What “Jersey Shore” Can Teach Product Managers

by drjim on October 11, 2010

It's Not Good TV, But You Have To Watch Anyway…

It’s Not Good TV, But You Have To Watch Anyway…

I am very embarrassed. The other day I was flipping through the TV channels and I happened to stumble across MTV’s reality show “Jersey Shore”. If you aren’t familiar with this show, it’s a reality show where cameras follow around 8 young people who grew up in New Jersey and who are now living together in an apartment on Miami beach. It’s pretty much a train wreck – conflicts, hook-ups, and visits to the tanning salon. I ended up watching 3 hours of this show in one setting…

Why Jersey Shore Is Good TV – For Product Managers

Let’s be frank here – this is really trashy TV. I mean come on, there is no redeeming reason for watching this show. However, once I found it, I couldn’t tear myself away.

As a product manager, I was somewhat amazed. How had the folks at MTV created a show that had this kind of magnetic appeal? Did they have any lessons that they could teach product managers?

I believe that they do. I think that the lessons that we can learn have to do with how to manage multiple product lines or how to manage your product at a firm that has multiple products. If you can stomach watching the show (a big “maybe”), here are the 3 things that I think that it can teach you.

Every Product Must Have A Distinct Personality

Even if you only watch the Jersey Shore program for a few minutes, you will be quickly struck by one fact (no, it’s not that these people are idiots!): each one of the 8 main characters has a very unique personality. There is no way that you’d get them confused with each other.

On the show there is Pauly D who is obsessed with his looks, Ronnie who is physically huge and in love with another girl in the house, J-Woww who is a young lady who talks like a sailor, and Snooki who is both tiny and clueless. I could go on, but you get the point: each one of these individuals has a very clear set of characteristics that define their personality. On the show, you either love them or hate them, but there is no middle ground.

Product managers need to understand what the show is teaching us. Our products need to stand out – they have to have a distinct and unique personality. You can’t create the next iPad because how would anyone tell it apart from what’s already out there? You need to create novel products that solve your customer’s problems better or differently than anyone else’s product does.

You Need To Keep Your Product’s World Very Small

This one took me a while to figure out. In order to keep the viewer’s attention on the main characters, the producers needed to come up with a way that the outside world wouldn’t end up taking the attention off of the stars of the show.

The way that they did this was to make the world that the show inhabits very, very small. The cast of characters just cycle between four main locations: an apartment shared by all, an ice cream shop where they “work” (they are the worst employees in the world), the beach in Miami, and a select set of nightclubs. That’s it.

Product managers can learn a lot from this: we need to find ways to keep the focus on our products. If we go out there and tell the world that our product does everything and solves every problem, then we’re going to fail.

If, however, we pick a very clearly defined set of problems that our product can solve and just focus on telling our potential customers how we can make those problems go away for them, then we’ll be successful.

How Your Product Plays With Other Products Is Important

The reason that I ended up watching the Jersey Shore show for 3 hours was because of one thing: how these characters interacted completely fascinated me. In so many ways, the 8 main characters represent the ultimate dysfunctional family. Throw in sex, alcohol, and the silliness of youth and you’ve got the makings of conflicts, fights, make ups, and then more fights. You just can’t look away.

What this means for product managers is how our products interact with other products is what can keep our customers coming back for more. Nobody’s product does it all – our customers need to use our products in conjunction with other products. The better our product interacts with other products, the more our customers will love us and they will keep coming back for more.

What All Of This Means For You

I hesitated long and hard before I could summon up the courage to ask you to watch a TV show that is as bad as “Jersey Shore” is. However, as I found myself looking forward to being able to watch the next episode, I realized either there was something seriously wrong with me or perhaps this show had something to teach product managers.

I now realize that what the show has going for it is unique characters, a tightly controlled environment, and lots of interaction between its cast members. Product managers need to understand why this makes for such compelling TV and then we need to apply the same concepts to our products.

I’m hoping that I’m not convincing a whole generation of product managers that they should start to spend their days focusing on GTL (going to the Gym, Tanning, and then doing Laundry – a full day for a Jersey Shore cast member). Instead, I’m hoping that something good can come out of something that is so bad – you’ll be able to make your product as irresistible as Snooki in a swimsuit.

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

Question For You: Do your customers have to actually like your product to buy it, or is just being highly aware of it enough?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

There are a lot of products out there that need product managers. However, there is a special class of products that needs a special type of product manager – the really, really complex product. These things have too many parts and subsystems for any one person to keep straight. Maybe it’s time to bring in the big guns: Product Life-Cycle management software?

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