A press release can help you build better products.
Yes, you read that right.
Press releases can be used as a starting point when creating products. In their new book, Working Backwards, Amazon executives, Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, share an insider’s look at the company’s philosophy when it comes to product development. The authors reveal that every product you know from Amazon - ranging from Prime, to Kindle, Alexa, and beyond - all started with a press release.
So how does a PR tool help you build better products? “Amazon believes that long-term growth is best produced by putting the customer first”, says Bill Car. Instead of creating a product and then finding potential customers for it, Amazonians ask themselves ‘what does the customer really need?’ and then work backward towards creating a product. Before initiating the creative process, the product development team is asked to draft a mock press release.
Amazon’s working backward method for product development begins with a mock press release.
This exercise forces the development team to evaluate if the product or feature they want to build truly offers major benefits to customers. Because you don’t usually write up press releases for incremental improvements, this exercise creates space for big thinking. If the press release doesn’t sound like it will make waves, then maybe the product shouldn’t be built in the first place. Amazon’s product manage will then continue working on the press release until the benefits are truly remarkable, which in economic terms is a lot cheaper than tweaking the product itself.
Here is a basic run-through of what a mockup press release at Amazon includes:
- Heading - This is where the new product or feature is announced. Just like any other press release; if it doesn’t captivate the reader’s attention right off the bat, you might need to find a new angle.
- Sub-Heading - Describe who this product is for and how your audience will benefit from it. You should be able to simplify this message into one, short sentence.
- Summary - This is where the new product or feature is described in detail - usually answering the famous 5W’s: who, what, when, where, and why. Be mindful of two things. Firstly, assume your reader will not go through this summary in its entirety. Make it easy to digest. Secondly, beware of “geek-speak”. The technical aspect of this summary should be easily understood by your target audience. Replace the fancy jargon with clear language. Readers are more impressed by big ideas than by big words.
A rule of thumb to follow, according to former Amazon director, Ian MacAllister, is that if a press release is hard to write, then the product is probably going to suck. If teams are uninspired by the first draft of a press release, it means that the product idea is still lacking an innovative solution to a problem.
- Problem - One of the first steps in the process of product development is to discover what is a common struggle among users and how this can be fixed through design. In this section of the press release, clearly define which problem you will solve.
- Solution - How does your product or feature solve this problem? This is where you elegantly describe how users will benefit from using your product. If this promise is not newsworthy enough to be featured in a press release, your team should consider how to make your product even better.
- Quote from You - Quotes add a personable touch to any press release. By including a quote from the spokesperson in your company, you can highlight once again how your product will be able to satisfy your users’ needs.
- Customer Quote - Another way to emphasize how your product offers an innovative solution to an existing problem is to provide a quote from a hypothetical customer explaining their experience with the product/feature.
- How to Get Started - Show your readers how easy it is to start using your product. This section will allow teams to prepare the small, nitty-gritty details of a future launch.
- FAQ: Another tool Amazonian teams use to build products is creating and answering a list of FAQs. This exercise grants an overview of the product, potential barriers in its use, and new opportunities to solve them.
- Closing and Call to Action - What’s next? Point your readers in the right direction. Wrap up your press release by giving the reader pointers on what the next steps are, whether it’s finding more information, previewing the product, or downloading a new feature.
Besides being a starting point, press releases can lead teams throughout the building process. A mockup press release serves as a guiding light to keep teams on track and narrowed down to the benefits and features offered. This means product development is focused on solving the problems named in the press release, and not spending extra time, energy, and resources that don’t provide real customer benefits. In order to create products of value, you don’t need Amazon’s capital nor Jeff Bezos’ mentoring for that matter (although if he’s available to work on your project, he’s highly recommended). All you need is to harness the power of a press release.