Being Frank: Product Management Axioms
I’ve talked around Product Management (PM) several times in the past. Last November I shared some products that we did not bring to market and why. In December 2019 I explained why we decided to get into the bottom bracket business. And in September 2019 I outlined our product development process at Cane Creek. While each of these provided a glimpse into how we make product decisions, this Being Frank will explain the key axioms I have learned over the last thirty years, and that we rely on regularly.
While I won’t suggest that one is more important than another, Don’t Ignore The Obvious is one that you will hear repeated nearly every week inside Cane Creek. Basically, it means that we should not assume that everyone is aware of a product attribute. Sometimes an attribute has been around for awhile and/or numerous competitors share the attribute. But if no one is actively talking about it, it may be lost on the market. Sometimes it is the brand that talks most/best about an attribute that gets credit for it rather than the originator. Maybe a premium frame builder chases and faces their bottom bracket shell threads because “that’s just what you should do”. But if their competitors are not doing it and/or are not talking about it, then not talking about it is a missed opportunity to differentiate. Another example is not clearly labeling one’s product. Recently I bought two pair of riding shorts from one brand. After a few rides in both it was clear that one was comfortable and the other not. But neither had model/style names anywhere on them. I’d be much more likely to order another pair of the one I liked if I was sure what model/style it was.
It’s Better To Be Eaten By One Of Your Own, Than To Be Eaten By A Competitor was one I learned early in my PM career. When planning a product line, one strives to make every offering as strong as possible, but the reality is each will not be equally appealing. One may have great spec on the $1,000 bike that makes the $1,200 bike look less attractive. Then pressure can come to dumb down that $1,000 bike because it is too good. That can be a mistake since it would be better if your $1,000 bike stole the sale away from your $1,200 model rather than a competitor stealing the sale from either of your bikes. Our Hellbender70 headsets are a great value because they offer nearly everything the 110 does for less money. So our work is not to dumb down the 70 but add more value to the 110.
New Is Better Until Proven Otherwise is one I personally detest. But it is very true. Marketing has been training people for decades that the new product is better than the existing one(s) just because it is new. Why would one introduce a new product if it were not better? Well, that’s a whole other blog, but it happens every day. However, it is rare for a product not to lose market share when competitors introduce new versions and it continues along relatively unchanged. Maybe it is so good or unique that the brand has yet to find a way to make meaningful improvement (rare brand management integrity) or maybe they have too much inventory, too little money for R&D, too much confidence, etc. Regardless, “new” sells. While we recognize this axiom, we push ourselves to find meaningful changes. It gets tougher and tougher, but regular introduction of new product that offers riders noticeable and appreciated rider benefit are critical to Cane Creek’s success.
Give People A Reason To Buy, And Price Will Not Be An Issue speaks to the difference between price and value. Conventional Marketing has also trained us to equate price with quality or value – the more one spends, the better the product should be. Sometimes that is true and sometimes it is not. Cane Creek products are not cheap, literally or figuratively. However, we aim to provide meaningful value that we think justifies the price. Our eeWings titanium cranks are a perfect example. eeWings are two to two-and-half times more expensive than carbon cranks. Yet thousands and thousands of riders have chosen value over price because of eeWings’ stiffness-to-weight ratio, uniqueness, refinish ability, superior durability, and 10-year warranty.
Third, how you present yourself is critical. As my dad said, “It does not get any better after the first date”. You know, for the first date you fret over every detail in order to make the desired impression. But once you move in together you may walk across the room in front of your better half in boxers, farting, with a week’s worth of whiskers. Regardless, of how the world changes (not necessarily progresses), being professional, respectful, organized, politely persistent, and tactfully ambitious will always be important.
Lastly, Too Much Of A Good Thing Is Too Much, as one may feel if I don’t end this blog now. But if you think about it, this one applies to life as much as to product management.