The Emperors New Clothes are still being made

Can I humbly give Product Managers a quick piece of advice?


Stop lying about what your product can do for me if you know it doesn’t do it.

Just tell me the truth.

Instead of telling me it can do something it can’t, or something it can do, but does badly, instead pick something that I really care about and do this brilliantly. If you don’t know what that thing is, talk to me. Watch my life, understand me, heck – ask me. Professor Keith Goffin and Dr Chris Van Der Hoven from Cranfield University offer some techniques in their article that discusses why products fail.

When you think you have found it, ask me, if you have solved a problem I have, or met an undiscovered need that I didn’t know about, I will get pretty excited about it. However raw, if the idea and concept is good, then you will quickly know because I will want it NOW!!!

I will want to buy it.

I will want to know when it is available and what it costs.

A quick test for this … write down in 10 words what it is.

Real words, not marketing’ese. Simple words.

Core functions first, state the blindingly obvious.

Think about the most basic way that you can sell the idea and the product.

If you cannot do this, then go back and refine it, keep looking, keep searching. Don’t pick that last thing that was moderately interesting and build that, look for the problem I have, or the thing I want to achieve.

It you think you have found something, make it as real as you can. Build a prototype, a mockup so I can start to imagine this in the real world, in my life. This doesn’t have to be a polished machined prototype, a cardboard mockup today is better than a polished prototype in 6 months. Whatever you have, communicate the story of what it does. Storyboards, wireframes, mockups, prototypes – whatever you need to show the idea as live as possible, as real as you can, do that.

Then iterate and make it better. And better. And better.

Set a timeframe, a quality bar, and a budget, then iterate until you pass this. You will have to deal with these trade offs, but that is what a Product Managers life is about. It is all about compromise. Product success comes from making the right judgement about the balance.

If you do this well, when you come to launch, you can tell me the truth.

You don’t need to lie.

You can tell me with confidence what your product does, and why I should care.

If you have done your job well, I will want to buy the product or service.

And I will.

It is that simple.

Of course, if you lie to me, I will find out.

I will tell others that you lie.

I won’t buy from you again.

And neither will others.

Your choice.

You can try and sell the Emperors New Clothes, but you will be found out, and after that no one will trust you again.

… and no one will buy anything from you, because they cannot trust you.

So the next time you go into that product planning meeting, that product marketing review, tell the truth.

You can lie, but you will be found out.


5 thoughts on “The Emperors New Clothes are still being made

  1. Mr Lloyd

    It is not lying as such. The product can do as they claim, but requires the proper environment and a set of factors before it does as expected.

    Case in point = Vodafone. “This 3G USB dongle is fast and works out of the box”. In reality, yes the dongle would work if the customer was sitting under a cell mast or in a Vodafone service centre. The product performs as they said it would under those conditions. You just have to give a plausible requirement just in case the said product fails, whilst you are in a demonstration.

  2. Gary Burt Post author

    Agreed that the devil is in the detail – but honesty shouldn’t be compromised, and doesn’t need to be. If the company lies (saying the dongle works, when it doesn’t) and you find out the truth – the result is a loss of trust. This will ensure for future products.

    There are ways of communicating this. Phone companies typically show coverage maps. Whilst high strength means that you should get a signal, we have grown to understand the low strength doesn’t mean a poor signal, it means no signal and no chance of a call. Not perfect, but better than outright lying.

  3. Gary Burt Post author

    My key point is that great products don’t require overstatements, because the truth will be evident in the end. Companies who product junk lose customers, even when they product a great product, they will find that they cannot sell it because there is no trust. The whole point is that companies have a choice with this. People expect some polishing of the message, but that is a big difference to a flat out lie.

  4. Mr Lloyd

    Give me your top 10 companies that satisfy your above criteria on supplying junk products, boasting their claims of excellence, even though customer feedback is negative.

    At the same time, consider and advise on your top 10 companies (UK) that have the worst strategies of green computing.

  5. Gary Burt Post author

    There are loads – if you expand to services, then you can easily find them – just search on worst companies. The same names keep coming up again and again.

    For products, over the long term there is a correlation with poor products and low sales, so the market evens this out, and poor companies disappear as they have no sales.

    Products … personally, lots of Gap products (poor quality), Marks and Spencer (overrated and poor design [but good service[), Alfa Romeo (reliability), Saab (boring and not differentiated), Orange phones, Xbox (unreliable in early versions), Sony MP3 players (useless software that forced Atrac). Microsoft? Yahoo, Enron, Netscape … look for failed companies and you have products and services that promised by didn’t deliver to these promises.


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