Beating a great product

Think of a successful product and you can always find a better product out there in the market at the same time which is not successful. So what made the better product unsuccessful? In other words, what is needed for a product to be successful? I believe a great product can be beaten down by a good enough product with the help of right marketing, pricing and network.

Let’s start with marketing. Marketing can do wonders. It can make you jump higher in the same pair of shoes, it can make a bottle of soda bring back the memories of good old days and it can make the same music sound more trendy. It’s not that no one else ever had better shoes than Nike, no soft drink maker came up with a better formula than coke or no music player did a better job than the iPod. But all of these had great marketing machinery working for them. They created this mental image of a product that make you feel better while using them.

Pricing is another important point that can make a good product tear down a great one. Best example of this is the encyclopedia industry. Britannica was back in the day the gold standard in the world of encyclopedias. People put down thousands of dollars to buy the set of Britannica which took the prime spot in the bookshelves of the few who can afford it. Along came Encarta at a fraction of the price and on a DVD to disrupt the industry followed by free for all Wikipedia to beat them all. Encarta, when it came out, was not as great as Britannica was and Wikipedia in its infancy was a collection of web pages written by random people. But they were good enough. Wikipedia also had an added advantage of the strong community to bring down some great products.

This brings us to the third ingredient: network. Facebook beat classmate, friendster and a dozen others that came before it. It’s not that Facebook was so out of this world neither were the others so terrible. What worked for Facebook was the network effect which it created with the help of the exclusive membership to start with and the open platform for thousands of applications to live on it. We can see some form of direct or indirect network effect in every product’s success story from Windows to iPhone.

I am not undermining the importance of making a great product. A good product is a pre-requisite for being successful, but more often than not, good enough is the right way to go. In other words, a great product by itself is worthless if it is not backed by a great marketing and optimal pricing. And if it has some potential to build a network effect, your customers will give you ample opportunity to improve your product.

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