Want to Be a Better Product Manager? Learn from Santa Claus.

Here are six ways this centuries-old icon continues to capture the hearts and imaginations of young and old alike year after year.

Written by Mike Hyzy
Published on Dec. 15, 2023
Want to Be a Better Product Manager? Learn from Santa Claus.
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
Brand Studio Logo

The holiday season is a busy time for Santa Claus. As the figurehead of one of the world’s most beloved brands, Christmas, he oversees a vast operation to deliver happiness and cheer to children across the globe every Christmas Eve.

But how exactly does this centuries-old icon continue to capture the hearts and imaginations of young and old alike year after year? As it turns out, jolly old Saint Nick seems to intuitively understand concepts that today’s most successful tech entrepreneurs and product managers strive tirelessly to master. 

Let’s analyze the key strategies that have made Mr. Claus the reigning champion of holiday cheer for over 16 centuries, proving he’s not just a merry old soul but a master product manager as well.

6 ways to be a product master

  1. Listen to users from the start.
  2. Know your customer.
  3. Align your product roadmap with your business goals.
  4. Tell a story that resonates.
  5. Delegate tasks to workers who protect the brand’s integrity.
  6. Forecast based on market trends.

More from Mike Hyzy5 Ways AI Will Evolve Product Management in 2024


Listening to Users from the Start 

A skilled PM understands the importance of listening to users to build products that meet their needs. And when it comes to soliciting customer feedback, Santa wrote the book. He’s been gathering direct requests from children worldwide for over 1,700 years.

His time-tested system involves on-the-ground research via proxy elves at local malls and good old-fashioned mail. Instead of outsourcing user interviews to a third-party agency, this hands-on founder makes himself directly accessible to consumers. Kids line up for hours to sit on his lap and make their holiday wishes known while Mrs. Claus snaps Instagram worthy photos children will treasure for life.

Writing a letter containing product specifications and desired features is easy for anyone without access to a local Santa. Santa’s conveniently located postal address receives millions of direct mail survey responses annually. And he somehow finds time to thoughtfully analyze this flood of user data while still running a global enterprise. 

Sure, AI-enabled sentiment analysis could help automate part of this process today. But you can’t improve upon Santa’s 1,700-year track record of success by keeping his ear close to the ground and personally connecting with customers.


Knowing Your Customer

In contrast to certain big tech companies needing clarification about precisely who their customers are, Santa keeps his target users and their needs front and center. Every child knows that in order to receive presents on Christmas morning, they must adhere to two simple rules: 

  1. Be good for goodness sake, and
  2. Believe. 

Naughty children receive a transparent response — coal in their stockings and an explicit change request outlining desired behavior changes for the following year’s release.

But given current global priorities, we recommend Santa consider replacing coal with solar panels or other eco-friendly products in a nod to more socially conscious product development. Just an idea!


Prioritizing Business Goals 

Like all successful PMs, Santa aligns his product roadmap and higher-level business goals. He shrewdly located his R&D headquarters at the North Pole, taking advantage of perennially low real estate prices in the Arctic and cheap, renewable energy.

Santa also secured a loyal and talented team of full-time makers, a.k.a. elves, that live on campus and have yet to unionize. The master strategist keeps operating costs low while enabling swift production scaling as demand grows. And we can’t fail to mention the string of acquisitions that secured rights to iconic Christmas tunes, films and stories still popular today. Talk about capitalizing on the holiday intellectual property! 


Telling a Story That Resonates 

Far more than a transient fad, the story Santa and Christmas have told for centuries continues to captivate audiences worldwide. Unlike most brands born out of Silicon Valley, Santa understands the importance of building a product that feels timeless. Beyond the original promise of presents for good girls and boys, Santa has sanctioned extensions into adjacent markets, from horror (Krampus, Violent Night) to comedy (Bad Santa, Elf) and animation (Rudolph, Frosty).

He lets the elves focus on improving the supply chain and manufacturing. At the same time, he protects the master brand, only granting his seal of approval to offerings that align with the essence of Christmas. His expert logistics strategy has allowed the platform to scale massively while maintaining integrity. Well played, Santa.


Managing a Global Product 

For all his strengths, Santa couldn’t deliver two billion gifts to children worldwide solo every Christmas Eve. He wisely delegated regional operations early on. 

As multinational companies distribute ownership across geographies under a global umbrella, an army of Santa impersonators stands ready to represent the brand across local mall installations and holiday gatherings. Like official brand ambassadors, each of these regional Santas understands their role in protecting brand integrity. 

Rather than diluting his equity, this fractured approach allows Santa to focus on setting overall product vision and guarding the Christmas magic that makes the holiday special. He leaves the complexities of regional variation and logistics to an experienced team of franchise managers.

More on product managementWhy Product Managers Should Start Joining Hackathons


Forecasting the Future  

The mark of a truly visionary PM is the ability to peer into the future and discern what users want before they even know themselves. Santa has perfected this skill after centuries of data gathering, research and analysis. 

Between closely tracking children’s wish lists year-round, pouring over the latest market trends and leveraging in-house data science elves, Santa’s insights into precisely what gift ideas, styles and formats will delight his users each holiday season are unparalleled. He deftly balances the introduction of cutting-edge tech like virtual reality goggles and AI-powered toys with timeless classics like dolls and rocking horses to appeal to all demographic segments.

Santa uses his market savvy to optimize the supply chain and manufacturing for maximum efficiency. With endless historical data on regional demand trends and user preferences, he accurately predicts everything from which doll styles will be hottest in Tokyo this year to how many lumberjack-themed gifts Canadian children will request. Such precise demand forecasting allows Santa’s elves to operate a lean, just-in-time workshop optimized for sustainability and minimal waste.


The Modern Master of Product Management  

Santa’s repeat success in delivering perhaps the world’s most beloved annual product release reveals strategic mastery on par with the most remarkable modern product management icons. He pioneered growth hacking via viral carols centuries before Sean Ellis and Dave McClure were on the nice list. He championed user-centered design back when the most innovative user interface was the abacus. And he built an international user community of brand evangelists centuries before the first LinkedIn connection request.

So while today’s PM thought leaders dish out six-figure consulting fees and ink lucrative book deals, the O.G. product genius cheerfully delivers the gift of joy on one magical night, expecting nothing in return. Here’s to hoping Santa never retires.

Because with an impeccable 1,700-year track record of delighting users worldwide year after year, no one knows more about product success than Santa himself. The data doesn’t lie. When it comes to product management, Santa is the true North Star that still guides us today. Godspeed, Kringle!

Hiring Now
Consumer Web • eCommerce • Software