The Intersection of Marketing & Product Management


Are your product & marketing teams creating resonance or dissonance?

Divergence or Convergence? Photo by Aditya Chinchure

When building products, one of our main goals is to make new users successful as quickly as possible. We build in-depth, contextual onboarding campaigns, complete with great first-run experiences, lifecycle emails, contextual tooltips, and the kitchen sink. We try to remove friction everywhere we can to ensure users see the value of our product right away, with hopes that it turns them into a highly engaged user.

But what if the user thought they were buying a motorcycle, but your product is actually a bicycle? Or even worse, your product is actually a bulldozer?

Yay for contrived examples! Icons by Icons8

In both of those cases, the product promised and the one delivered carry some of the same DNA: motorcycles and bicycles both have two wheels, motorcycles and bulldozers both have loud engines. But you can see the problem: each of those has wildly different utility for users, and all are hired for very different jobs.

Don’t sell bicycles to motorcycle buyers

When a company has a product to bring to market, the product team will have built something based on their research. At the same time, the marketing team decides to position the product based on their research and their understanding of the product.

If product & marketing don’t communicate early and often, there may be dissonance between the marketing promise and the product delivered. However, if we, as product people and marketers, commit to communicating early and often, we can reach harmonious resonance — where the marketing actually enhances the experience of using the product. Users that are properly primed by good marketing will see their “Aha!” moments faster and more consistently, and will be happier and more profitable in the long run.

Contrived examples of resonant & dissonant waves

One of Digsy’s investors & advisors, Robin Pimentel, gives this example that I think communicates this concept well:

Say you buy a tube of toothpaste, and it’s been marketed as “It leaves your teeth sparkling and fresh”. If the first time you use the toothpaste it leaves a gritty film on your teeth, you’ll feel like your teeth haven’t been cleaned.

On the other hand, if that same toothpaste was marketed as “It keeps working to keep your teeth clean all day long!”, then that gritty feeling would make you think “Wow, it’s really working!”

Put another way: If a customer thinks they’re getting a motorcycle, they aren’t going to be very happy when they open the box and find a bicycle.

Learning the hard way

More than once in my career, product and marketing have diverged. Marketing was doing a great job promoting a great product that people wanted (based on conversion rates). The problem was that it wasn’t the product we had built.

Nothing hurts more as a product person than seeing the following feedback from a new user:

I thought you would wash my dishes for me! All you do is send me dish soap & a sponge every month!

If you take the blinders off, you may be able to see this in your product as well. If lots of customers are saying “I thought you did X” when you do your exit interviews (you should be doing exit interviews), then there is dissonance between product & marketing.

Track through the funnel

We’re all probably familiar with the Pirate Metrics framework from Dave McClure (AARRR!). If not, you should take a look.

AARRR! Photo by Markus Spiske

This tends to be come up a lot in the startup space, but it applies to every business. Product teams should be working with marketing to segment and analyze their users’ behavior by marketing channel/campaign all the way through the funnel. It helps you answer this important question: Are people from one campaign activating or retaining better than other campaigns? Why?

That’s great for the marketer’s ego, but for product people, we should be more concerned with the inverse: which channels are yielding the worst activation & retention? These can be early indicators of dissonance between marketing promises and product delivery, and can also reveal flaws in the product. Maybe there’s a hidden motivation or need that we missed that we’re not addressing, but that Marketing has tapped into.

Finding resonance, or How to sell bicycles instead of motorcycles

When a product team builds a product, they’ve established a value proposition, some personas or jobs-to-be-done, and justifications (backed by data) for the features that have been built. After all, that’s our job. This should be shared with the marketing team as soon as possible, and at Digsy, we do our best to share while we build. Sharing early and often will ensure that the product & marketing teams are on the same page, arming both with valuable insight and research.

This may seem obvious: of course the whole team should communicate openly. Communication is what makes companies successful. However, this doesn’t seem to be the modus operandi for most teams. In an effort to help illustrate my point, I’d like to share the process we’ve developed at Digsy to formalize this.

We use a series of deliverables during the conception of a new product or feature to ensure resonance between marketing & product. 
Disclaimer: Digsy is growing fast, and this process is always changing. It’s not perfect, and it’s constantly improving.

Product Brief
This is our a one page document that explains in plain English the problem that we have found, supporting research, the Job Stories, and the scope of our proposed solution. This primes everyone on the team for what we’ll be building & why. We post these on the wall in the middle of the office so anyone can read them at any time. (Full disclosure: we borrowed heavily from Intercom for our format).
Announcement Drafts
This is a new addition to our process: We write a product/feature announcement as soon as the specs & designs are completed for any feature. This is targeted at current users of the product.

The announcement does two things:

  • It forces the Product Manager/Owner to clearly articulate the value of the new feature. If they can’t do that, then there’s a problem with the solution or problem definition.
  • It creates a concise description of the actual feature/product that can be shared with the entire team, giving everyone a clear picture of what’s being delivered. Marketing can then use this to form their strategy, since it’s coming early in the process.

Weekly Demos
At the end of every week, everyone on the team shows off what they did that week. In the case of design and engineering, they get to show off the progress on the features everyone has heard about via the last two deliverables.

The most important purpose of this is for team morale and camaraderie, but a secondary benefit is that people in marketing, support, sales, and more get to really see what is coming. They get to see it in action, instead of just words on a page. This removes any opportunities for interpretation, and helps keep everyone on the same page.

Using these deliverables, the whole company, from product to marketing to support, is always on the same page about what’s being built and why, which gives everyone the tools they need to do their jobs in a resonant way.

How do I know if I have dissonance?

There are lots of ways to identify dissonance in your product/marketing relationship. Most of the time these will present themselves to you without too much digging, but you may not have understood the cause.

The most important thing you can do is ask your customers why they signed up for your product. What were they trying to do? Is that something your product does? If not, where did they get the idea that it was something you did? This is a very strong signal of dissonance.

There’s another, less direct, way of identifying possible dissonance. Do you have a surprising number of users signing up, poking around a bit, then bouncing, never to come back? If so, this may be a sign of dissonance (there’s plenty of other causes for this, so talk to your customers for certainty). If the product isn’t immediately delivering on — or at least driving towards — the marketing promise that users received, then why would they stick around? Look for channels/campaigns with higher-than-normal churn to see if there are any patterns to dig into.

Successful products are built by a village, not just an awesome product team. They have to be marketed well, and the marketing promise has to match the product delivered. Does your product & marketing meet that standard?

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