Linda Gorchels blogs

What are the Strategic Imperatives for Product Success?

The title of this post was a question recently asked on Quora. It included a link to this video, which stated that successful products had to fulfill three criteria: awesome, cheap, and profitable.  Hmm…

I’d like to take my answer in a different direction.

Strategic imperatives are the “big picture” aspirations or goals that guide product management. The extent to which products fulfill the aspirations, or fit the desired strategy, determines their success. Let’s consider a few examples.

Example One: Political Campaigns

Assume you are in charge of a political campaign, i.e., your “product” is a politician. Your strategic imperative is to win the general election. But the first win may need to come from beating opponents in a primary. The tactics to triumph in the primary might not accomplish your strategic imperative if they diminish the chances of prevailing in the general election. You might win the battle and then lose the war. Product success in this example is a carefully coordinated two-stage process, resulting in victory in the final voting contest.

Example Two: Harley Davidson

Harley-Davidson has a strategic imperative to reverse the aging out of its customer base. Successful products, therefore, must contribute to this effort. This could include items aimed at niche markets, and trend-aligned offerings such as environmentally friendly motorcycles. Its current entry into this latter category is an electric motorcycle (LiveWire) with a range of 95 to 146 miles on a charge. The challenge for product success of this prototype will be appropriate targeting, price point, rapid recharge, and performance. The LiveWire will need to balance the uniqueness of an electric motorcycle against the brand identity of Harley-Davidson. Success requires both customer and brand fit.

Example Three: Apple

A few years ago, one of Apple’s strategic imperatives for its iPhones was to better challenge Chinese models in India. Apple’s three percent market share in the industry’s fastest-growing market required a plan to compete against rivals with comparable specs and lower prices. By allowing resellers to market older-model iPhones (such as the 5S), it had the potential to extend the life-cycle while achieving a strategic imperative. The strategy went beyond the product since the targeted consumers had a low price-threshold. Therefore, according to Businessweek, “Apple [was] hiring an undisclosed number of ‘affordability managers’ in the country to negotiate with banks and other lenders on behalf of potential buyers.”

In each of these situations, there was a different definition of product success. Victory meant attaining specific “big picture” imperatives, such as:

  • positioning a candidate to win a general election
  • shoring up a target market while remaining consistent with brand
  • lengthening a product life-cycle to reach a growing customer base