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What's a Digital Product & How to Build Them

When we think about products, we usually imagine something physical. Food, clothing, electronics, furniture... But what about digital products? As the old meme adage says: "What are those?!"

What's the definition of a digital product?

Digital products are items that do not have a physical form. They can range from consumer-targeted applications to B2B or enterprise software. Instead of purchasing a tangible item, you're paying for a collection of bits that perform a specific function for you.

While that may sound a little abstract, it's necessary to understand the uncountable shapes and forms a digital product can take. Additionally, it can feel daunting to figure out what kind of digital product or service you may need to grow your business. Let it be known, though, you don't need to invent the next Facebook to be successful in the digital space; complexity doesn't correlate to growth. And the right partner can help you assess your needs and validate the right solution, to then subsequently build it for you.

What are some examples of digital products?

Perhaps the most clear-cut example of a digital product is a mobile application. Commonly, it's a piece of software that acts as an agent between the company and the user. Its intent is providing some level of value to the end user. Your favorite fashion store probably has an app, right? To the company, it's a means of doing business. To the user, it's a more convenient way to buy stuff. You could say the company invested in building a digital product, to sell more physical products. Or the digital product is the thing a company wants to sell in the first place. Think video games, wellness apps, digital art and music... A digital product can be a means, as well as an end.

Looking at it this way, you can imagine the things that can be classified as a digital product:

  • Web apps
  • Native apps
  • Music and media
  • Chatbots
  • Software as a service
  • Online shopping platforms

Why would you want to have a digital product for your business?

In today’s world, you can’t compete without some kind of digital presence. Consumers today expect being able to interact with your business online. Customers at coffee shops and restaurants expect to be able to order ahead using their mobile devices. Retail customers expect to be able to shop online. Customers in the service sector expect detailed information available online, dispatch tracking, and even chatbots or chat agents for support. If you're not expanding into the digital space, you are ceding ground to your competitors.

Another reason to develop a digital product for your business is to add value for your customers by bringing your product to them in a more holistic way. For example, supplement companies like Hims & Hers and Biosil use technology and customer data to drive their customers toward specific results based on user feedback and usage reporting. It adds tremendous value for the customer to have access to behavior modification tools, medication or supplement reminders, and data-driven performance tracking

Case study: Biosil

Products can be developed to meet almost any niche need. We know this, because that's what we do all day. Working with Biosil, we analyzed their business challenges and created a mobile application to meet them. More specifically, we've created a companion app to help users stick to supplement regimes better. A digital product such as this can prove to hugely beneficial to the company's conversion and retention rates.

Case study: COVID-19 fact-checking chatbot

Belgian news outlet VRT NWS recognized that there was a need for people to have easy access to reliable fact-checking to help them discern truth from fiction during the pandemic. To solve this challenge, we've partnered up with VRT NWS and analyzed their needs. The solution was to develop a chatbot that's easy to integrate on numerous platforms. It's currently accessible via the VRT NWS Facebook page from inside Messenger directly.

How does one create a digital product?

Creating a digital product might seem like a daunting task, especially for those who have minimal experience with technology. An idea will only get you so far. This is a reasonable assumption though it's largely incorrect. While there are some complexities in digital product design, the truth is everyone can create digital products. Companies can choose to hire technical experts of their own, or collaborate with a digital product design studio like ours. The most important thing of all, is first getting rid of the idea that you can figure everything out before you start designing and developing things. In actuality, you should be working the other way around. You can read here why that is.

Figuring out what's viable.

Viability is always a primary concern. The digital space has become very accessible, meaning there's a lot of competition for your customers' attention. A viable product must meet a consumer need in order to successfully close a sale and generate profit. Successful products will also meet the needs of the user in a fun and engaging way. Any product can perform a task, but a delightful user experience is what makes people coming back.

Take Edgard & Cooper as an example, an organic pet food brand. Their brand image is one of their core strengths, and we helped them carry over their quirkiness and terrific art direction into their ecommerce platform. You'd want to get a dog just to snoop around on their cute store.

While some digital products such as websites can be easy to set up and maintain, they are also easy to botch. An online store that's a complete pain to navigate will turn users away no matter what you throw at them. Proper expertise and research into UX/UI is extremely important. While you're here, you might want to check out this huge checklist we drafted containing tons of tips to improve the user experience of ecommerce stores.

Building the right thing.

In a saturated marketplace it is essential to understand why a person would choose your digital product over a competitors. It's easy to overdevelop a product or fall victim to phenomena like feature creep. It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes adding functionality just to add functionality can have an adverse effect on your profit margins: spending a lot of time and effort developing things people won't care for is arguably one of the worst things to spend your resources on.

Keeping things small.

Let's elaborate on that for a moment. Why should you take things one step at a time anyway? What can't I just draw one giant roadmap and send it off to some agency? Honestly, it's a case of unconscious hubris: a product owner or manager might think he knows exactly what people want, down to the feature, until two years later the product is finally released and it performs terribly.

That's why we'll always recommend to get your users involved as early into the process as possible. Revamped the check out flow of your store? Test whether people make it to the end. Redesigned a landing page? Go see if it converts. Take things one step at a time, and use the feedback from one step as input for the next.

Keeping the ball rolling, forever.

Digital products such as applications and even website are not one-off projects. Trends in terns of usability can come and go in literal months. What works now might not anymore a year from now.

That's why feedback from users should be used as your primary source for refinement; maybe people found this or that feature confusing, or wished there was an easier way to navigate through the app. Maybe people wish they could connect their Facebook account to your application to share information or store a login credential. Rather than building an enormous project all at once, beginning with a basic product and then refining it over time is a better overall method for managing these kinds of assets.

A more agile approach to digital product development works pretty darned in this regard. The idea is viewing the development of your digital product or service as a continuous process, rather than something linear and finite. You subdivide work in cycles, and test the result of each iteration with real users. That's how you make sure you're building the right thing from the start. Again, if you'd like to read more about this process, read this.

Looking ahead

While there will always be demand for tangible products, digital products are here to stay as long as we keep latching on to smartphones, computers and the internet for convenience. As it stands we're moving onto an even more dispersed scenario; soon we'll all be listening to music or ordering our groceries through a voice assistant. So even if your company technically doesn't have to deal with the digital world, chances are you'll need start building an online presence regardless. As anyone who's read an intro to marketing would say: you have to be where your customers are.

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