Justin Lee is a strategist at a boutique brand consultancy in Tokyo, a business that helps Japanese companies of all sizes and industries build purpose-led brands.
A fundamental framework in the Product Strategy Sprint is Levels of Product (core, actual, augmented).
- Actual product is the central product (e.g. a car, a box of cereal, a shoe)
- Augmented product is the list of distinct features that make the product stand out (e.g. an extended warranty, a heart-healthy grain, an ultra high heel)
- Core product is the psychological reason people buy the product (e.g. security, feeling healthy, looking beautiful)
The Levels of Product framework has been a versatile framework for creating client proposals and ultimately winning business for our company. And though our company is a brand consultancy, I think the application is also useful for B2B professional services in general.
Let's dive in on how I use the framework to pitch our services.
The actual product
Our clients come from different industries and vary in size. They also come to us for a wide range of branding-related services. As a result, depending on the client, our actual product varies.
So we start by clarifying what the actual product is for our client. Depending on the client, it can be:
- a logo and tagline
- a brand purpose statement
- a marketing campaign
- product design
- a workshop
- building a retail space
The augmented product
For our augmented product, we start with a list of “features,” or distinct attributes we provide.
We have four buckets for each product: team, methodology/process, our reputation/track record, and cost.
For example, under people and teams, we would list:
- our founder, a female entrepreneur from the ad industry who pioneered the purpose movement in Japan
- our multidisciplinary team, which gives the client access to a range of skills and expertise
- our international team, which lends global perspective and scale to our projects
It’s important to cull this list down to features that are both distinct to our company and relevant to the client. For example, if we have a Japanese client that only operates in the domestic market, our international team is less important.
The core product
Finally, there's the core product – what the client really wants beyond the deliverable. Since each proposal is tailored for a specific client, we have to dig deep to understand their motivations.
- Sometimes the client is really looking for simplicity and relief at having a team they can depend on. They don't want the friction of understanding how everything works.
- Sometimes the client wants a feeling of connection and feeling “seen.” They’re looking for a team that fits their culture, and the methodology is secondary to them.
- And sometimes the client is extremely risk-averse and is looking for stability and reassurance. They want a proven process and team with a great track record.
Applying the Levels of Product helps us organize our ideas and get a clear picture of what we’re delivering, which features matter for this client, and the outcome that will truly satisfy them. We can then reflect that understanding in our proposals.
But wait – there's more.
Leveraging the Section4 Universe
The frameworks we learn in Product Strategy don’t belong in a vacuum. They’re part of what I like to call the Section4 Universe.
This means you can do crossovers with other sprints to create more useful insights. The Levels of Product become even more powerful when you start intersecting the concept with other sprint frameworks.
Using the four human instincts to explore core product
In the Business Strategy Sprint, Scott Galloway explains that humans are driven by four core instincts: brain, heart, gut, and genitals.
A good jumping-off point for clarifying the core product is asking:
- Is curiosity and discovery a core product for this client? For example, would they be interested in learning the methodology? (Brain)
- Is connection or emotion a core product? (Heart)
- How about growth/revenue? (Gut)
- Or is it about the status of the decision-maker or the company brand? (Genitals)
Figuring out what really differentiates your product
Let's return to our Augmented Product, which is a list of product and service features.
In the Product Positioning Sprint, we learn a process to figure out which features provide differentiated value. The process goes like this:
- Start by picking a “big deal” feature from your list of distinct attributes
- Ask yourself, “Why would a customer care about this feature?”
- Keep saying, “So what?” until you get to the heart of the customer’s motivation
At our company, we have multi-disciplinary teams listed as part of our Augmented Product.
Why would a customer care about that? It means that, in a project, we’re able to bridge our initial research findings to the creative process because we have strategists and consultants on the team.
So what? Well, it ultimately ensures that the creative output isn't way out there in the ether, but relevant to the client's brand and market.
This final point was an insight we’ve used in our proposal to drive home the importance and benefits of a multidisciplinary team.
In Section4 fashion, there are three takeaways here.
- B2B professionals can use the Levels of Product framework as a starting point for client proposals to organize ideas and get clarity.
- You can use the four human instincts from the Business Strategy Sprint to explore the core product.
- Uncover the features that really matter to your customer using the differentiated value framework from the Product Positioning Sprint.
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