Product Managers are often exhorted to “listen to their customers”, but it is sometimes not at all clear how and when to do this. This short case study describes how we took an outline product concept through to working prototype, keeping customers in the loop every step of the way.
The Product team behind STORM is Richard Shackleton, James Wilson and me, Chris Steele. Between us we have contributed to a wide range of products such as Matador, Illusion, boujou, SOCRATTO, Film Master and Nuke. They’ve worked together several times and share a strong conviction that good products are born out of listening carefully to potential users.
Since September 2009, a long time before we had a clear idea of exactly what STORM would be, we started to have informal discussions with a wide range of people involved in creating film and television content. Some of these were well-known industry luminaries whom many people listen to for hints as to how the industry may develop. Others were camera operators, cinematographers, assistants, DiTs, producers, directors, editors and colourists.
We asked them open questions about their work, what was involved, who was involved, and the sources of their pain and pride. To do this we needed to dig right down into the nitty-gritty of what they had been doing from one minute to the next; the products they used, the prices they paid, the time, costs, hopes and fears. It was hugely informative and we filled pages and pages of notes.
We organised “customer immersion” days or trips, where one or more of us would plan a series of these interviews one after the other. We would return enthused and excited by what we had heard and what the opportunities for a product were. Then it would be back to the wipe board and figuring out what it all meant and trying to come to some conclusions about what was happening in the market, and what would happen next.
It is traditional for manufacturers in this industry to segment the market in two ways. First, by the function of the person using the product and their position in the workflow, secondly by the type and value of media being worked on. We’ll talk about “high-end grading”, “pro-sumer editing”, “broadcast”, or “episodic shoot”. As we talked to these folks in 2009 one of the things that struck us was that lots of them didn’t fit into this neat segmentation.
So the product team went back to what data is available on employment in the industry[i] and came up with a new idea. We threw away the old market segmentation model that has been serving the industry so well for the last 30 years and adopted a new one. We characterised a new type of industry worker, with different skills and working patterns. We figured out how to identify these people and went back to them to check our hypothesis.
Of course segmenting your market is a purely theoretical exercise unless it has an impact on your product design, marketing, channel and all other activities involved in bringing a product to market. One particular moment made me realised how valuable this new segmentation was going to be. I was preparing for the industry’s big annual tradeshow in Las Vegas. As part of the new product development, we had decided to show a prototype to selected target users and important customers of The Foundry. I started contacting people on our list to invite them. The revelation was that the majority were not going to the show. Time to rethink all those activites!
[i] Some of the figures are surprising. The bad news for the 30,000 students studying various “media” courses is that there were only 21,113 people employed in film and video production in the UK in 2008.