My name's Mukul Sheopory, Director SMB Product Marketing at RingCentral, I'm based in California, and I focus on product marketing for small business owners.
What I'll talk about in this article is industrial designer Dieter Rams, whose career spanned 50 years starting from the 1950s to the 1990s, and how his design principles could have an association with product marketing.
In this article, I’ll discuss how his design principles could have an association with product marketing.
I’ll explain who he is, what product marketing is, and what they have to do with each other running a comparison between his ten commandments of design and what, in my opinion, makes good product marketing.
I've tried to break it down into three pieces:
- Who is Dieter Rams?
- What is product marketing? (As far as I understand it!)
- Dieter Rams' 10 principles of design
- What they have to do with each other
Who is Dieter Rams?
It's not him. 👇
That's Jonathan Ive, the right-hand man of Steve Jobs, the one who brought design to the fore for Apple, and he is behind a lot of Apple's products that came up in the last 20 years. Starting from the iPod, the iMac, PowerMac, Apple Watch, and so on.
He's not Dieter Rams but he did write a foreword for one of the books dedicated to Dieter Rams:
“When I was a young boy growing up in London, my parents bought a wonderful juicer... I knew nothing about Dieter Rams or his 10 principles of good design. But to a little boy uninterested in juicing, I remember the Citromatic he and his team designed for Braun with shocking clarity."
"At a glance, you knew exactly what it was and exactly how to use it. It was the essence of juicing made material: a static object that perfectly described the process by which it worked. It felt complete and it felt right. While my memories are, of course, in the past tense, the product remains all these things. I was completely enchanted with it then, and I now find, with surprise that this object resonated so deeply with me that nearly 40 years on I remember my sense of it with startling clarity…”
Imitation = flattery?
As you can see the influence Dieter Rams had on the products that Sir Jony Ive designed himself starting from the iPod.
What you see on the left is a portable radio that Dieter Rams designed for Braun and on the right is the first iPod.
You can see the scroll wheel, the form factor, all of those are really similar.
The calculator you have as a native app on the iPhone borrows heavily in terms of the colors, the hierarchy of the buttons from the Braun calculator from 30-40 years ago.
What's on the right is a radio that Braun had come up under Dieter Rams, and on the left is the PowerMac. The form factor is very similar.
The casing slides off in the same way that it did for the radio, the perforated mesh screen. All of these are remarkably similar.
Then the iMac. It looks exactly like the speaker Dieter Rams designed for Braun.
The real Dieter Rams
He is a German architect. He's still alive. He's almost 90 years old. He stumbled into industrial design. He joined Braun to be an architect for them and gradually, through his relationship with the owners at Braun got more and more interested in the product design itself.
His career spanned 40-50 years; he's retired now, but he developed over 500 products. Not just 500 products, 500 iconic products and he built those with close collaboration with a number of departments within Braun as well as material scientists, engineers, all of those within Braun and outside.
He was at the core of Braun's renaissance. He's inspired a whole generation of designers, starting with Sir Jony Ive.
With that, let's get into what is product marketing?
What is product marketing?
Product marketing is not just a marketing function responsible for sending out product release emails.
It's not just a team working on product positioning.
It's not just a team analyzing competitive trends and doing SWOT analysis.
It does all these but it's more than that. In my mind, I think a good product marketer sits between these three functions.
A good product marketer collaborates with the product design team, the product management team, it has an influence on the product roadmap.
A good product marketer also works with the channel marketing team. So if you're working with the web marketing team, or the social media marketing team, or any other channel marketing team, the good product marketer would influence the positioning, the messaging, the value prop for all of those channels and keep it consistent.
Finally, a good product marketer also works closely with the sales team and the sales enablement team to make sure the message is not just on the website, but it carries through in the conversations the customers or the prospects have with the sales team.
At the core...
All of this is based on a deep understanding of the customer himself, it could be a small business owner, it could be an enterprise customer or anything in between, but all of those functions are based on the core understanding of the customer.
I talked about Dieter Rams, I talked about product marketing - what do the two have to do with each other?
Dieter Rams somewhere in the middle of his career developed 10 principles of design.
Over time, others started to regard these principles as commandments of design. He was not the one who said these are commandments of design, he just called them basic principles but over time, others started calling them commandments of design
Dieter Rams’ 10 principles of design
These principles were good design:
- Is innovative
- Makes a product useful
- Is aesthetic
- Makes a product understandable
- Is unobtrusive
- Is honest
- Is long-lasting
- Is thorough down to the last detail
- Is environmentally friendly
- Is as little design as possible.
I think a few of these principles also apply to product marketing.
Good product marketing makes a product understandable
The first is good product marketing makes a product understandable. The text below is Dieter Rams' text.
This is what he meant by good product design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product structure. Better still it can make the product talk. At best it is self-explanatory.
Example: Dollar Shave Club
One example of good product marketing comes from this video. It's really cool.
Essentially, he doesn't just make it entertaining but he showcases the product itself, and the product, in this case, is not just the product it's the product plus service.
In the best sense, good product marketing makes a product understandable. It's not just brand marketing. It's not just Nikes “just do it” campaign that makes you feel good about stuff. It actually showcases what the product does.
Other examples are the landing page for Apple Watch and the homepage for Monday.com.
Example: Apple Watch vs. Monday.com
I love Apple, I love Apple products and I wanted to really buy the Apple Watch so I went to the landing page for the product.
Up top the page had beautiful images of watches scrolling around, then it talked about all the straps you could get for the watch. Then it talked about it's available in titanium and it's available in ceramic. But it did not talk about what problems it solves for me.
There was no value prop, it was just talking about features.
I saw an ad for Monday.com and I knew it was something about project management, it had an interesting ad and I went to check it out.
Within one page, it talked about exactly the value props, the benefits of the product, and while I was crawling, it showed live demos of what the product would look like.
It gave me a feel for not just the value prop, it was not just words, but it showed me, if I bought this product, what my experience would be like. It really made the product understandable.
Good product marketing is honest
The next principle that applies to product marketing is honest. It does not make a product more innovative, powerful, or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
The slippery slope
In marketing in general, it's a slippery slope. It starts with gentle nudges we know from behavioral economics and the power of default, keeping it easy.
And it slowly slides into emotional manipulation, like on the apps that you have notifications, it starts off with interesting notifications you care about. But then, once you're programmed to see those notifications, you cannot help but check them out. If I don't use Facebook for weeks, I see all these notifications that really don't make sense to me anymore.
Instead of notifications about updates on my friends and family, it'll start showing notifications for videos because they know I'll click on it.
Finally, it goes down to false advertising which is the worst of the lot.
In my opinion, good product marketing is honest.
The Mom test
If you can pass the Mom test, if you're ever in doubt of the ethical boundaries of marketing communications - if you can sell it to your mom, if you could show that product, whatever communication you're designing through whatever channel, if your mom could see it and you feel comfortable about it, it's good.
If not your mom then you can think about a customer - not the customer in the generic sense, but think about a specific customer that you know. Could you have that specific customer look at the communications and feel good about it?
Good product marketing is thorough down to the last detail
The third principle, good product marketing is thorough down to the last detail. Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance, care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.
What I mean by this is if you think about the customer experience, you should think about the entire customer experience. It should not just stop with marketing, okay, my job is done. This is the marketing communication, I'm done with it.
But you should think about the entire customer experience from sales through enablement, through customer support, and so on.
Example: Warby Parker
One recent example I experienced myself that blew me out of the water was Warby Parker.
Warby Parker makes glasses, and I had broken my sunglasses. I wanted another one that wasn't really expensive. Somebody told me about Warby Parker, I went to their website, they had a free trial.
The website showed me exactly what I had to do and what the free trial entailed. I signed up for it, I got a kit, that's the image in the middle.
It showed the different designs, it showed the four or five samples that came in, what the differences between those samples were.
Within the box, they had exact details on the free trial, the dates, the return process, the return label. It was accompanied by emails that came through periodically telling me how much time was left if I had questions.
It guided me through the entire process and now I have one of these sunglasses. It was a brilliant process. Again, they had thought through the entire process, both online and offline to the last detail.
Good product marketing is innovative
The fourth principle I think applies is good product marketing is innovative. The words in blue are mine, the rest are Dieter Rams.
The possibilities for innovation are not by any means exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative marketing. But innovative marketing always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
This is talking about staying in tune with the technology of the times.
Yeti is a cooler company for keeping your drinks and food good outside if you're out for a few hours. It went from a $9 million revenue company to a $450 million revenue company in six years.
The product was priced 10 times higher than everything else in the market. A regular cooler was available for $30 at Walmart, or Costco, or whichever chain store you will go to, and Yeti was selling its coolers for $300.
Besides the product itself being really great, what they had was really good product marketing where they had specific videos for different outdoorsy communities; hunters, fishermen, skiers, anybody who needed to keep their food and beverages cold for an extended period of time.
They used addressable TV and social media together to identify who these people were based on the engagement and then targeted them with similar ads on multiple channels.
Simple customized messaging enabled by technology. Technology is not at the center of this, not the star of this, the star is the customer and it's giving the customized message to different types of customers the message that resonates, and technology is the enabler.
Good product marketing is a little marketing as possible
Finally, my favorite principle, good product marketing is as little marketing as possible.
Less, but better - because it concentrates on the essential aspects and the marketing is not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity back to simplicity.
Example: Sheena Iyengar
Sheena Iyengar is a social psychologist based in the US and she runs a number of experiments. In one of the experiments she gave out samples of jam at a grocery store and she wanted to see how many samples optimized revenue.
There was a test and control. In one group, there were 24 samples offered, in another group, there were six samples offered. The group that got 24 samples saw 50% more people stop by and try it.
But the group that had six samples saw six times more people purchase.
Essentially giving people too much choice actually clutters the process and makes it worse. She also noted that a typical American has to make 70 decisions every day. I think it would apply globally.
Four techniques for simplifying choice
If we as marketers could simplify the choice, and she has a framework for simplifying choice and she has examples.
It's about cutting choice, reduce it, reduce the number of choices that you offer.
Concretize it - basically making the benefit real so it again, ties back to what's the value prop? What problem are you solving?
Categorize - if you have 600 magazines, if you put them in 10 categories, it'll be easier for the customer to understand. The same thing with product feature releases, if you have 20 features going out, if you can categorize those into five buckets, it'll be easier for a small business owner or an enterprise customer to understand.
Finally condition - go from simple to complex.
The example she had was on a car website, you have choices around the gears, manual or automatic, and all the way to paints, we have 56 different types of paints. We start with the choices that are simple, and then gradually move to the more complex choices.
These are the five principles I think apply to product marketing.
Back to Dieter...
The reason Dieter Rams came up with principles was to check if his design was good. He just wanted to have a touchstone to see if all the design he's creating is any good.
This is an initial stab at what I think could make good marketing.
If your marketing makes a product useful, if your marketing is honest, is thorough to the last detail, is innovative, and uses as little marketing as possible.
At the core, is rooted in a deep understanding of, and empathy for the customer, I think it could make the marketing good.