When product owners say “I do”

Digital experiences, their creation and interaction with users, are deeply personal. The product development process can be an onerous and emotional journey. One fraught with unpredictable twists and turns. As a veteran player in a half dozen start-ups, I’ve taken this expedition many times. I am also a divorcee who is engaged to be married, so I have spent considerable time seeking the recipe for a great marriage and, more importantly, how to be an to awesome spouse. As the most complex yet often most fruitful human relationship, I think marriage offers a powerful framework for viewing the people and processes involved in crafting winning digital products. You might think it’s a stretch, and maybe it is, but hear me out.

We know that the customer is the heart and soul of the best sites and apps. Today’s most prolific brands like AirBnB and Pinterest have created customer-centric models with stunning first impressions and subsequent bond-forming touch points. Like great spouses, these companies deliver powerful experiences by taking the time to understand and serve their beloved customer. Treating your customer as a living, breathing spouse strengthens the traits required to continually delight. A good spouse honors their self expression, while greeting their partner with deep respect, empathetic listening and collaboration.

Every good relationship, especially marriage, is based on respect. If it’s not based on respect, nothing that appears to be good will last very long. — Amy Grant

Great experiences are actualized through heart-felt self expression, which is essential to initiating an enduring bond. From creating a memorable first date to picking a name for your first born, honoring individuality while incorporating a partner’s defines a healthy relationship. For product owners and teams, the relentless pursuit of compelling solutions is essentially a demonstration of self expression. The magic happens when craftsmen marry their instincts to solving problems for real people for whom they have an authentic respect.

A great spouse will then stop and listen, with an ear towards understanding over being understood. Alfred Hitchcock said of his relationship with his wife Alma who co-authored many of his masterpieces, “the ideal husband understands every word his wife doesn’t say.” This authentic inquiry generates emotionally engaging design and functionality. Like regular romantic getaways, routine intimate check-ins with customers expose their innermost needs and absorbs the team in meeting them. As Stanford d.School professor Matt Kahn puts it, “you have to feed forward if you want feedback.”

“The ideal husband understands every word his wife doesn’t say.” — Alfred Hitchcock

But demonstrating you’re listening is the crux of building and maintaining trust. How many features in your pipeline are based on listening versus great ideas from your CEO or board? Both are important, but if you’re talking to your customers and building features based solely on internally driven concepts (no matter how good,) disappointment and resentment will fester. Don’t be that spouse always promising to make more time, but letting real world demands compromise your most vital relationship. Follow through with nimble, rapid iterations that clarify the customer’s needs. Like weekly date nights, this collaboration will enrich and evolve your relationship.

Today’s most successful digital experiences masterfully elevate the customer beyond the collaborative silent partner. From SnapChat and Uber to Google and Facebook, contribution from customers is the product value. Just as great marriages rely on mutually adoring and engaged partners who build one another (“iron sharpens iron”), exceptional digital products more often have user contribution as the foundation.

“Marriages, like careers, need constant nurturing…the secret of having it all is loving it all.” — Joyce Brothers

The personal nature of digital experiences requires a distinctly human-heavy approach. Reframing the involved people and processes as a sacred relationship strengthens the fundamental principles needed to thrill in the digital world. You might question this analogy because customers can switch products easily and divorce is costly. But consider that people defect from marriages all the time, and it’s the emotional connection that acts as a barrier when times get tough. Paul Newman said it best: “People stay married because they want to, not because the doors are locked.” The same goes for your users. Whether it’s your life partner, bestie, or grandmother who anchors you, recreating that devotion and service in your product can evoke the same greatness and fulfillment as your truest love.

So Imagine marrying your customer with the intention of happily ever after and behold the product possibilities that come to mind.

“There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.” – Martin Luther