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Role Product vs. Value Products

Ryan Frederick | March 9th, 2022

When I speak with people about new products, the term I consistently use is an undeniable value. The friction of someone adopting and using a new product is high. It is easier for them to do nothing or take a product for a spin but never have any desire or intent to make it something they regularly use. Therefore a product has to provide undeniable value if a product is to capture the attention and ongoing loyalty of users.

The products we create often play a small role in users’ lives and work, and it is easy for product creators to over-inflate a product’s role. We need to think about the products we create not from the perspective of the magnitude of the role a product has in the existence of users but the value a product provides. The magnitude of role versus the value impact is nuanced but important.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Content Management Systems (CMS) are examples of products that play a significant role for users, but the value is often questioned. If users question the value of a product, it will be easy for them to look for alternatives and switch. Role products typically become a commodity, and users don’t care which product they are using among the options available. Value products don’t become commodities and therefore have a set of attributes that role products don’t have.

So what is undeniable value, and what separates value products from role products? Undeniable value means that when a user becomes aware of and uses a product, they don’t have to think about whether it is making their life better (personal or professional); it just is. Some undeniably valuable products are Netflix, Amazon, and Zoom. Some attributes of undeniable value products are:

  • Pricing power — Products with undeniable value have pricing power over competitors because their value with users is strong. The pricing power equates to financial wherewithal that allows the products to increase their value and become even more entrenched with users.
  • Consistent use — Undeniably valuable Products are consistently used. The consistency of use is one of the things that gives a product its value. Rarely will a sporadically used product ever fall into the category of undeniable value?
  • Behavior changers — Undeniable value products can change user behavior when this rarely happens for other products. Because users receive so much value, they will change how they do something to incorporate an undeniably valuable product.
  • Can’t live/work without — Users build routines around products with undeniable value to the extent that they can’t imagine living or working with them. Undeniable products become an essential part of a user’s life.
  • Create competitive moats — Products that are undeniably valuably create competitive moats because users don’t consider changing. Even when users are presented with less expensive alternatives, they don’t switch. Nothing facilitates user loyalty more than undeniable user value.
  • Viral/sharable/recommendable — Users of undeniable products want to share and recommend them. They received so much value from the product that they take pride in being a user and associated with it, much like people have brand pride and attachment for companies they care about. To this end, the users of these products can also become attached to the company in a way that seems to defy logic and becomes fan-like.
  • Culture impacting — Company and/or societal culture impacting. Netflix and Chill, jump on a Zoom, Slack it to me become part of the fabric of our culture at home and work. Undeniably valuable products extend beyond our use to represent aspects of our lives and work. Role products never attain the level of reference and space that value products do.
  • Product led growth — Undeniably valuable products facilitate product led growth because they are easier to market, acquire users, and retain users without much if any, intervention. The value is the rocket fuel behind users’ willingness to refer, recommend and share a product with others. No one shares a role product.
  • Business value — The users of undeniably valuable products aren’t the only ones to benefit from them. The business behind the product also helps greatly by achieving the business’s outcomes. For a product to be undeniably valuable, it has to be provided as much value for the company behind the product as it does for users.

If a user questions whether a product is valuable to them and should consider using it, that isn’t an undeniable value product. Yes, the world is full of very successful products that don’t meet this bar; social media apps are at the top of the list because many people don’t use or go in and out of using social media products. Social media products could be considered undeniably valuable when people are bored, but they aren’t so undeniably value not to be left behind by users. Social media apps are role products. They fill the role of boredom alleviators, but they aren’t undeniably valuable. An undeniably valuable product is one that people will use without questioning it or thinking about it. They are products that people will fight to keep using, even professionally. Try to tell someone that you are going to switch from Zoom to GoToMeeting or Webex and see what their reaction is. This assumes they have used GoToMeeting or Webex before Zoom, but if not, see how long it is before they are clamoring to back to Zoom or holding their remote meetings via Zoom, irrespective of what anyone else is doing. Users will often personally pay for an undeniably valuable product even inside a company to use what they want, not the role product that a company provides.

Undeniably valuable products create an unreasonable and abnormal relationship with users. There are TikTok videos about people buying too many things on Amazon and spending too much on Starbucks even when they don’t have the money to be so, not only because the videos are funny, but because they are true. Undeniably valuable products create a dynamic with users (customers) beyond typical use and transactions.

Each of us has our threshold for undeniable value and which products and companies reach that level for us. Our needs and desires evolve and change over time, making our threshold, criteria, and expectations change. Someone might be a heavy, can’t live without it user of Snapchat for a year, and then move on because they aren’t that person anymore.

Product creators can’t copy what has worked for others to make their product undeniably valuable. The only way for product creators to create undeniably valuable products is to do so with users and understand the role a product plays for users and the value impact. Most product creators stop at the infamous product market fit threshold, so I prefer customer product fit. Product market fit implies a product fills a role for many users that can be rolled up into a market to be captured and protected. Customer product fit implies value at the individual user or customer level, making acquisition and retention easier.

Don’t strive for a role product; strive for a value product.