In some markets, successful products are often minimalist and focussed. In contrast, in other categories, one-stop shops or kitchen-sink products is the winner. How to think about whether you should launch multiple products or just keep adding more features?
In this blog, I will try unpacking it.
Focussed vs Kitchen-Sink Approach
A focussed approach is when products try to solve specific problems for specific user segments. Examples of focussed products include Kellogg Honey Nut Frosted Flake, Github, and Strava. These products are pretty focussed on who they appeal to and what they offer. For example, Strava appeals to semi-professional and professional cyclists and runners who would be willing to pay even a premium to use the product.
In contrast, a Kitchen-sink approach is when you smash features together. The core idea here is that the whole experience is better than the sum of experience of these features split into multiple products. The extreme case of the kitchen-sink approach is “One Stop Shop”, which Amazon wants to be for the retails (or even cloud computing) category. Examples of the kitchen-sink approach include Surface Pro, Smartphone, and even Fitso app when we started. Statement Android Authority wrote about us, “Fitso is another workout app, but this one seems to take a “kitchen sink” approach to its tools. It has workouts for specific muscle groups or entire sporting disciplines, GPS tracking for running or cycling, a weight tracker, instructional videos, and a digital coach.”
Which approach is better?
Sorry for putting the wrong heading, I wanted it to be concise. No approach is better than the other. But yes, there are situations when the focussed approach would fare better and vice versa.
When does Focussed Approach work better?
In a market that is horizontally differentiated with a strong taste for variety, the focussed approach would be better. Let’s unpack this. What do I mean by horizontally differentiated? Vertical differentiation is a situation when everyone would agree that product A is better than product B. For example, all else equal, if the phone battery lasts longer, every customer would pick that smartphone. However, horizontal differentiation is a matter of taste and preference. For example, all else being equal, ice cream with vanilla flavor isn’t better than ice cream with chocolate for all the customers. You can read further about this economic concept on the wiki.
Now in a market with horizontal differentiation with a strong taste (people willing to pay higher for what they want), users would in general prefer focussed products. That’s because the kitchen sink approach would be a compromised, in-efficient solution. A user with a strong taste would prefer a cup filled with two scoops of vanilla ice cream than a cup with one scoop of vanilla and one scoop of chocolate. The hybrid product wouldn’t be the first choice for either vanilla ice cream lover or chocolate ice cream lover if they have a strong preference for taste. Fitness Space is also an example of a horizontally differentiated market with a strong taste. That’s why most successful apps are focussed on one aspect among yoga, nutrition, Zumba, meditation, etc.
When does Kitchen Sink Approach work better?
In contrast, a kitchen sink approach works better when you have a more homogenous market. If the users have similar emotional and demographic profiles, users would have similar preferences, which makes vertical differentiation – users could agree this product is better than others. In that case, feature comparison becomes easy, and the product with more features (Kitchen Sink) wins. For example, in the video conferencing market. The solution required in the enterprise segment isn’t that different. That’s why Zoom, which has a big feature lead over the competition, would dominate the market for a while till the market mature has more niche needs emerge.
Often, markets with network effects would lead to vertically differentiated products. That’s because a product that caters to a larger set of users would attract more users, and more users add to the value proposition of the product, and hence this product becomes a clear choice. Social media is once such space.
Another market in which the kitchen-sink approach works better is a low trust market. If users don’t trust a new brand or product, focussed solutions would have fewer chances to succeed. Product developers would keep adding features to the same product. That’s probably one of the reasons why “Super App” emerged in China and not in the US. Perhaps, in the early days of the tech boom in China, users wouldn’t trust new independent developers, and therefore big players expanded to fill the vacuum. In contrast, in the US, in general, we see more focussed apps in the consumer space.
Shortcomings of this theory
Technology and consumer preferences change all the time. Often an underlying condition in disruption in an industry is the transition from Kitchen Sink to Focussed and vice versa. For example, a video conferencing industry could transition from vertically different to horizontally differentiated where solutions for IT firms would differ significantly from manufacturing firms.
Furthermore, there may seem some overlap between the kitchen-Sink approach and the winner-take-all market. However, they are different. The kitchen sink is a product development approach, while winner-take-all is a characteristic of a market. A focussed solution could win in winner-take-all. For example, in chat applications in India, Whatsapp is the clear winner.
One of the downsides of generalizing is that you would someday run into exceptions. However, I still believe forming opinions based on visible behavior and forces in the industry is helpful. Therefore, I would use the kitchen-sink vs focussed product theory as a starting point to ask the right questions and form hypotheses.