SMB Digital 2012: Reach Local on The Virtues of “Product-First”

ReachLocal President Nathan Hanks kicked off  BIA/Kelsey’s SMB Digital Marketing festivities with a stirring keynote about what’s working and not working in local media.

But to tell this story requires going past the boundaries of local media. There are learnings all around us from adjacent sectors. A few success stories he pointed to straddle the local space including Uber, OpenTable, and ZocDoc.

The common thread is an obsession with product. This can be seen in Uber’s  disruption of local transit and fluid UI; and Opentable’s deep focus on both user and merchant ends. It’s the latter, less visible part that entrenches OpenTable so deeply with its core constituency.

ZocDoc is another example for bringing transparency to the normally painful process of finding a doctor. Other famously obsessive product people include Jack Dorsey, whose quality standards can be seen plainly in Square, not to mention the $200 million series D it landed Monday ($3.25B post money valuation).

This focus on product and customer experience can also be galvanized by constant testing and self introspection says Hanks. This comment has reached the point of cliche, but he tread new ground regarding the “how”? — one example being organizational adoption of “Net Promoter Score” (NPS).

Asked what ReachLocal’s NPS is, he declined, citing competitive reasons (to a vocally disappointed audience). But we’ll let him get away with that for  having uncovered some solid points about product development — both in local media and outside it.

Bottom line: Start and always come back to painstakingly intricate product design and user experience. The ultimate irony is that the best result of this is often elegantly simple products (see Square, Uber, Opentable and ZocDoc).

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