You’re a tech entrepreneur gearing up to build and launch the first release of your product – your Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
The plan: build out enough of the product to test the core value proposition in the fastest, leanest way possible. With enough luck, customers will see that your product fulfils their needs and make the rational choice to switch to using it.
Unfortunately, us humans are anything but rational when evaluating products and services, and in this day-and-age of sky-high expectations and overwhelming choice, the MVP just doesn’t cut the mustard as a first product release. Unless your solution is completely novel, chances are that you’ll have some stiff competition to match up against.
Customers are far more discerning with the products they donate their attention to – let alone, pay money for. What happens when the bar is raised and there is an abundance of alternative solutions? Customers look deeper. Towards higher-level needs: how the product makes them feel, the experience of using the product, how it delights.
And that is one of the pitfalls of the MVP – it lacks the ability to form a connection with its customers. It lacks soul. Considering your product might have only one shot at attracting attention, then a product with soul is exactly what’s needed to build a tribe of loyal early adopters that fall in love with your product.
Enter, the Minimum Loveable Product – your answer to creating a first product release fit for purpose in a post-pandemic, digitally competitive world. Whereas the aim of the MVP is learning about customers with minimal effort, the MLP seeks to deliver the maximum amount of love to a core tribe of early adopters with the least amount of effort.
But “loveable” doesn’t mean slapping some shiny features onto an MVP – rather, it is a balancing act that requires a conscious approach to delivering enough value to forge an emotional connection, but not so much that precious money and time are wasted on low-value features.
Here are five principles we employ at Hidden Innovation in our work helping startups and corporates design and launch MLPs that balance the line of loveable and lean:
1. Start with your product vision
Product Vision is one of the most valuable yet underappreciated tools you can leverage as a startup, but is crucial to knowing where your product will be in 3-5 years time, and the impact it will have had on your customers’ lives having used it.
Make sure your 3-5 year vision is tangible, customer-centric and story-driven.
Although the vision should be grounded in real-world insights about your customer, market and business, it is intended to be an aspirational tool that depicts a future where your customer’s problem has been solved through your product.
How: For a 5-day, hands-on approach to product visioning, check out the Product Vision Sprint.
2. Target a tribe, and understand them deeply
Delivering features that try to appeal to an audience too broad will result in a product loved by none. That starts with first deeply understanding your core tribe of users – those who feel the weight of the problem your product is solving most strongly.
By getting close to those users, understanding their pains and gains, motivations and the context in which your product fits into their lives, you can start to understand what features and aspects of your product will be most valuable to them.
How: Map out the customers’ jobs, pains and gains with the Value Proposition Design canvas
3. Focus and prioritise
One of the biggest mistakes a startup can make is trying to bite off too much in the first product release leading to a product that lacks clear focus.
Think of the MLP as the first step towards delivering on the vision that focuses on your customers most pressing needs, but also delights them along the way.
That means aligning a feature set around those needs that ticks off not only the must-have benefits needed for the product to be competitive, but also one or two ‘delighters’ that will help elevate it from viable to loveable.
How: Use the Kano model to determine which features will satisfy and delight customers.
4. Provide a great user experience
Tech products have evolved to the point where good design is ubiquitous. Offering an intuitive, appealing digital experience that delights users is now table stakes, and a product that glosses over user experience (UX) will find it hard, if not impossible, to cut through.
Take Find my EV, a startup we helped design and launch – the UX features interactive maps and steps to help alleviate the user’s pain of range anxiety, showing how a focus on experience can delight customers and help a product stand out against competitors.
How: Hire Product Designers instead of specialists – they are well suited to working with startups because of their interdisciplinary skills across UX (how it works) and UI (how it looks and feels).
5. Don’t neglect brand
From your choice of colour, typography and tone of voice – your brand is your product’s personality – and a reflection of the people working for the company behind the product. Although you won’t have the budget for a big splashy brand identity, that doesn’t mean you should neglect designing a lean brand (at the very least) for your product.
Beyond the benefits of creating a distinct look to differentiate you from competitors, brand is the highest-impact opportunity to connect with customers on an emotional level with the least effort involved beyond developing features.
How: A Brand Sprint is a good low-cost option for rapidly designing a lean brand in just a few weeks. See it in action in this case study for finance media startup ausbiz.
6. Add moments of magic
Want people to talk about your product, and share it? Add moments of magic to surprise and delight.
The Mailchimp High Five had customers tweeting videos of them high fiving their screens – a great example of how a simple touch can go a long way in driving referral and loyalty, but also how to know when to add the moments can have a huge impact on a customer.
It can all feel a little overwhelming knowing the first steps to take on the digital product journey, but hopefully these principles will help guide you towards a loveable first release that goes beyond viable and delivers a memorable experience.
Of course, having a sherpa to guide you on the journey can often make all the difference, so if a guide experienced with designing and delivering loveable products is what you’re in need of, reach out to Hidden at firstname.lastname@example.org