror.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Jeffrey Hayzlett‘s first business book, The Mirror Test, now would be the perfect time. Brands need to wake up, roll out of bed, rub their eyes, lean over the sink and take a long, cold, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves those same questions that keep the rest of us up at night:

  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we here?
  • Who do we serve?
  • Are we doing this right? 
  • Would anybody care if we disappeared today?
  • How can we get closer to the people that matter most to us?

A focused world.

There is no doubt, you can’t have one without the other moving forward. As important as product focused organizations are, so too are customer focused organizations as well, and this is where our business world could, potentially, get very exciting: when the best of brands become the perfect balance of both. We’ve already started to see some nascent signs of this (companies like Fab and Kickstarter), where a hybrid of constantly iterative and head-down product focused organizations have an equally compelling customer focused drive as well (be it driven top-down by the corporation or enhanced via peer to peer engagement). It seems to make perfect sense, but we have to remember that social media isn’t just about brands being able to talk to consumers and provide platitudes that serve customer service as the prime driver. The digital platform and channels have enhanced how we feel about brands and how brands can express (or react) to that in much more powerful and profound ways. It has switched from a traditional, linear, approach to a much more circular and organic one.

Your exercise of the day: is your business more product focused or customer focused? What are you going to do to bridge the gap?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post called, Media Hacker. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

  • The Huffington Post – Is Your Business All About the Product? Or the People?


  1. I’ve begun looking at everything as a package. What I mean by this is, to think about the product and customer separately, and the next day look to bring them together.
    After reading the $100 Startup it got me thinking. It might sound obvious, but I feel a lot of people never truly bring them together. If you think about the best product you can create, and the ideal customer you can get, and then look to bring them together, a package is created.
    Some tinkering here and there. A few changes. Before long you have something tailor made for an audience that exists.
    If that makes sense 🙂 It’s still early here ha
    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

  2. Hi Great article. You can do what you want. A pig needs to change shape before he will change it’s ways. Love that. I’ll share your post later at Google+.

  3. Hi Mitch, I’m with you on this idea. Businesses used to be able to hide product warts through slick marketing tactics, but that’s not the case anymore. Customers are more savvy than ever with more ways to research to find the best products and react to expose the bad ones. However, like you mentioned, that doesn’t mean the customer-focused side of things completely goes out the window. The best businesses will be the ones who create killer products but also know how to package and communicate their product message to appeal and connect with people.

  4. Mitch:
    Totally agree. One thing that came to mind was the “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview” that I just watched. In that movie, he talks about the companies that succeed are those who are lead by a “product guy.”
    While I think that marketing people can also run successful companies, I think that a product focus, when done right, leads to a customer focus by providing a superior experience with the brand.
    Not to spam your comments, but I expounded on this in a post after reading yours. Rather than cut and paste the entire article, here’s a link
    Thanks for the great insight!

  5. In the old days, when there were fewer products/options, a company could afford to be one or the other. Now, there are so many options available to the consumer, if a company is not both engaging the customer and developing a great product, the customer will go somewhere else to some who is.

  6. Perhaps it has to do with a companies culture. Culture is evolutionary and we are operating today in revolutionary business environments. To embrace a culture change takes courage. Moving from a specific centered focus to a blended focus requires some hard choices that move way off the comfort zone of most. In the end, the breakdown probably has to do with too much management and strategy, and not enough leadership.

Comments are closed.