Porsche has been selling the 911 since early 1960’s. Iterating on it. Improving it. All this while they’ve had a dedicated and loyal fan base. Why does the 911 have such loyal followers? Why is it important to ask this question? I think there’re lessons from Porsche 911 that can be applied to other products, including those made up of 1’s and 0’s. I asked “Why do Porsche 911’s have such ardent fans?” on Quora, watched some documentaries, read up about the car, reflected on it, and here’s what I’ve learned.
- The cult: Buying the product should make the user part of a cult or community. The enthusiasm from those in the cult already will rub onto the new members, keep them engaged, and increase the mystique of the product for those not in the cult. It also provides a medium for the users to help each other and some to emerge as experts. It attaches social currency to expertise about your product thereby attaching more value to knowledge about your product.
- Design: The product should value the design and aesthetics very highly. The design should be iconic.
- Unique: The product should have a unique quirk that fundamentally influences the design and makes it more interesting. The rear-engine design of the 911 gives the car some unique characteristics that influence the handling of the car.
- Feelings: Focus on how the product makes the users “feel”. You’d often hear people saying that they feel “one with the car”. The growl of the engine, combined with near-instant torque and acceleration, and precise handling of the car lead to grown men giggling like toddlers after changing gears. Feelings trump utility. We’re humans after all.
- Story: The product should have a heritage, a history, a story. You’ve got to be selling the product because you believe in something. That something has to be more than just about money. Users must feel that the engineering in the product originates from something deep and not a shallow monetary desire. The 911 can trace its roots to the Porsche 64 that was assembled from the parts of a VW Beetle because Professor Dr. Ferdinand Porsche wanted a light sports car.
- Iterate carefully: Don’t deviate from the design too much once you’ve found what users love. A design language that doesn’t change a lot with every new version goes into making the design iconic.
- Influence: Have influential users to spread the word. The pricing of the product is a meta-filter for the kind of market/users who would buy the product.
- Awards: Ferociously participate in competitions and win awards. Not only will this influence the engineering of the product in good ways, it also goes into making the users feel that they own a special product. The owners must feel pride in owning the product.
- Pricing: The total package the product has to offer has to be worth the price. A Quora response put it very aptly that you can get a car with more acceleration, better braking, more speed, more reliability, etc. – but not one that does well in all these attributes at the same time as much as the Porsche 911 does.
- Exclusivity: Exclusivity is important. Don’t mass produce and dilute the brand and product. Use pricing or limited production runs to get exclusivity.
- Variants: Have multiple product variants at different pricing tiers. Do provide the insane perf variants to those who can afford it and thus maintain the iconic image of the product.
- Basics: All of this is useless if the product doesn’t get the basics right. The product should be powerful, reliable, well engineered, and among the best in class.
Overall, look at the product from the angle of – what would cause kids to dream of owning this product? What would cause them to put posters about the company and your product on their bedroom walls? What would cause them to dream of working at your company one day?
Finally, some caveats:
- These ideas are more applicable to consumer products than enterprise products. The purchase decisions in enterprises are driven differently than in consumers. Though a 911-like finesse in a product that provides the typical bells-and-whistles of enterprise products is an interesting way to differentiate.
- These ideas are harder to apply in tough markets where the cheapest price may be more valued than anything else. One can start in such a market. In fact that’s how Porsche started making sports cars in post WW-II Germany.
What do you think? What can we learn from Porsche 911 and apply to new product development? Is there any other product that you think has interesting lessons for software engineering?