Art Markman's Harvard Business Review blog on the need for products to communicate properly with end users is spot on.

Cleverly entitled 'Develop Products that Communicate Effectively,' Markman's piece argues that people will only use products that are 'easy to communicate with.' Elevators are one example. The light button tells us an elevator is coming. And the 'door close' symbol tells us how to 'get the show on the road,' so to speak. Shampoo is another product that communicates effortlessly with its customer. Its thick lather (which Markman says is sodium lauryl sulfate; who knew?) alerts us that we've put enough shampoo in our hair and can put the bottle down. Simple but effective.

Dental floss is the exact opposite. Unlike toothpaste, which provides a clean feeling on the surface of the teeth, floss doesn't really create an immediate communication (except, perhaps, to dislodge that pesky kernel of corn). As a result, says Markman, almost everyone brushes their teeth daily but fewer people floss regularly (for the record, I do both and gargle with mouthwash. So there.).

While it's written for an IDEO-type product designer, the blog prompted two visceral responses on my part:

1.) PR should be involved in the communication part of product communications. By that, I mean we should have a seat at the same table as engineers, architects, designers, artists and techies when they gather to create the next big thing. Our presence is important for two reasons:

a) We (should) have an intuitive sense which products are, in fact, communicating with end users.

b) Unlike your average product designer, we instinctively know that benefits trump features every day of the week. And, when it comes to generating buzz for a new product, it's not about the shiny new bell or whistle but, rather, how the product enhances its purchaser's lifestyle.
But, when's the last time you, or anyone on your team, was invited to brainstorm on product creation? Typically, we're shown the product, provided with a list of features and benefits and ordered to go forth and tell the world. That's inside-out, top-down, old-school thinking.

2.) PR should be immersed in what I call the 'experience' of any important, new product before it ever sees the light of day. Again, because of our intuitive DNA, we'll see and experience the product with a different lens than, say, a focus group or online survey sampling would.

At Peppercom, we've become deeply involved in experiencing our clients' online and offline brands, products and services and have uncovered numerous flaws that, if we'd been involved as the product was being created and tested, could have been avoided.

I love the myriad ways in which the public relations field is spreading its wings. But, we shouldn't be so totally obsessed with gaining the proverbial seat at the C-suite table. We belong at other tables as well. A smart and strategic PR executive and her team can make a HUGE difference in helping create a product that correctly communicates with customers from day one.

I'd say more, but I need to brush my teeth and shampoo my hair so I look good riding the elevator.