Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mediocre Product Marketing Is Ruining Obama's Approval Rating

Continuing on the theme from my last post, I think it's important to recognize why we're not getting bold reform -- mediocre product marketing.

As a country, we didn't start out with the idea of a 'mediocre reform' product. During the ramp up of the election, there were a lot of promises made about making real reform. Since that time, the job of specifying the product and ironing out the details has fallen to our very own product marketing team, Congress. Acting like a consensus product team that's focused on making safe choices, Congress (with the aid of the White House) has gone the path of safe, uncontroversial features. And while we keep expecting Obama to step in like Steve Jobs, demanding innovation and insisting on a noteworthy product, instead he has chosen the passive management approach, determined to let the country sell what his Congressional product group has designed.

It's one of those great rules of marketing, compromises and safe product choices do not make extraordinary products. They don't engage and excite customers. They don't inspire passion.

Where's our Purple Cow?
Recent polls have also marked a decline in Obama's approval ratings. While conservative columnist David Brooks points to a decline in support from 'independent voters,' economist Paul Krugman writes about declining support among Obama's progressive base. Whatever your political point of view, the real takeaway from this is that nobody is passionate about compromise.

When the debate shifted from a discussion of principles and values, from a leadership discussion focused on the moral imperative of "the right solution" and the essence of the product to a discussion about compromise, a host of audiences instantly became unhappy. They knew that their interests were being sold out.

Instead of focusing on the essence of the design, our Congressional product marketing group is moving toward selling us a crappy product using a laundry list of non-essential features (look, it also has a calendar, a clock with seven different time zones, and an alarm with 148 different ring tones). This non-design approach to design, the feature creep / baffle-em with BS method, is why you get some of those products that are packed with features, but essentially unusable. It's also why Apple's iPhone, with it's 'one-button' interface marked such a design contrast to every smart phone that preceded it.

Crappy Product Marketing Meets Lack of Executive Sponsorship
Keeping everyone focused on the essence of the design starts with defining that core mission. Imagine, in the debate about health care reform, if the objective was defined more narrowly and more boldly. What if, instead of trying to patch the system, the objective was defined something like this: We believe that everyone in America has the right to essential health care and that maintaining the public health is a fundamental component of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Like "provide for the common defense", we are going to ensure that we provide for the common need for health care. By eliminating the costs and concerns of essential health care from individuals and businesses, we can build a better, stronger workforce, stronger companies, and a stronger country.

Perhaps, if we started with some core design goals, our Congressional product development teams could create a decent product and we might get some bold reform.

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