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Your competitor just released a new voice experience for their customers. Their ads are blowing up social media, and industry publications are praising their customer-centric marketing strategy. What do you do?

A lot of businesses feel pressured to adopt the newest, shiniest technologies as soon as they’re available. This is particularly true of businesses trying to compete at a higher level where one or more large players have typically dominated the market.

Larger competitors will generally have more budget and resources to play with, and as a result, they are likely to be more responsive to digital trends, with flashier, more innovative products.

But a bigger budget does not guarantee an impactful product. When thinking about your digital product roadmap, don’t just look at what your competitors are doing. Instead, think about where you can deliver the most value to your customers.

Understanding how your customers’ wants and needs intersect with your business goals is key to building a digital product strategy that drives business success.

Here at Outware, part of Arq Group, we help our clients define where digital can make the biggest impact by combining industry analysis with a deep understanding of the target audience and the business agenda. From mobile strategy and roadmap creation, to user experience design and iOS and Android development, we help our clients develop products that deliver value to both the business and its customers.

Here are a few tips we’ve learned along the way.


Understanding your customers’ needs

This isn’t Field of Dreams. Just because you’ve built something new and innovative, doesn’t mean your customers will immediately adopt it. Your product needs to have demonstrable value for your customers, helping them to interact with your brand and achieve their goals more easily.

Whether you’re creating a new digital channel from scratch or reworking an existing product, undertaking some user research activities is a good way to get a sense of your audience and their needs. Personas and journey mapping are two common activities you might use during this phase. These activities will help you identify your target user, and what their typical interaction with your product looks like.

Empathy mapping, another tool used during the discovery and research phase, involves identifying your customers’ pain points, goals, feelings, tasks, and influences in order to identify themes and uncover insights. You can download our empathy map template if you’d like to try this for yourself.

Evaluating customer feedback and product analytics from your existing digital channels can also provide some interesting insights into how your customers are using your products, what their pain points are, and what features they might like to see in the future.

Customer feedback and research isn’t just relevant during the discovery phase either; continual testing and evaluation is key to meeting customer needs (and avoiding expensive rework).

User testing can provide valuable insights into how customers will interact with your product, and these insights can be extremely useful in building a business case for extending the project scope or adding new features to the roadmap.

Extensive user testing can be cost prohibitive, but lean user testing provides equally valuable feedback. Testing regularly allows for feedback to be incrementally incorporated into future iterations to continually improve the product throughout the development phase. Repeating the testing sessions at regular intervals will allow you to confirm that you’re on the right track.

Putting the customer at the heart of your digital product design helps ensure that you’re building something your customers will actually use and appreciate.


Understanding your business goals

Digital product development is often influenced by multiple stakeholders from various departments, each of whom will have their own goals and KPIs they need the product to meet. This can result in an extensive feature backlog and, ultimately, a product that feels disjointed and piecemeal.

To ensure you are delivering value to both your end-users and your business stakeholders, ask yourself what your goals are for this digital channel, and how these compare to the goals of any other digital channels you might have. For example, does your app need to have the same features as your website? If the aim is to drive adoption of one channel in favour of another, limiting the functionality of the website and diverting users to the app could increase user uptake.

Similarly, if you want to have more customers self-serve through digital channels, think about which call drivers are taking up the most of your customer service agents’ time, and whether these queries can be easily addressed through a self-serve feature. However, don’t fall into the Field of Dreams trap again and ignore what your customers are telling you: the very call drivers you’re trying to reduce might just be the things customers prefer to talk to someone about in person. There’s no point in building a feature that people aren’t going to use, and weighing the business benefits against what you know about your customers’ behaviours and preferences is an important step in developing your digital product strategy.

By combining business goals and customer insights, you will be able to develop a product roadmap that addresses unmet needs from both sides of the customer-brand relationship, and sets you up for future success.

Keeping up with the competition

Increasing customer engagement is another common goal for digital products, with many brands seeking new and innovative ways to engage their customers across multiple channels.

But the emerging technologies your competitors are using are not necessarily the best investment for your brand.

Being an early adopter of emerging technologies can help you gain a competitive advantage in the market, but it also comes with a level of risk. By contrast, while you lose the novelty factor of being first-in-market, being a fast follower allows you to learn from the experience of your competitors, to see what worked and what didn’t, and to listen to the market and see how customers are responding.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t build that exciting new thing you’ve been talking about in meetings. If it aligns with your digital strategy, helps you to meet your business goals, and delivers value to your customers, then by all means, build the thing. Just remember that what’s right for your competitors isn’t necessarily right for you (or your customers).

Digital is the biggest battleground for businesses nowadays, and consumers expect seamless experiences. But keeping up with the competition should never be the primary motivation driving changes in product or channel strategy. After all, your business is different to your competitors’, and your customers are different too. A successful digital product strategy strikes a balance between customer insight and business goals, prioritising impact over novelty. By listening to your customers and clearly articulating your business goals, you are well placed to deliver something that stands up to even the shiniest of competitor products.

Maisy Stratford-Hutchings is the Content Specialist at Arq Group.


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