The Whole Product

One of the key concepts that’s stuck with me after reading Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore’s pivotal book about marketing high-tech products in a world in which buyers react differently to innovation, is the concept of the whole product. It’s one that a lot of product companies, especially those that focus closely on the technology side of product development, don’t get, very much to their detriment.

“Whole product” simply means that which is required to address 100% of a customer’s need. Counterintuitively, it’s almost never met simply by a technology product (the “generic product”), but typically requires partner products, services and other pieces to fill in the gap. Moore cites the example of a web browser as an example of a generic product, and the web browser plus plugins, HTML5 applications, an internet service provider, a search engine, and an easy way to buy goods online as the whole product.

How do otherwise smart product companies fall into the trap of ignoring the whole product? Sometimes it’s just a question of not thinking hard enough about what the customer needs. A customer usually doesn’t need a new Android phone with a high megapixel camera; they need to take better pictures of their kids. So instead of competing solely on megapixel count and similar tech specs, whole product companies will invest in technologies to give the customers a better fit to their ultimate goal, such as image stabilization, easier ways to transfer the photos off the phone, system-wide easy access to photos so they can be shared, the ability to create books and calendars of the photos, and so forth.

But it’s so easy to fall into the “speeds and feeds” trap and not understand where the customer’s full needs are. It’s also easy to misjudge the needs of the customer and misunderstand that something that seems like “just another feature” is actually part of the whole product. Thus, the art of product management and product marketing.

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