I have a confession to make: I don’t like Spotify. I’m not talking about the Spotify model for product management, I’m talking about the app itself.
Perhaps my listening preferences are different than the classic Spotify audience, or maybe I’m just using it wrong or not aware of its capabilities, but I never found it extremely useful for ongoing listening.
There are a few curated playlists that I like, and I use them for specific occasions, like running or background music when I host a large family dinner. But if I just want to listen to music as part of my day – in the car or while I’m working or anything else – I didn’t find it extremely useful. And don’t even get me started on the podcast listening experience.
But let’s get back to music.
For me, having to choose what to listen to is a burden. I’m not such a music connoisseur, and if I need to define a genre or pick a specific artist I usually end up listening to music that I don’t really enjoy. What I would like to do, is to answer a few simple questions like what are you doing what mood are you in today, and for the app to take it from there, ideally giving me exactly what I like until I decide to stop listening.
Long before Spotify had the Mood section on its homepage (which I still don’t find very useful), I found another music app that had exactly what I was looking for. It’s the app of the 99fm radio station, that without too much technology gave me extreme value. It is a simple app, back then it didn’t even have the option to listen to the live radio broadcast, it just asked me these two questions as I launched it: where are you (options are at home, with the kids, at work, doing sports, on the road etc.) and what are you up to – let’s take work for example, you could be interested in working alone and enjoying a high-quality focus time, playing background music for the reception desk, or fun music for a happy hour. Once I answer these questions the app gives me a list of curated playlists that could be a good fit. I always find something I like very easily. It also has the benefit that these playlists mix Hebrew and English songs, which Spotify still can’t do as far as I know, but that’s the mix that I like listening to.
This very simple app, unrelated to a technology company, perhaps isn’t as scaleable as the model that Spotify has, but in terms of value, at least for me, it is much better.
Note that I’m talking about pure value, not even value for money.
Are there many people like me? I don’t know. As I said, I might be unique in my love of music on one hand and lack of motivation or ability to search for the music I like before I listen to it.
But does Spotify even see that as a value that they would want to deliver to their customers? They might be thinking that they deliver it, and maybe they are even capable of that, but I simply don’t know how to get that value that I want.
Either way, it brings me back to where I started: I don’t enjoy Spotify.
As product leaders, our primary responsibility is to deliver value to our customers. According to McKinsey & Co., by the way, it’s the sole purpose of any business. As you can see from the example above, it’s easier said than done.
To look at the value end-to-end, you need to make sure you address 3 perspectives: First, you need to define the value that you are trying to deliver to your customers. Then, you need to make sure your product actually delivers that value. And third – you must ensure that your customers perceive the value you deliver as you intend them to.
Not trivial indeed, but that’s why I created this guide to help you do it right.
This guide has 3 parts:
Step 1: Define the Value
Your product’s value is not its features. The value is what your customers can achieve with your product that they are unable to achieve otherwise.
If we go back to the value that I want from my music app, it’s the ability to listen to the music that I like at any given moment without having to work for it. Ideally, I would want someone to read my mind and play a suitable song without me having to do anything. Honestly, I would also like it to start and stop when I need it to, without me having to say anything.
Can you articulate the value that your customers are expecting as clearly? Having worked with over 200 companies in the last six years I assure you it’s harder than it seems. It is so tempting to talk about capabilities and features, but that’s not the value.
When I keep asking hard questions, the next answer that I get is about functional value: saving time, saving money, working at scale, etc. It’s better than the features, and it is indeed part of the value, but to get to the essence of what your customers want you must go beyond functionality. Note that the value I mentioned above for my music app is still in the functional area, even though it’s not described in features.
But value has social, emotional, and mental aspects.
I love music. I love listening to the right music. I just don’t like working hard for it, which means that if I have to – I don’t listen to music most of the time.
At the social level, when I listen to music that others also like, I feel included and up to date. At the emotional level, music makes me feel better when I’m down and generally makes me happier and more content. At the mental level, with the right music, I feel in the zone, it is that edge that makes little moments feel perfect, allowing me to live in the moment and worry less.
As you define the value, make sure you truly understand the mindset of your customers and go into the depth of what’s in it for them. Eventually, you need to articulate the value more simply and concisely, and as you do that remember that every word counts. It is perfectly fine to debate each word until you feel the value is spot on.
That’s the compass that should guide everything you do in the product (and more), so take the time to define it well.
Step 2: Deliver the Value
Once you have a clear definition of the value, it’s time to make sure the product delivers that value.
Most products begin with functionality, but as I do this exercise with the companies I work with, they often realize that something is missing, even if the technical capabilities are there.
In my music example, the basic requirement is to be able to play good music. But the real value comes in understanding what I want quickly and easily and playing just that. This understanding is tricky since I don’t always know how to translate a general feeling or desire into a specific genre or artist.
If you defined the value as “listen to the music that you like at any given moment”, a feature that asks you what you like and plays just that might be sufficient. But if the value includes giving me that mind-reading feeling, it is much trickier.
Of course, nowadays especially, the immediate solution that many people would choose in order to deliver such a value would be to create a fancy mind-reading AI algorithm. But what I liked about the 99fm app is that it does that without AI at all. It asks me two simple questions, then suggests many suitable options and I just need to choose.
When the value is clear, delivering it can become much simpler than it seems. Remember that it is much easier to innovate within defined boundaries, so help yourself and the team unleash your creativity the right way.
Step 3: Address the Perception of the Value
Just because you deliver the value, it doesn’t mean that your customers see it the same way.
Measuring the value is an important aspect of it (I’ll address it in a future article), but it usually isn’t enough to tell you for sure that your customers see the value of the product the way you intended to.
For example, I’m a paying user of Spotify. I have the family plan so my daughters can listen as well. If they track usage, my usage has been fairly consistent over the years, perhaps even raised a bit recently. But as I described above, I’m far from being happy with the value that Spotify gives me. I’m pretty sure it either isn’t the value they intended, or they don’t know I’m unhappy, or they don’t care because I’m not representing a large enough audience that has similar needs.
How can you tell? As a product leader, first, you have to ask yourself this question. Do you feel your customers perceive the value as you intended? How do you know that? Look at the data you have, but then, as with anything else in product, remember that data only tells part of the story. You need to dive deeper and get some feedback that is more than numbers and allows you to truly get into your customers’ heads.
There are many ways to do so, but from my experience, this question is rarely asked, which is the first and most important step.
Now that you understand the three layers of value, next week I’ll share a simple framework that allows you to assess it and gain insight about your customers. Stay tuned.