Plot Summary: Who would buy food without knowing what’s in the package? When is the last time you went to the grocery store and just threw stuff into your basket without at least a cursory glance at the ingredient list? The dilemma is, it’s not just the consumer who doesn’t know the ingredients in the software package, the creators of software products aren’t keeping track of their own list of ingredients either.
Long before the Mad Men were at their prime, someone had a great idea for a product. The product had actually been used so successfully in other applications related to health and medicine, the manufacturer was convinced they had discovered a cure.
The problem was, they didn’t know for what.
Try as they might, finding a disease to match the cure proved a rather difficult endeavor of discovery. Despite best efforts, and no matter how useful the product already was, without a disease to really tie consumers to it, it would never achieve the success they desired. Finally, with a little ingenuity and exceptional combination of brilliant marketing and creative writing, Halitosis was unearthed. Something, that after that binge-fest of garlic-doused hot-wings, plagues even the best of us.
Lest we suffer a fate of lost social interaction, what could be done?
Mouthwash of course. There’s only one problem. Bad breath doesn’t sound like a real disease, because it isn’t. Halitosis does, even though for all intents and purposes it’s completely made up.
However, this worked amazingly on consumers. So well in fact, try telling the story to one of your coworkers, and it’s not unlikely you will find a few looking at you strangely, and running to their computer to google you wrong. If this one wins you a lunch bet on me, you’re welcome.
The Education of the Modern Consumer
That’s the thing though, modern consumers are wiser much more well-informed. A few age-old items might slip past, but new, modern products are researched ad nauseum.
There is great pride associated with becoming knowledgeable about the things one consumes. Where did they come from? What went into their creation? Was it manufactured with love and care? These are just a few of the questions that now cross a potential customer’s mind before making nearly any purchase. No wonder a trip to the store can take nearly an hour.
Products have become personal. We use them every day, and they can affect our health and well being. It should be no surprise that their scrutiny, and understanding everything about them, has become important. In fact, this was recently parodied in the IFC sketch comedy show Portlandia.
As the sketch goes a couple walks into a restaurant to have lunch. During their ordering process, they request information about their meal options. The restaurant, happy to please their customer, provides a detailed background on the life of a chicken they wish to consume. This included its likes and dislikes, exercise schedule, and even friends. At one point the couple leaves to go visit the farm where the chicken was raised. The plot turns sharply after that, but as a consumer it’s easy to relate to what was going on.
The Consumer Deserves to Know
However, as a proprietor, or someone selling or even developing products, a consumer may be painted as an antagonist. This is most certainly not the case, but rather an opportunity to connect with a customer who is interested in building a trusting relationship. You see, while the show made fun of the details that the restaurant had, it speaks volumes to how important an understanding of what goes into our products has become. With food this is especially important as the rise of food-born illnesses has been linked to serious health concerns, and even death.
Imagine for a moment, if consumers of software were the same way. Imagine if they wanted to know where the open source components used in the development of an application were made, and how safe they were. This is what we as concerned producers of developer and security tools do; we help you evaluate software for components with known vulnerabilities; where did they come from, what version are they, what are the degrees of risk associated with each version.
Who would buy food without knowing what’s in the package? When is the last time you went to the grocery store and just threw stuff into your basket without at least a cursory glance at the ingredient list? The dilemma is, it’s not just the consumer who doesn’t know the ingredients in the software package, the creators of software products aren’t keeping track of their own list of ingredients either.
Consumers yearn for knowledge and a connection to their products. They want to know how and what was used in their creation. They want to know not only the story of your product and how it applies to their needs, but the story of the product itself. This can range from general consumers looking to see if security flaws might compromise their information, to a vertical market product that contains licensing with the potential compromise the profitability of their own products.
The only way to do that is for the producers of the software to verify and validate the ingredient list, the “Bill of Materials“, that were used to create the software. Any other way is the sheer madness of Mad Men.
Who Controls the Message
Producers who offer information freely are positioned to be much more successful with the informed consumer, the consumer that does 80% of their research before even talking to you. You’ll no longer need to persuade a customer on how your best practices set you apart from your competition, you’ll have the detailed information to support it.
Being able to provide information to your customers starts with you. You and your team need to understand what goes into your software products. You need to know when the ingredients have been placed on recall. Don’t wait to get the answers after the public becomes aware of the problem, because every Mad Man knows, someone else will own the message.
About the Author
As a member of the Product Owner team for Sonatype’s CLM suite of products at Sonatype, Jeff Wayman provides the connection between Customers, Product Management, and Engineering. This includes interacting with external and internal customers, gathering and building requirements, and creating and maintaining documentation and communications for Sonatype CLM.
Jeff is an expert in process analysis, functional design, requirements documentation, technical writing, and content management techniques and methodologies
Latest posts by Jeff Wayman (see all)
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- Nexus 3: New Milestone Release - February 12, 2015
- Open Source Components and the Halloween “Candy Check” - October 28, 2014