Whole Product Concept

The Whole Product Concept is a different way of thinking when you make an offer to your customers.

The concept was first introduced by Theodore Levitt and Regis McKenna, but it really picked up as an alternative way of thinking after Geoffrey Moore popularized it in his book “Crossing the Chasm”.

There are some differences in the presentation of some of the details in Geoffrey Moore’s book compared to the original idea, but the concept is pretty much the same: you need to look at making a complete offer to your customer, which goes beyond the core product.

The concept formulates the offer to the customer as a multi-layered construct as opposed to a simple offer of a tool with a set of functionalities.

Generic Product

The most internal or base layer starts with what you ship or offer as a service, digital, or physical product to your customers. The Generic Product would be your application, web service, hardware product, teaching course.

This usually is what we all focus on creating, and what we think is all we need to deliver in the hands of the customers.

Expected Product

This is what the customer thought she bought. There are certain expectations that the customer has when they pay and buy your product, or subscribe to your services.

Customers have their buying objectives and when they make the purchase, the expectation is that at least the minimum configuration and functionality is covered.

Obviously, there is a gap between the buying objectives and what the core/generic product offers. How many times have you been surprised when you open a box to realize that you need to buy cables or batteries? Or that the hosting provider doesn’t include website backup with the hosting plan?

Augmented Product

This is an interesting layer and can make a customer really happy and start raving about your products.

The Augmented Product layer represents the maximum offer that satisfies the customer’s buying objectives. For example, when you buy a bicycle rack for your car, the Augmented Product version would come with a key-locking mechanism to prevent stealing it, has additional stripes for the transportation of the bikes, and instructions how to use them! And yes- it is all covered with a foamy protective layer so your precious bikes don’t get scratched or bent.

Potential Product

This is the last, top layer, in this structure of product offering. This defines the product’s room for growth as more products come to the market and enhance customer experience with such products.

If we continue to use our example with the car bike rack, this would be the ability to make it modular, be able to tilt it so you can open your trunk without removing the rack, find a way to make your license plate visible (so you don’t get pulled over by cops), have reflectors, provide protectors for the bikes, etc. In other words – the opportunities to extend the product and the offering to provide much more than the initial Generic Product was able to do. This may sound too much, but you can add an app to your bike rack, create a Facebook group, or even organize local meetups to allow people who bought it to share pictures and experiences and become a community around your product.

How Does This Concept Apply To Startups

As we discussed in “The Misconceptions About MVP“, many startups use the term MVP to simply excuse the fact that they are introducing a mediocre product to the market. Most miss the fact that MVP needs to have a theory behind it that needs to be tested, then gather data to verify the theory and iterate to the next theory based on what was learned in this iteration.

Startups often do this because they are cash deprived, have limited to no resources, and rush to get to market and verify their product-market fit. All of this is driven by the latest understanding of how a startup should approach the problem of building and introducing a new product or service to customers. We, of course, assumed that customers were already defined.

The Whole Product Concept is probably a very good strategy to mitigate the situation.

If you can’t put on the market a well-tested and defined product in terms of a set of functionality, which fully meets the customer’s buying objectives, you may decide to understand what exactly is the expectation for such a product by the customer and mitigate your Generic Product offer with additional services.

When technology fails to deliver, you introduce business processes to complement and control your product or service.

Being a startup, you can’t afford to dedicate 10-people software team, product and project managers, add business development people to sell your product, etc. But you may decide to add to your Generic Product offering good customer service or show special attention to each of your customers – something that will fulfill the gap between the Generic Product and the Expected Product. This way the customer will be closer to satisfying her buying objectives and see your offering as a more finished product.

In other words – shift your efforts and look at what is the overall experience you want to deliver and try to create around that perspective. Focus less on the exact application or service you want to build. Your startup is not the product or the service (only), it is the business you need to develop.

I see this many times over when the product is not good, customers start calling and asking for support and help and all they receive is – Oh, this is our Beta product, or – this is our MVP and we are still working on our product. As if the customer cares. If you look at the experience you want to deliver, not just your Generic Product, you will know how to handle such calls and benefit your business by interacting more with your customers.

This may sound like more work than just building the Generic Product, but it shouldn’t. In fact, this approach will allow you to give more time to the product development, while you start putting your services in the customers’ hands, testing different ideas, and trying different offerings. It is much easier to change a process than it is to change something written in code or manufactured as a physical product.

The Whole Product Concept Importance

The Whole Product Concept shows an opportunity and the way to win customers in the long run.

If you look at the concept and make an offer with that way of thinking, the startup you are creating will behave like a real business, satisfy faster customers’ buying objectives and put your startup on the map. This will bring you the differentiation you need to rise above the competition. When you clearly deliver value, your customers love you and even help bring more business to you, finding investors to support you further becomes a natural next step.


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