How Can We Boost Other Businesses Through Our Products? Initial Ideas

by cv harquail on September 12, 2013

Ever since I fell in love with the concepts behind APIs, I’ve been on the lookout for ways that companies can boost others through how they conceptualize, create and distribute their own products.

bike seat sharon drummondThere’s a traditional way that we think of products as ‘boosting’ others, which is simply by having that product do what it’s supposed to do.  When a product serves the purpose for which the customer (individual or organization) acquired it, the product boosts their capacity by doing what they believed they needed.

Products that fulfill their promises are not all that common, so we can’t assume that every product will boost this way. But having a product work the way it should seems like a pretty low bar. And, it doesn’t take any real generosity to do what you’ve been paid to do.

Social Purpose as a Boost.   There’s also a more compelling way that products can boost others– by being connected to some social purpose.

Products that contribute money to charities, that ‘raise awareness’, or that are involved in any kind of cause marketing use their reach and their revenue to support a cause.  For a comprehensive look at the strategy of linking your product to a social cause, check out the work by Simon Mainwaring (“We First” Capitalism) and Olivia Khalili (Cause Capitalism).

What I’m looking for, though, are practices we can use to build boosting into our product itself.

I’ve generated the list, below, of the different ways that we can build boosting into our products. I expect to revise this list as I get deeper into definitions and explanations, and especially as I find more examples… so this is more of a working draft than a finished ‘post’. 

Boosting As You Conceptualize Your Product 

When a company first begins thinking about a product or service that it might build, we get to make some foundational choices. We choose what kind of product (e.g., what service, what market, what format (digital, analog)), what we generally hope to accomplish, and for whom. With these choices in mind, we can ‘design boosting in’ to our products.

1. Build Products Whose Function is to Boost Others.
What’s the point of your product or service? Does it aim to make the world a better place?  Does it support others in their growth, or does it somehow harm them?  Obviously, you can’t control how your product is used, but you can design how it is best used.  Build products that make a difference.

2. Build Products that Boost As They Are Used.
Some products and services just do stuff for their customers/users.  Others help build awareness, teach meta-learning, and build transferable expertise (expertise that’s not attached to the product) as they are used.  It may even be possible for you to make it easy for other people to use your product to boost others. Design your product so that it works on many levels. Don’t stop with making your product functional — make it beautiful. Give it a personality that entertains users. Design your product to be emotionally fulfilling and well as effective. Make it nutritious and delicious.

3. Aim Your Products Where They Are Most Needed.
When you have choices about which users or community to focus on, consider focusing not just on the community most likely to adopt your product, but also on communities most likely to need your product.  Getting a product to communities or users that they deeply need it provides a bigger boost than getting a product to communities or users with only a mild need for what that product provides.

 Boosting Through Co-Creating Your Products  

Our companies can draw on the relationships with have with other companies to help improve each other’s products. We can give a boost of perspective and feedback, and we can even contribute functionality to each other’s products.

Product development is not just what your own company chooses or decides — you can also include your users, your suppliers and other stakeholders in the product creation process. By doing this, you get closer to understanding their needs (and filling them), plus you build a bond with them by including them in the decision making process and depending on them for input.

spring connection

4. Build into the space between ‘what you can do’ and ‘what they need’.  
Too often organizations create products and services that reflect what the organization knows how to do and what the organization thinks is necessary. Then, these products languish (or are ill used) because they don’t meet a real need. Boost companies work to fill that space between what others need and what they have to offer. Often, a company with need to  grow their skills to meet new needs, and help others refine their needs so that these needs are easier to meet.

Finding the fit between the product you can provide and the problem it solves is a key tenet of Lean StartUp logic.  Boost companies take neither a ‘product focused strategy’ nor a ‘customer focused strategy’— they know that the optimal solution comes from crafting a fit between the two.

 5. Invite Them to Eat Your Dogfood.  Let other organizations use your product early in its development. Don’t just ask for help, but also create paths for receiving and using their feedback. Inviting them to eat your dog food is a product-specific way of practicing ‘the super generous ask’ , by being willing to let your product development process be vulnerable to/ influenced by members of your community.

6. Offer to Offer To Eat Their Dogfood For Them.   Use other companies’ products and give them thoughtful feedback.  Being a ‘beta tester’ for others will often help you find tools and partnerships at the very beginning of their creation, so that you can be first in line and ALSO get your needs met as they build their product.  It’s more powerful than being an early adopter, because you actually get to help shape what’s made. By actually using their dogfood within your organization, you are committing your resources to their success , in a way that’s directly, immediately useful.

7. Put Your Goodies In Their Basket.  There are several different ways that you can give your product or service to other companies, so that they can make their own products better. (Previously, I’ve called this ‘compounded gifting’. I’m still struggling with capturing all the important dimensions of this practice.) If you can create your product once, but put it in many places, consider putting your product into someone else’s product.

You can add your goodies — your product— with increasing levels of integration. You can bundle your product with other companies’ products to create a suite of products intended for the same customer. A suite of products can be more valuable in a package purchased once than when they are purchased one at a time. Bundling also makes it likely that people will be introduced to your product and sample it even if they purchased the bundle for some other company’s product.Bundling puts your products in each other’s company, creating a halo effect from shared reputation.

You can also weave parts of your product into theirs, using an API strategy to provide something they need while keeping connected to and responsible for your products. (Think of this practice as a contrast to selling them something that you then let go of).  One common example of boosting by weaving your product into someone else’s is affiliate marketing.

The deepest level of integration is co-creating products by building something neither of you could create alone, but that both of you can build together.

Can you think of other practices, or specific examples, where it seems that a product itself is designed to help build and boost at the same time?


Image: Bike Seat, AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Sharon Drummond, on Flickr
Spring, AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved, by MarkSW

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