Why You Should Eat Your Own Dog Food
If you have ever been to an advertising agency’s office you will know who 90 per cent of their clients are just by looking at what’s lying around.
Agencies, ever since the Mad Men days, have used their clients’ products. It started out as a purely cosmetic move: if you sell Kraft peanut butter, you probably shouldn’t stock your kitchen with a competing brand.
But there is another compelling reason to always use your product or a product you’re tasked with promoting: you need to eat your own dog food.
This is a term you may have heard before, and it comes from a real-life story. Anyone who worked at Alpo or for representing agencies had to try the food. Alpo was tested on humans for taste.
What could the lesson possibly be? Besides reading your employment agreements thoroughly?
You will only know what the user experience and the limitations of a product if you use it like a power user.
I have worked in-house at a number of companies which had very smart and passionate people working there, but the employees never used the product “really, I like [competitor’s name] better.” While this may seem valid, the company you work for has a product which might directly benefit from you being a passionate user of a competitor’s product and using their product every day.
In tech, this happens a lot. If you’re trying to “smoke test” your product (a smoke test tries to find the “cracks” in a product,) everyone in the office has to use that product to near exhaustion. This helps the tech team check that the product works as advertised, and won’t crash at a critical moment.
Whether you make stationery or motorcycles, you need to smoke test your product.
Where do you start? As part of your company culture, you need a top-down approach which incentivises workers to use your product. Many companies do this in a light way, offering discounts, or special access, but what you really should do is give it away, even if you make a high ticket item. The value of the lessons learned outweighs the initial outlay.
I had the fortune to work for a start-up which did just this, and it enabled me to answer many questions about the product and its nearest competitors in a credible and informed way. We also headed off a potential problem caused by an incomplete software update which could have created a substandard user experience for millions. Remember, some customers complain but most unsatisfied customers simply walk away.
How else can you augment this method?
Traditionally, companies spend money actively soliciting feedback from customers. Spend a fraction of that money to hold internal focus groups, where your team can openly -without fear of reprimand-talk about your product and their experiences. Ask for suggestions for improvements. Ask them to go on record about what their friends/families/veterinarians/etc. have to say about your product. This information is crucial to your future success.
Finally, look East: there is a method of product management which is popular in Japan, and employed by Toyota, whereby any employee can raise a flag about a product (and in the Toyota example, actually stop the production line on the floor of the factory) if the product you make is deemed deficient in some regard. Allow your staff to raise these questions or objections. If you’re equipping them with your product, and actively soliciting their feedback, this is the natural next step.
It seems a daunting process, but putting these processes in motion at your company could mean the difference between understanding deeply how your customers interact with your product or-refuse to buy it and labouring under your own assumptions about your product.
Smart companies eat their own dog food. You’ll never know until you try.