Robert Berris / Digital Strategy / July 16th, 2015

Why Your Next Website Should Be a Digital Product

In coming years, successful businesses won’t just launch websites, they’ll create digital products. While both can generate revenue or solve a business problem, a digital product is specifically designed to change rapidly based on user feedback and real-time analytics. Whether that product is a custom website, app or digital campaign, this mindset makes a huge practical difference in what and how you build.

Product thinking focuses on solving user problems and overcoming business challenges. Many digital trends are tenets of product thinking: user experience design, agile development, growth hacking and digital strategy. Working together, these principles let you view a website through the lens of user needs, project goals and business outcomes.

Most companies fail to implement processes to gather feedback and drive new growth accordingly. While it’s possible to simply launch a website and stumble into success, you’re more likely to identify and solve user problems with a digital product strategy.

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Product is Process

Our official shift to digital product development is recent, but we’ve been moving toward it since we transitioned to agile and lean principles. Creating a digital product is nearly impossible without the speed and flexibility that agile web development affords.

When we organized into cross-functional agile development teams, we knew it gave us a huge competitive advantage over other digital agencies – clients were happier, production was streamlined and we launched functional websites 2-3 times faster than a traditional agency could.

Cross-functional teams offer a comprehensive strategy for a single product.
Cross-functional teams offer comprehensive strategy for a single product.

But we quickly discovered that agile development brought a number of other client advantages. By combining user research, UX design, development, quality assurance and marketing strategy on a single team, we were able to set a long-term roadmap for client projects. Beyond simply building a beautiful, functional website, we armed our clients with a plan to effectively reach users and respond to them.

With agile principles comes the understanding that what you launch at the start is not nearly as important as what you launch next. Iteration and new feature development lies at the heart of a product mindset.

Your Second Launch is the Most Important

We tend to focus all of our efforts on finishing. That all-important launch. It’s an old school way of thinking – it sounds funny, but that’s a traditional approach to digital.

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We recently launched PlanningPoker.com, and one of our most important lessons was that while launch was important, the next 60 days between launch and iteration could make or break the product. Our developers, Team Orange, had invested nearly a year of free time into making PlanningPoker.com a reality, but the two months after launch proved the most critical time.

Those 60 days are when you move past MVP to a full-fledged product. Product thinking pushes you to gather extensive user feedback, identify features that resonate with users, prioritize our next feature iterations and set prices for our intended user groups.

All of that data answers the questions, “What problem do I solve for users?” and “Does this website, app or experience land with our core users?” Once you can answer those questions, you can move swiftly to your second launch, the one that will move your product toward success.

Embrace Iteration

Most other creative endeavors rely on revision and improvement to find success. The best writers, for instance, know that the first draft is critical, but it’s the second or third draft (or the 10th) that ultimately gets published. Comedians are constantly taking feedback and refining their material. Physical products receive new iterations every year.
Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 2.27.39 PMWebsites deserve – and need – the same level of attention and iteration. For years, however, businesses have been content to launch a website and leave it stagnant. Sure, there may be a few content changes here and there, or you may have a weekly blog post, but the core experience of the website may remain the same for years.

Drop “Launch” from your Vocabulary

If it sounds like we’re saying, “Your website is never done,” that’s because we are. And we know that may fill clients with dread and a sense of dwindling budgets, but it shouldn’t. A real digital product is defined by a commitment to testing, learning and iterating, but that doesn’t mean you’re in a state of constant development. Rather, it means that you have the framework in place to learn from your users and constantly deliver value.

Ultimately, this means higher revenues by beating competitors to market, streamlining your user onboarding process, identifying new feature opportunities and rapidly improving your product offering. Beyond your core product, this iterative feedback loop can also help determine potential products or solutions that may benefit your current user base.

A digital product is your company’s loyalty program; it’s how you focus your retention efforts and give customers a voice in your online presence. By listening to user needs and incorporating feedback into your website, it’s much easier to turn customers into ambassadors for your brand.

Simply put, your next website can’t afford to just be a website. It needs to be a digital product with the flexibility to adapt to your market and solve real problems.

  • Christopher Burns

    When I think of all of the biggest web companies… I think they’re all digital products. Facebook, Google, etc. Definitely digital products. I think if you want to make money online, you need to be thinking of making a “product” not a “site”. It’s a minor distinction, but an important one. Sites to me imply that it’s just a place, but if you treat your site as if it were a physical product… continually manufacturing it, improving it, marketing it… then you will really have something.

    • http://www.proweb365.com/web-design Web Design Price

      Good points! I have worked with many clients from Minnesota…and I also suggest them like this way. Many of them really don’t understand how to build a “product” website. So, as a web developer, we must explain to them about that.

  • Paul Traylor

    Great article Robert. This mind shift to embracing user-driven iteration is the only viable path forward.

  • http://www.nichesbecrazy.com Phillip Lopez

    Great post, nice different approach. I really need to getting my first digital product out
    there.

    I really need to make sure that I keep adjusting as well.

    Thanks again!

  • lostwillee

    Robert _ I would love to have you guys build our next great digital product, and you guys are in our list of possible vendors, with your location being a great advantage to the process. That said, I am interested to hear from you as VP of digital strategy, about how your ongoing experience with this sort of “launch” (or per your linguistic advice maybe lets say “endeavor”). How foes 352Inc help my company maintain the strongest focus to continuous improvements, the best we can up front, vs learning lessons that you guys have already learned? IE What is the continued education process, or assistance in “building quality into the process” for a first time digital product entrepreneur? Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t our first endeavor, but just our first truly digital endeavor. You see my company is super good at what we do, and digital products will change the game for our business, but its experience that we lack in digital product continuous improvement, not innovative ideas, capacity to learn, or focus. Again, in so many words, how can 352 help us here?