Understanding Platform Strategies

August 8, 2012

A platform strategy is about creating common shared components and systems throughout a family line, while offering differentiated features and benefits to add value to each unit. This allows a company to reduce manufacturing costs and production time, and also helps reduce the systematic complexity of the unit which lowers the risk of product updates, improves maintenance, and offers consistent service to the end users.

Product Platform Strategy - Good, Better, Best

Good platform planning can save companies time and money in many different stages of the product development process. In order to develop exceptional platform planning, companies need to put in a great deal of effort in engineering plans and marketing strategies. In addition to this, they need to provide differentiation between each unit by altering features, aesthetics, materials, and finishes to create a noncompeting value proposition.

A few years ago, our team had the opportunity to work with Remington on a global line of men’s shavers with a new flex and pivot technology, the Flex 360°. The primary objective set by the client was to create a family line with a shared tooling approach. The client wanted to focus on the creation of the same platform rear housing for three tiers of units, with each unit differing in the features offered and the price point. A low-tier, medium-tier, and high-tier shaver was designed. The materials used, number of rotaries and cutters, choice of LCD display, and a few other added features, differentiate the three shavers using our good, better, best approach. All three shavers required visual aesthetics that appealed to males who demand performance, reliability and quality.

Remington Flex 360° - 70% shared parts

It was a challenging program for both Beyond Design and our client, but also very rewarding. We were able to save both time and money in the design process by reducing the time for engineering and manufacturing implementation. This unique process of product development allowed us to develop a long term strategy with small investments, while also delivering consistent, high-quality products to the consumer.

In addition to the consumer product category (our Flex 360° example above), the auto industry is another classic example of product platform. They typically build vehicles using similar parts or structural materials to reduce costs. While there are a number of product platforms being used today, it is important to know that the concepts of product platforms are as applicable to intangible products as they are to tangible products.

For example, in service design (such as the car wash industry) a platform strategy is used to create various service offerings. Each car wash service includes additional benefits and allows the company to charge more for their premium wash due to the extra product offerings.

Car Wash Services

In the restaurant industry, a platform strategy is used to create various menu offerings and gives the user the opportunity to create a customizable meal. Chipotle, for example, offers five different burritos on their menu that satisfy different meat or veggie lovers. Each burrito shares basic ingredients that allow the workers to simplify their assembly process, have less inventory issues, and, most importantly, provide faster customer service.

Chipotle Menu Options

In addition to the service and restaurant industries, platform design is also used in the software industry. For example, with online tax programs such as H&R Block, a shared code offers basic features, but an additional code provides different levels of access with more advanced features and benefits. Apple and Google use an “open platform strategy” that permits other developers to use their basic software code, allowing them to offer a wider variety of applications to their users.

H&R Block - showing the different features among the different programs

In the end, the goal of a platform strategy is to ultimately attain an economy of scale. This will result in the most products, either tangible or intangible, being produced at the lowest possible cost. A well-thought out platform strategy will reduce time-to-market and development cost. It allows designers to leverage existing brands to create new growth opportunities and revenue for the client. By sharing components and production processes across a product line, companies can develop differentiated products efficiently, as well as create multiple products at one time.

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Written by: TJ Kim, Director of NPD

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