Product strategy is usually hard.
Product-market fit is elusive, organizations are complicated, competitors move fast, and culture and technology evolve constantly, forcing strategists to continuously test and refine their work to stay ahead and eke out advantages.
But every once and a while though, a startup comes along that nails product strategy with beautiful, pristine simplicity.
tbh (short form for “to be honest” if you don’t communicate much with young people these days) is that type of startup.
To me, tbh is the perfect, finely-tuned example of a trend synthesis product, which I believe is an important product strategy space in its own right.
Defining Trend Synthesis Product Strategy
The trend synthesis product strategy has the following ingredients:
Step 1 – Identify two or more timely and important cultural trends
Step 2 – Synthesize those trends into a focused product that’s niche enough to win it’s target patch of market share, but has broad enough demographic appeal to support meaningful, incremental growth
Step 3 – Design the product well and get it out fast while those trends still have staying power
There really is no step four.
Ok, I’m oversimplifying a bit — the tbh team hustled hard and their success is well-deserved — but not by much.
And you can see the trend synthesis strategy in action today across every industry. Amazon’s Echo speaker is a simple, smart synthesis of voice, home audio and connected devices. Stitch Fix is a synthesis of data science, shopper personalization and e-commerce. The top-selling Instant Pot pressure cooker is riding the trends of more people eating at home vs. dining out, growth in organic and fresh food purchasing, personal productivity hacking, and the easy availability of online recipes. Trend synthesis is a highly modular and building-blocks driven strategy — like LEGO structures built with Github repos, hardware components and culture research — that speaks to the fundamentals of how creativity really works. And it’s everywhere.
But let’s get back to tbh, which launched at a single high school in Georgia in August (yes, August of 2017), grew to 2 million active users, and hit #1 in the Apple App Store, prompting Facebook to buy them for $100 million three months later.
What is tbh? It’s a mobile app aimed at teens that helps them create and share anonymous, positive polls, then invite their friends to participate — with liberal use of emoji’s along the way. That’s it. And their trend synthesis strategy is textbook.
Here it is in action.
Product Trend Synthesis Case Study: tbh app
Midnight Labs, the mobile app developers behind tbh, based their product strategy on three major trends:
Trend #1 – Widespread consumer adoption of anonymous, mobile messenger apps, particularly teens and students
Evidence: Yik Yak, Signal, Snapchat, etc.
Trend #2 – The popularity (and virality) of online polls, surveys and quizzes
Evidence: There are approximately 4,676+ polls and quizzes currently featured on BuzzFeed at the time of this writing. In fact, two of the top three most shared articles on BuzzFeed in 2017 are quizzes (“Pick An Outfit And We’ll Guess Your Exact Age And Height” and “This Sorting Quiz Will Tell You Which [Harry Potter] Hogwarts House You Truly Belong In”) which together have been shared on Facebook and other social media over 2.5 million times.
Trend #3 – People’s desire for togetherness and social recognition
Evidence: Self-presentation, strengthening relationships, and seeking approval have driven human behavior and communication since the dawn of time. It’s only recently that social media and mobile phones came along and refined how we do those things.
Today, researchers find that 62% of people say they feel better about themselves when people react positively to what they post on social media. It’s even probably fair to say that social media has become the de facto place where we seek social recognition and approval outside our immediate circle of friends and family-members. And it’s very hard to resist. One study even found using Twitter is harder to resist than quitting cigarettes and alcohol.
Take 5 minutes and walk the halls of any high school. Social recognition matters. A lot.
So tbh kept their product strategy simple, and designed a mobile app optimized to fit all three trends.
Trend #1 + Trend #2 + Trend #3 = the #1 mobile app in the app store and a successful exit. Maybe not the most long-term, sustainable or meaningful approach to product development, but as far as getting to product-market fit fast, it works.
And it’s worth worth noting that a very similar mobile product strategy has been the driving force between the viral growth of social trivia app HQ.
Another way of looking at it is that each trend acts as independent validation there’s market demand for your product. If there’s demand for Product A and demand for Product B, logically, there’s likely to be demand for a well-designed product that combines A + B (though not always).
Amazon’s Echo Speaker is again a good case study in this approach to product strategy. Siri, Apple’s voice-activated iPhone assistant, has 41.4 million monthly active users in the United States. Portable speakers is an estimated $7 billion annual market. A + B = Amazon Echo.
That’s trend synthesis product strategy. And the simplest executions of it often produce the most successful results.