with Laurier Mandin, Andreas Schwabe and Justin Jackson on October 22, 2019
Part 1 of 2: Justin Jackson thinks about product launches and marketing a lot, because he doesn’t accept conventional wisdom; he’s a keen observer of both brand and consumer behaviours. Justin says rather than trying to get the market to find your product, you need to take your product to a market that’s ready, eager—and sizeable.
A little research into “Product Marketing” and the name Justin Jackson will show up, a lot. Whether he’s running his podcasting platform Transistor.fm, his bootstrapper community MegaMaker, writing his blog, juggling multiple podcasts and Twitter accounts while being daddy to his four kids, Justin Jackson is remarkably prolific.
Justin thinks about product launches and marketing endlessly, because he doesn’t accept conventional wisdom; he’s a keen observer of both brand and consumer behaviours. Justin says rather than trying to get the market to find your product, you need to take your product to a market that’s ready, eager—and sizeable. The discussion covers a lot of ground, but it’s tightly focused on making consumers aware of products. This the first of our two-part conversation with Justin Jackson.
Andreas: A little research into product marketing and the name Justin Jackson will show up a lot, whether he’s running his podcasting platform, Transistor FM. His bootstrapper community MegaMaker, his blog, multiple podcasts or Twitter. Justin Jackson is prolific. Justin thinks a lot about product launches and marketing. He doesn’t accept conventional wisdom. He’s a keen observer of both business and consumer behaviors.
Andreas: He says, “Rather than trying to get the market to find your product, you need to take your product to the market.” The discussion meanders and covers a lot of ground, but it’s tightly focused on making consumers aware of products.
Andreas: This is the first of our two-part conversation with Justin Jackason, Graphos’ CEO, Laurier Mandin does most of the talking, but I kicked things off asking Justin to catch us up on his history and talk about how he’s ended up running a successful podcast platform.
Justin: Sure, yeah. I was born in Edmonton and went for university. I got my degree in business management and marketing. And then right out of school, after I graduated, I went and worked with a little snowboard manufacturer called Olive, which was my friend Randy Jespersen, who’s older than me, had started years before and I kind of apprenticed under him for awhile.
Justin: And yeah, I was introduced to the world of manufacturing and how all of that stuff works. I’ve always been into computers and so gradually over time I had a little kind of stopover where I started my own snowboard skateboard shop in my early twenties, but eventually I found myself in the software industry and with a focus on product and marketing.
Justin: And I’ve been doing that, basically full-time, since 2008.
Laurier: So Justin, we’ve heard you say in your blog, I think it was, that with product, we talk a lot about jobs to be done and although the goal is always to do a job. More than anything, you say that people want to feel differently.
Laurier: How big a part is emotion? And do you find that’s with most products or almost all products? People want to have this feeling.
Justin: Yeah, I think there’s an emotional component to every purchasing decision and it’s usually subconscious in a way that people couldn’t articulate. If you ask to them. If you said, “Well, why did you buy this?” Folks will usually go to kind of functional or utilitarian needs. “Oh, I bought this broom because I need to sweep. It sweeps better than my last one.”
Justin: But the truth is, is that the most purchases, what nudges us over the finish line of actually buying the product is emotion. “This broom reminds me of the one my grandmother had when I was growing up.” Nostalgia is a really powerful emotional trigger, or “This broom is the same one that people like me use.” Meaning “My social group is all buying this broom and they’re talking about it at coffee and they’re saying it’s amazing.” Or “I was over for wine at their house and I saw it.”
Justin: These are the reasons people buy is because there’s some sort of emotional component to it. And this is especially true in B2C, but it also works in B2B. You see this all the time and I’ve been thinking a lot about this line that Seth Godin says, which is “People like us do things like this.”
Justin: Have you heard that yet?
Laurier: Yeah, I love that line. I love a lot of things that Seth says.
Justin: Don’t you wish you came up with that line.
Laurier: It’s so true. It’s because he was talking about tribes, too. You’re talking about about how, as a group, if I see the people around me are doing certain things and acting certain ways and using certain products, then I’m going to, in order to fit in, I want to be one of those people like us.
Laurier: So I need to have those things, as well.
Justin: Yeah. Yeah. And you see this, I moved into a new neighborhood here and I live in a community of retirees and my neighbor came out and it was interesting to watch us negotiate our first couple of conversations, because we’re trying to figure out, are we people like us? Is he a person like me? Right?
Laurier: Are we going to like each other and what do we have in common?
Justin: Yeah. And so, initially I think we figured out that we are both on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and this is all subconscious, it’s not like we’re negotiating this consciously. But over time I’ve watched him, he has found topics that he knows will resonate with me. And so now when he comes over to my house, he’ll say, “Wow, can you believe what Trump said?”
Justin: And we found this overlap of something we can talk about.
Laurier: I’ve got a neighbor who is the opposite. He knows what irks me. So he’ll immediately come over and I’ll see it in his eyes that he’s coming over to hug me about something.
Justin: But this negotiation happens all the time. We’re always looking for, we’re comparing ourselves to others. We’re asking ourselves where do we fit in? And think about if you ask folks, for example, a business about, “Why did you switch to Slack?” Which is internal chat software.
Laurier: Yeah, it sucks away our lives. We know that one.
Justin: Yeah, it sucks away your life. But if you think back to the original decision. Do you remember where you heard about it from?
Laurier: I remember we were using another chat platform and I’m trying to remember what it was called. And Slack just seemed to do the things that it did better. It was kind of, one of the people in our office brought it in as a test and we tried it and jumped over to it.
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Laurier: But that’s a really good example because it’s something in that case that we were already using. Other companies might try it as their first way to communicate internally.
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And even more interesting, you said somebody brought it over, meaning there was some sort of a champion for the product internally.
Laurier: For sure.
Justin: And it’d be interesting to know what emotional triggers did that person experience that made them willing to risk their social capital and bring that into a team. That’s a big risk, right?
Laurier: Yeah, Because you’re talking about displacing something and it could fail. If Slack is the worst thing we’ve ever done and we find where the people aren’t liking it. Yeah. Now you’ve kind of failed socially in front of everybody.
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Justin: And you’re opening yourself up emotionally to people telling you that’s a bad idea, to there being opposition, to people wondering what the big deal is, to switching over and then it failing.
Justin: Yeah. All of those elements seem to be there in the same way that if you’re in a group of people you know if they are Tim Horton’s people or if they are Starbucks people. People like us go to Starbucks or even people like us don’t go to any chains. People like us go to Ratio, which is the little corner place.
Justin: All of these things are tied to our identity and the identity of the groups that we relate to.
Laurier: Yeah. And when you’re trying to change behaviors, that’s one of the biggest things. We’re working now on a product that I can’t tell you about quite yet for a client in Sydney, Australia. That the goal of this product is to radically change people’s behaviors.
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Laurier: And in one of your blog posts, you talked about that, too, that small businesses shouldn’t be out there trying to change behaviors because it’s such a big thing to do. You talked, I think you gave the example of selling ice cream on a beach. Go do that. Even if you’re right next to someone who is successfully selling ice cream on that beach, you’re going to be selling some.
Laurier: But if you’re going to try and come up with something that’s a radical change from the way that people cool off on the beach or may even take them in another direction, then you’re going to be in a really tough spot. Right?
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Laurier: Do you think that listeners should kind of, especially if they are not well financed, should focus on improving on something that’s already in stores. Using the Slack example, coming up with a better way of doing something, than go out there and try and take to market this invention that they have that’s going to require a more radical behavior change?
Justin: I think the mistake people make is they start with product first. Even in that example you just gave me, I’m using this widget and it doesn’t work as well as it should and maybe I can make something better.
Justin: That, to me, still has too much risk. What I am advocating for now is to start with the market first and I’ve just become more and more convinced of this. That it’s not product first. It’s not idea first. It’s not innovation first. It’s market first.
Justin: There’s this great quote from Sahil Lavingia. I don’t even know how to say his last name, but Sahil, the founder of Gumroad and he says the market you’re in will determine most of your growth. Meaning, in the same way that the size of the wave when you’re surfing will determine most of your ride. How the size of the wave determines how far you’re going to be able to surf.
Justin: In the same way-
Laurier: That’s such a good point, and I was going to tie that into something else you said once about scratching your own itch. You probably said it more than once, but how do you know, especially when you’re behind a product and you love it and you’re all in love with the idea, if that itch is something that’s distinctly and weirdly your own, or if there’s millions of people out there that have that same itch? How big is that wave?
Justin: You have to be able to observe it in real life. Even products like the iPhone, people talk about this all the time. People say, “Steve Jobs invented something we didn’t even know we needed.” And that’s just not true. I’m assuming both of you had Blackberries before the iPhone.
Andreas: I still do have a Blackberry.
Justin: You still do have a Blackberry.
Andreas: I still do. I have a Key One.
Laurier: Yeah and you know I had a Palm Pilot before that. So, yeah, so similar.
Justin: These devices were selling in the millions. There was millions of people buying these devices. What Steve Jobs noticed was first the momentum in the market. “Whoa, there’s something going on here.”
Justin: And his second observation was, “But something’s broken. People use these devices, but many people are dissatisfied. There is a way for us to improve on what’s here.” But if it was a consumer product that didn’t have a lot of traction and he had made it better.
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Laurier: I was remembering Steve Jobs, his initial pitch for the iPhone. He was talking about how you have these smart phones, but they’re not smart. You don’t like them. And he was actually pointing out to the audience the failings of what was out there.
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Laurier: And so why do you have this stupid stylus.
Andreas: Which is a shared experience with people.
Laurier: You have five us these on each finger. You don’t need to have this thing you lose, because everybody hates when you lose your stylus. You shouldn’t need it. He kind of sold everybody on this, “Hey, yeah, I am dealing with something. I’m using something that’s inferior. Hey, I do need that thing that you’ve got there that doesn’t have these same problems.”
Justin: Yeah. And people often mock him for those kind of onstage, when he’s selling it like that. But they didn’t fall flat because people, there was this shared experience. I think those observations were real. He really had seen people struggling.
Justin: He really had seen people frustrated and he also knew the power of being able to delight people with an experience, a user experience that was better. He’d just come through with the iPod versus the Zune and other MP3 players.
Justin: He knew that if you could delight folks in the same category, you could carve out a significant market share for yourself. And I think that’s what it looks like is you have to develop this muscle of observing people and seeing when, observing when things are starting to gain traction.
Justin: For podcasting, for example, every morning I go to my coffee shop for a coffee and I listen to what people are talking about in the background. And there was an evolution of, first in the iPod era it was, “Hey, what do you have on your iPod?”
Justin: And then once the iPhone came out, it was “What apps are you using?” And then when Netflix came out, it was, “What are you watching on Netflix?” And then one day, but this happened gradually, of course, people were talking about podcasts, which was this geeky thing, only geeks knew about it.
Justin: And so the fact that normal people were talking about it in a coffee shop made me kind of perk my ears up and go, “Wait a second, what’s going on here?” And true enough, the data kind of bears this out.
Justin: We just crossed the threshold of 51% of people in the United States have now listened to a podcast at least once. Now the majority of folks in North America know what a podcast is and have listened to at least one. And of course there’s still a lot of-
Laurier: I find it amazing it’s so low, because I listen to podcasts all the time. More than anything else now.
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andreas: I’ll just add, I’ve noticed, in the last couple of months, more and more in radio trade industry magazines, you’re seeing discussions, conferences, talk ideas, books, about how to sell radio and audio.
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andreas: So there’s now this understanding that, “Oh, we’ve got the infrastructure, we’re just not sure what this form is, but we’ve been doing it all our lives.” And they’re now starting to figure out that, “Oh, this is actually just content and we can monetize that.”
Justin: Yes. Yeah, yeah. So these are the kind of touchstones I think folks need to be aware of. Let me give you a counter example. And I’ll just take a quick sidebar to say, in my experience, the entrepreneurs that get this, it’s usually because they’re already in the stream.
Justin: It’s not like they just woke up one day and thought, “Hmm, I’ll head over here.” They were already kind of there. And then because they were there, they were able to observe things that other folks couldn’t see. In the skateboard industry, which is something I’m familiar with, I saw a similar thing happen.
Justin: Because I was around when the PlayStation 2 came out and this game called Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2, which I think may still be one of the top selling video games of all time. And I was able to see how that resonated with teenagers especially.
Justin: And then also how it turned into actual sales of skateboards. If we fast forward now, I would say the skateboard industry is not significant, oh, probably significantly depressed. More depressed than it was in the 90s.
Justin: And there’s a few reasons for that. One, kids have these iPads and iPhones and everything else. They’re just not going outside as much.
Laurier: And they have divided their playing with Tony Hawk on their iPad or iPhone now.
Justin: Mm-hmm (affirmative) or a myriad of other things. This is what I like about jobs to be done, which is it brings up this idea that you’re competing with everything. You’re not just competing with the things in your vertical. Netflix says they’re competing with sleep, you’re always competing with something.
Justin: And so skateboarding is competing with a lot of things. They’re competing with Netflix, they’re competing with iPads and iPhones, and they’re also competing with scooters. These scooters are popular. And then these new electric scooters, electric skateboards, electric one wheels, all of these things that folks are discovering on YouTube.
Justin: And for folks in the skateboard industry who are very opinionated and there’s this kind of purest mentality of “Now, we only sell skateboards. This is what a skateboard is. And it’s been like this since the 70s and it’s worked for us in the past. And that’s it.”
Justin: And what I’ve been challenging them to think about, and it’s difficult because for them skateboarding is everything. But in a market you can see when things have momentum and when they’re losing momentum. You can see when the wave you are riding kind of dies down.
Justin: And unless you jump to another wave, unless you swim out and try to catch the next wave, you’re going to get left behind. And it’s not enough to say, “Well, I like this.” It’s not enough to say, “Well, people like this in the past.”
Justin: It’s not enough to say, “Well, this is a good product. It’s well built or this is an attractive product. It has the right graphics, or this is a well priced product.”
Justin: All of those things matter, but they only matter in relation to how much magnetism there is from the market. Meaning, yeah, the market, if it’s a hot day on a beach, like I mentioned before, if it’s a hot day on a beach and there’s an ice cream stand, the market will be pulled to the ice cream stand.
Justin: The ice cream stand owner doesn’t need to advertise. The ice cream stand owner doesn’t need to introduce new flavors. People will show up. He could have one flavor, he could have vanilla, he could be out of, how come I can’t think of it? Of waffle cones. He’d only have regular cones, but people will show up on a hot day because it’s hot. And if there’s enough people on that beach, they’re going to find him.
Justin: Well, in the same way a product is only as good as the attraction a market has for it.
Laurier: Well, and there’s this other thing that we talk about called the minimum viable audience and Seth Godin talks about that as well. And that is trying to find that smallest group of people that you can sell a product to that are enough to support it.
Laurier: And if you can break through to those and sell to those people, that gives you the opportunity usually to minimize the risk. You’re not trying to come up with an itch that’s so big that everybody’s got it, but you’re coming up with an itch that’s substantial enough of an itch that the people who have it really, they just can’t forget about it.
Laurier: That’s kind of the minimum viable group of people that you’re going to leverage to make your product successful.
Justin: Yeah. Can I, is it OK if I disagree with uncle Seth on this one?
Laurier: Oh yeah, please do.
Justin: Because I like a lot of what Seth Godin says, but this is one idea that I’ve just been thinking about a little bit deeper. And the other version of that idea is 1000 true fans from Kevin Kelly, which is this really famous essay that was written by Kevin Kelly, who was managing editor of Wired for a long time.
Justin: And the idea kind of goes like this and this is Seth Godin’s idea, too. The web has allowed us to connect with billions of people. And because the web is so big, because we’re able to theoretically connect with billions of people, even small niches have thousands of members. Therefore, you can target almost any niche and make money that way.
Justin: And I just don’t think that’s true. When I look at the products that actually get traction, they’re almost always aiming for a significant market. And I think what we’re losing a little bit here, and maybe, I understand what Seth is saying because he’s saying, “Well, this doesn’t have to be so hard. You can just find the smallest group of people possible that will support your thing.”
Justin: And what I worry about there is upside. You need to have, every market has a ceiling. I’ll go back to that other quote I gave from Sahil. You know that the potential is built into the market already. And so if you launch a WordPress hosting company, what’s the upside of your market?
Justin: Well, it’s millions and millions of websites on the internet. It powers like 30% of the internet or something. That’s a huge market. Meaning if you get the, I don’t even know how to guess. If you get the 30,000 or 50,000 people that use WordPress in Calgary or Alberta, and if you get all of them as customers, you still have a bigger market than that.
Justin: You’re not just in the market of serving WordPress users in Calgary. You could also go to the world. There’s millions and when we’re thinking about the slice of the pie that we’re going to get when we launch something? I think it’s usually better to think bigger than smaller. If you aim for a small market, my worry is that’s all you might get.
Andreas: That’s it. For this episode of product knowledge and our conversation with Justin Jackson of Transistor FM. Check out the episode notes for links to Justin and his favorite coffee shop.
Andreas: Visit Graphosproduct.com where you can find more about Graphos, our services, ideas, or more podcasts or our blog. All our podcasts are transcribed for the deaf and hard of hearing. Reach out on Twitter @graphosproduct or email us through the form on graphosproduct.com. Thanks for listening. I’m Andreas Schwabe.