I was just standing in line at this Italian sandwich place and I overheard 2 guys talking. One was clearly a Bell tech, wearing is carefully crafted Bell t-shirt shwag, and the other, presumably a friend, and probably also an engineer.
The Bell rep, was telling his friend about some new Blackberries coming out that were supposedly “just like the iPhone, only…” – don’t even get me started on that one. But he told his friend the code names of the 2 phones: Barcelona, and Black Forest (I think).
I got to thinking about product code names. Coming up through the ranks as an engineer early in my career, I thought product code names were cool. There was a mystique about them. After spending some years now on the business development, sales & marketing side of the business, I’ve completely changed my opinion.
When I hear a company talk about product code names now, I see it as a symptom of a disease that company is inflicted with. I can just picture how that company works… Development has begun building a product based on some set of specs (that they probably came up with themselves), and the company doesn’t even know what they’re going to call it yet. But worse, probably hasn’t answered any of these other fundamental questions internally:
- Who the audience is
- What the need/pain/messaging is
- How much it costs or what the price plans/options are
- What the sales/marketing strategy is for the product
I can just picture engineering finishing this product, then throwing it “over the wall” for Marketing to figure out what to call their new baby, who should care, and how they’re going to sell it.
This is ass backwards. This is an engineering driven company, not a marketing driven company. And engineering driven companies have a tendency to fail. Sure, some of the big, old guard can get away with it for a while (I’m looking at you Microsoft, and you RIM), but not forever. And if you’re not as big as they are, God forbid you’re trying to build a startup, it’s the beginning of the end.
You need to be a market driven company. When you conceive a new product, engineering should be the last part. You should know your pain, concept, messaging, audience, go-to-market strategy and yes, product name, before you build the thing. Otherwise, how do you even know if there’s a real opportunity? Pretty big gamble to just build something for months on end, only to toss it into the public’s hands and hope somebody cares.
To make matters worse for all of you who haven’t answered all those marketing questions yet, I can tell you that during any dev cycle, your engineering team is going to make, oh, about a million product decisions without you, that relate to the details of the product along the way. If they don’t know who their audience is, what segment you’re going after, what the pain they’re solving is, whether it’s consumer or enterprise, what the pricing is, or what the damn thing is even called – what do you think the quality of those million decisions are going to be?
Don’t be an engineering driven company. Be a marketing driven company. Don’t use product code names. Answer those key questions before you start building. At least have a working hypothesis.
Otherwise you’re doing backwards.