Whole Product: More than a ‘Great Product’

Why is it that so many products fail in the marketplace even though they may be functionally competent? The answer lies in customers’ view of products as completely or inadequately answering their needs.

Most companies invest in building core products with the belief that this would solve a problem for their customers; the reality is that customers look for several other elements along with the core product to form a complete solution. The core product coupled with a host of services, experiences and other add-on products makes the ‘Whole Product’. The Whole Product concept originates from Theodore Levitt in 1980 when he built a model to help marketers and product visionaries adopt a holistic approach to building products.

During the same time, it was introduced by Regis McKenna and widely popularised by Geoffrey Moore in his book “Crossing the Chasm”, where it is defined as a core product bundled with additional elements providing compelling reasons to the customers to make the buying decision. In simple marketing terms, a Whole Product is the minimum set of products and services needed to give the customer a compelling reason to buy. Hence it is everything the customer expects – there is no gap!

The most recent example of a whole product would be the iPhone. The generic product is the mobile telephone with the email and browsing capabilities. While the market expectation was limited to the above, Apple delivered iTunes on the iPhone by leveraging the iPod/iTunes ecosystem. Thus, it offers a complete entertainment experience for the customer, and the ability to not just listen to, but also “discover” new music.

It is interesting to note that Apple didn’t limit itself to its current product offering and went on to build the Apple Apps Stores which was a clear value differentiator and set a new benchmark in the mobile industry. With all the ingredients, the core product with the iTunes, App Stores in place, Apple turned its focus on the customer experience and launched version 1.0 of the product with a brilliant touch screen and user interface.

The success of the iPhone simply lies in the Whole Product approach adopted by Apple which is being emulated by the competing products.  It was all about addressing the functional needs with an eye on the emotional needs and experiences.

If we were to apply the Whole Product thinking to a software product, it would call for the core software product plus the additional system/application software, hardware, system integration, installation, standards and procedures, training and support/maintenance. The usual approach in the industry is to identify the requirements for a software product and ‘do what we do here, really well’.

However, addressing customers’ Whole Product needs will be a lot more demanding on Product Managers, in particular. Many would argue about their role/responsibility, as their focus is predominantly on the core product. The reality is that great products rarely win in the marketplace, and only the best Whole Products make it to the top and sustain their leadership status.

Source: Toshiba http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Chasm_(book)whole_product-blog

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