First order product management is when you are thinking of immediate effect of your action. 2nd order product management is thinking everything else that ultimately have a long term impact on your core metric.
For every change in product, there is always a short term impact on all metrics. There are metrics that you are either not measuring or you are not able to find a direct correlation with. We generally shy away from measuring such metrics because they are either beyond the standard analytics tools or it is a qualitative data that cannot be measured. Such metrics have detrimental to the long term sustainability of the product.
Here are few examples:
- Freecharge coupons – When Freecharge was launched in 2010, there was a limit to the amount of coupons users were issued for every transaction. This created a virtual scarcity and hence value for the coupons. That value for coupons was the basic differentiator between a newspaper flyer or retailmenot.com kind of website and Freecharge. Our estimates said that the coupon redemption rate was upwards of 50%. A number unheard of for coupons. In 2011-12, the sites that copied freecharge, like Paytm, were offering unlimited amount of coupons. Freecharge was losing the traffic war with Paytm because of bad SEO, non-availability of a good mobile site and heavy discounting. Amongst many things that was changed, freecharge started giving unlimited number of coupons. That was the point of death for freecharge. It had lost its initial value proposition and was now chasing a base metrics of number of active users but with a monetization engine that was losing its value. Unlike Paytm that created wallet, mall and bank on the back of recharge based acquired users, freecharge, as a product, had no new vision. There was little contribution of unlimited coupons on growing the user base but definitely the long term impact was adverse on the core product. The original business model of freecharge was similar to American Express, “an exclusive discounts club” but over time that was dead. Today Freecharge, as a product, stands for nothing.
- Mithai and bakery shop discounting – A lot of Bakery and Mithai shops discount the highly perishable products in late evening hours. The idea is to make some money instead of letting it perish and additionally spend money to dispose it. When a bakery introduces this, there is a direct impact on topline. Over the long run, customers see this as a regular feature and delay the purchase untill late hours. As a result, the number of products being sold is same but now at a lower price.
This discounting model is good for bakeries inside hotels where the audience is not regular and the display is highly visible, hence creating an impulse purchase but not for those attracting residents of a neighbourhood.
- Dominos – I believe, this brand in India has exploited coupons the most. The coupons were so abundant in early 2010’s that it would look stupid to order Dominos without coupons. Short term sales went up but long term value went down. As a result, when there was no coupon, we would order from a “premium” place. This isn’t great for a brand, unless they want that perception.Regular discounts are not a marketing activity but a product feature. A lot of product managers assume they have found a product-market fit because the product has a huge adoption when some discount is offered. They assume that the discount can be removed later with no impact on adoption. These are good tricks to test a hypothesis or raise venture capital but not for a building a sustainable product. The product-market fit you know is actually product-price-market fit. When the price changes, so does your target audience and perceived value of the product.
- Affiliate systems – Amazon in US pays 4-8% fee for affiliate marketing. The direct impact is that it brings sales but as a second order benefit it also improves SEO and accelerates word-of-mouth, because most affiliates are influencers. Both of these second order benefits are not measurable directly. Oh BTW, I just launched Refrens.com – an affiliate management system for offline sales channels.
Second order product management is like playing chess. You have to think of next 3-10 moves. One good way to visualize second order impact of product management decisions is to think in terms of relative metrics, rate or percentages, instead of absolute numbers. Like, revenue per user instead of absolute revenue or CTR instead of total traffic.
If you are offering free, freemium or free trial of your product, read this old post to understand what to use when. The Linkedin example at the end might be useful.