BMW Product Managers Prepare To Launch Tomorrow’s Product Today

by drjim on September 12, 2011

The Future Is Coming, Are You Ready Product Manager?

The Future Is Coming, Are You Ready Product Manager?

Product managers rule the world. That means that we need to show the rest of the company what they need to be doing in order to make sure that our product is going to be a success. Over at BMW they’ve got a bit of a problem on their hands and their product managers are stepping up to deal with it. Perhaps we could all learn a thing or two from the company that makes “the ultimate driving machine”…

The Problem: Your Product Is Going Away

Product managers realize that no product is going to live forever despite what the rest of the company may believe. Since each product has its own individual lifecycle, that means that we always have to be preparing for what comes next. Over at the automobile maker BMW, their product managers are in the process of doing this right now.

BMW makes fantastic high-end cars. Their advertising tag line is “the ultimate driving machine” and their product prices match it. However, all of their current products suffer from the same handicap: they burn gasoline. As the global supply of gasoline starts to decrease and the price per gallon goes up, this is becoming a big deal.

BMW cars are able to command a higher price because they are seen as being able to deliver high performance. Unfortunately one of the ways that they get this high performance is by burning a lot of gasoline. The BMW product managers understand that they have a problem on their hands and they are already starting to take steps to solve it.

The Solution: Not Quite Ready Yet

When it comes to gasoline burning cars, everyone knows what the answer is. The future belongs to cars that will be powered by electricity. This is all well and good; however, there are some problems with that vision of a gasoline-free automotive future.

The problem is that we can’t currently build electric cars that do everything that our gasoline powered cars do. This means that BMW’s potential future customers are going to have to change their driving habits in order to be able to use the electric cars that BMW will produce and sell starting in a couple of years.

This places BMW’s product managers in a bind. They need to start to promote their all electric car now without causing a decrease in sales of the gasoline burning cars that they are currently offering. Sounds like a product manager challenge…

The Plan: Prepare Your Customer For Tomorrow Today

There is no one “silver bullet” way to accomplish what BMW is trying to do. Instead, they are trying multiple approaches at the same time. Exactly which one will work is not clear, but the answer is probably that different efforts will reach different people.

One clever tactic is the creation of an “app” called BMW EVolve. This application for mobile devices allows potential future BMW electric car customers to track how they get around today and then compares that to how they would get around if they had an electric car. The primary purpose is to help customers get over what is called “range anxiety” in which they fear that an electric vehicle’s charge would leave them stranded somewhere. Additionally, the app tells the user how much they would have saved during the day in potential fuel costs.

BMW is taking other steps to build a buzz around its forthcoming i3 all-electric vehicle. These steps include heavy use of social media where they can get in contact with electric car boosters and the creation of videos that allow famous people to talk about the coming revolution in electric cars. Even though the future is not here yet, the BMW product managers are busy trying to prepare their future customers for it today.

What All Of This Means For You

As product managers we need to step up and show the company how to handle difficult situations. When the products that have served the company so well for so long start to be overtaken by a fundamental market shift, it’s up to the product managers to show everyone what to do about it.

BMW makes high quality gasoline powered cars. The problem is that the future will be ruled by electric cars that nobody really understands today. The BMW product managers are starting right now to educate their customers about what that future is going to look like. Additionally, they have created apps and other outreach programs to teach their customers about how their lives are going to change when the future arrives.

Product managers like to talk about “end of life” and “cash cows” when it comes to winding a product line down. What’s much more important is how you launch the next generation of products on the backs of the products that you have today. BMW’s product managers are trying to do that and we can all learn a thing or two by watching how they go about doing it…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the next generation of your product will mean that you’ll need to drop some of your current customers? How do you tell them to go away?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Have you heard about the Disney product vault? This is the place that they put their products every so often. What this means for their customers is that they had better buy their products now because once they go into the vault you don’t know when they’ll come back out. Is this a technique that we product managers can use to prevent our customers from going with the competition or is it an idea whose time has come and gone?

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