Why a minimal viable product should also be lovable

05 September 2019 Consultancy.uk

In order to compete in today’s market, products and services must not only be useful, but lovable. Rachel Armstrong, a partner at Globant’s Consulting Studio, explains.

Customers today are demanding. They expect the same frictionless, seamless experience from every company they interact with, whether it’s their local supermarket or Amazon. More often than not, shoppers develop deep emotional connections with the products, services and brands that not only meet their needs, but delight them by going above and beyond. A Harvard Business Review study found that emotionally connected customers are 52% more valuable to brands than customers who are just “highly satisfied.”

Nowadays, products and services must not only be useful, but lovable. However, too often, an organisation’s first release of a new product, service or feature to the public includes none of the experiences customers love. Standard practice is to build, test and refine a minimum viable product (MVP) internally, only bringing in customers to test an alpha release with basic functionality. 

If the new concept isn’t lovable, an organisation won’t find out until late in the process. In addition, an MVP that hasn’t been optimised for customer engagement may not have enough uptake to yield useful data and insights as an alpha. Either way, it’s a waste of time and resources for the organisation. 

Why-a-minimal-viable-product-should-also-be-lovable

Organisations can avoid these pitfalls by changing the development process. By incorporating customer validation and feedback from the beginning, companies then build not an MVP but an MLP: a minimum lovable product. In the short term, this approach de-risks the alpha release by ensuring it includes not only essential pieces of functionality, but also the experiences that customers love and come back for. In the long term, the MLP increases the likelihood of a successful launch and also accelerates digital maturity.

The success of most products and services relies on word of mouth and recommendations. According to research by Nielsen, 83% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family, while less than half trust online or mobile advertising. 

By involving customers in the development process early, an organisation that builds an MLP captures and cultivates a group of excited and committed advocates who will expand its customer base over time. The organisation also gets a head start on marketing the product because stakeholders will already understand what makes it appealing to target audiences.

Finally, engaging deeply with customers throughout the MLP process may also yield ideas for new products, services and features that the product team would never have thought of. For example, a shoe company might discover that customers wear its comfortable, casual shoes on the way to work, but change once they reach the office. That insight could inspire designers to create a new style with the same comfortable features but a dressier, more office-appropriate look. 

Counterintuitively, though, some of the most important benefits of an MLP are internal to the organisation. By encouraging direct engagement with end customers, the MLP process can spur digital transformation as stakeholders come to understand how change is necessary to serve evolving customer needs. 

For example, customers might indicate that they’re frustrated when different departments in the company don’t communicate with each other, forcing them to repeat the same information in calls with customer service, tech support and sales. This could trigger the organisation to move forward with a digital integration initiative that had been deprioritised or put off. For both executives and employees, MLPs can offer the behavioural nudge required to rethink how they work and how they run their businesses.

“By incorporating customer validation and feedback from the beginning, companies then build not an MVP but an MLP. In the long term, the MLP increases the likelihood of a successful launch.” 

What does the MLP process look like?

The key to developing an MLP is simple: listen to customers. Organisations can start by working to understand the emotions that drive customers’ interactions with existing products and services. The point is to reveal opportunities to solve customers’ problems, influence their behaviours or innovate and engage with them in a new way. Rather than asking for answers, organisations should seek underlying information. 

One method is to perform observational studies – that is, to actually shadow customers as they go about relevant tasks in their day-to-day lives. These studies can yield insights about how the new product could engage end users in the same way and offer additional value to their lives. 

Customers can and should be involved in the design process, too. In co-creation workshops, for example, customers and team members work through problems and test assumptions side by side. As development progresses, the product team will start to build prototypes – essentially mini-MVPs – that they can test with their customer partners. These usability tests help product teams understand the user experience more deeply, paving the way for creating a lovable, not just viable product.

Compared to building an MVP, the MLP process is quite complex, involving multiple stakeholders inside and outside of the organisation. Bringing in an external partner with design thinking expertise can help an organisation manage the process end-to-end and ensure that it delivers meaningful results. However an organisation decides to proceed, stakeholders should keep a few tips in mind to ensure a successful outcome. 

Don’t shy away from negative emotions

Customers get emotional about products, services and brands because these things affect their lives. When those emotions turn negative, organisations shouldn’t look away: Decision makers often learn more from criticism than from praise. By listening closely to difficult feedback, organisations can channel customers’ genuine passion and honesty into the outcomes they’re delivering, yielding better results in the long term.

Product with emotional connections with customer

Get the C-suite involved

There’s often an enormous disconnect between the leadership of an organisation and the end users of its product. The MLP process bridges this gap by bringing C-suite stakeholders into conversation with end customers, yielding deeper understanding and unexpected new insights. Companies can then turn this newly surfaced awareness into features and use cases customers love and actually use.

Be open to surprises

To get to an MLP, organisations must do more than just follow a brief to design a better product: They must challenge that brief by thinking about the value the new product provides the end user. To this end, they should remain open to surprising results and new ideas, and be willing to change course when customer needs demand it. For example, a local police force might set out to design an app that lets citizens report crime online. In conversations with potential users, investigators might discover that citizens also want to know what crimes have been reported by others in their area. The police force could then rework its app to include maps of recently reported criminal activity, adding value for end users and making it much more likely that citizens will download and use the app.

While MLPs add complexity to the development process, the extra step delivers enormous payoffs in terms of increased customer engagement and investment. MLPs can also kickstart larger digital transformation initiatives at organisations where they have stalled out, leading to better outcomes across the company. 

Today, an organisation’s success depends largely on its ability to forge emotional connections with customers. If they want to thrive in this competitive environment, organisations must make their products not just viable, but lovable.


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