Product Ecosystem Marketing: The Secret To Entering The Mainstream

Many tech businesses wrongly perceive marketing’s responsibility in their business. They believe that marketing is a mix of short-term sales support, and long-term strategic thinking (when time permits). Very little happens between those two pillars. 

In fact, marketing’s most powerful contribution to business happens in the redundant dead space.

When companies attempt to move from early market success into the mainstream, they face a challenge on several fronts. This happens as a company attempts to grow from around £5m annual revenue, to north of £20m in very quick order.

The shifting buyer mindset

During this phase of growth, the buyer mindset shifts significantly. Your buyers are no longer supportive product-driven visionaries; they’re now skeptical market-driven pragmatists.

Their compelling reason to buy is a polar opposite. Skeptical market-driven pragmatists don’t care about your product, they care about your product’s ecosystem. This is known as the whole product ecosystem.

The concept was first described in 1983 by Theodore Levitt in his book, The Marketing Imagination.

The premise is simple. A gap exists between the compelling value proposition and the shipped product’s ability to fulfill the promise. For the product to fulfill the marketing promise, it is augmented by extra products and services. Together, this marriage delivers the whole product. 

Levitt described the four stages of the whole product model as follows;

  1. Generic product: This is the product you ship out of the box, and what’s covered by the purchasing contract.
  2. Expected product: This is the product that your customer thought they were buying when they bought from you. It is the minimum configuration of products and services required to meet your buyers’ initial buying goals.
  3. Augmented product: This is the product that gives your buyer the best chance of achieving their buying goal. For example, an augmented smartphone product includes a contacts directory, search, email, calendar, a web browser and an app store.
  4. Potential product: This the opportunity for your product to grow as ancillary products come to market to deliver customer-specific enhancements. In the case of the smartphone, these would be the apps in the app store.

Why the product ecosystem matters

As your business moves from its early success into more mainstream markets, competing products end up being quite similar. They become commoditised and the war moves elsewhere.

How you avoid this is by focusing on your ecosystem with whole product marketing. Pragmatists value the product ecosystem around the core product more than the core product itself.

Your early adopters are quite happy fixing together pieces of different products to create the whole product that serves their needs. They take great pleasure in discovering new capabilities and making them useful. Visionaries will take responsibility for building the whole product if it means they can outpace their competitors.

Your new pragmatist buyers don’t take any pleasure from this. They don’t want to cobble things together. They also don’t want to take responsibility for building the whole product. They want a complete experience out of the box.

A SaaS product that seamlessly connects and shares information with other products in your buyers’ technology stack has a chance. It’s a non-starter if it doesn’t do this. In fact, it’s so important because the ins and outs of your core product are no longer driving factors. Sceptical pragmatists are not product driven.

Your buyers are now driven by the product ecosystem – they evaluate and buy complete products. They will buy the best product ecosystem.

For your business, this is an opportunity to create a market-dominating strategy. This is about winning the war, not an interim battle.

What’s in the whole product ecosystem stack?

Your business is reaching a tipping point where your core product should be at the heart of a complete product stack. It’s now just a part of the product. This means that you no longer need to have the best core product, even though it’s still a key part of the product.

The whole product is the experience that your customers get when they buy your core product. This includes the following:

  • Training and support
  • Standards and procedures
  • Installation and debugging
  • Customer onboarding
  • Integration with other software/hardware
  • System integration services
  • Change management services

When you tick these boxes, you might have an experience that pragmatist buyers will consider. Without them, you are dead in the water. The experience forms the basis of the promise you make to win the deal. You are not contractually obliged to deliver on the promises.

However, a failure to do so can be serious; your buyers feel cheated and, if your failure is significant, it seriously impacts revenue.

Your target market won’t develop as planned, even if you have the best core product. This is especially true in B2B markets, where the buying process involves heavy referencing. However, it can also affect B2C markets. Particularly with consumers now having a voice on social media.

Developing a whole product marketing approach

First, you must start by clearly defining your whole product. It’s unlikely this process will use evidential data – there isn’t much data on your new buyers’ mindset at this point. But by focusing on a very specific segment of the market with a significant pain, you can start to think more clearly. Focus is key here because you have to think laterally.

Put yourself in the mind of your new buyer and then consider everything they need to feel comfortable to make a buying decision. You have to fully develop their reason to buy. A strong programme of tactical alliances will help you to speed up development of your whole product so you can get it into the market.

Very few companies execute this well so, if you do manage to execute, you have a high chance of success in mainstream markets.



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