Jason Dea's Pages

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Everything on the Food network looks easy…

I have found that one of the most difficult things to do is to take something complex and explain it in a simple way to teach someone. Perhaps I'm biased because my wife is a teacher. But my experience has been that it also takes a real subject matter expert to be able to take a complex concept and whittle it down to only the most important parts and make it sound simple and easy at the same time.

The Food network is a great example of this. Cooking may not be the hardest task but it does take some practice and it can be quite intimidating to a novice. Even the most difficult dishes however are made to look very easy to prepare if you ever watch the Food network. I suppose that when you're an Iron Chef you can make anything look as easy as making a grilled cheese sandwich.

Often times I get asked by both coworkers and friends "what exactly do you do?" I tell them that I am a product marketing manager, which inevitably leads to more questions about what product marketing is exactly. So a personal challenge I've undertaken is an attempt to create a simple explanation for what it is that product marketing does. By doing so perhaps I've taken a few baby steps towards becoming an Iron Chef of marketing if you will. I needed the explanation to be more than a job description and also more interesting than a list of the deliverables I get from my boss.

So I've come up with a simple analogy - I write the story that helps to fill the sales funnel. It's the story that, if written well, serves to both find prospects as well as helps those prospects convert to opportunities and sales.


When I was in elementary school I learned in English class that a good story goes through 3 phases: Introduction, Plot, and Conclusion.

In the marketing story I write I think of theses stages in terms of the desired outcomes for the content I create to support my narrative. So I have 3 outcomes or phases for my story as well: Eyeballs, Education, and Urgency.

  • Eyeballs: The key to the beginning of the story is customer segmentation. The messaging and value of the solution needs to resonate with the "Tribe" (to borrow a term from Seth Godin) that best fits the user and buyer profile of my product. By fine tuning the story from the beginning to appeal to a particular audience that helps both to get eyeballs reading the story, while also ensuring I target the audience that is most likely to be converted through to opportunities.

  • Education: This is the easiest part of the story to write. It can consist of product brochures and flyers, product websites, demos, and other types of collateral that educate the eyeballs I've captured as to what it is exactly that the product does, and the value or outcomes that will result. Again if done well more conversion and more movement down the sales funnel.

  • Urgency: I find this the most difficult part of the story to write, as it requires the most depth of knowledge. Customer success stories, tools to help determine ROI or tools to quantify risk, vendor neutral educational content along with the expertise that I've enable my colleagues in sales with can be the key chapters of the story that drive real opportunities. This is when the story helps a reader understand how their world could be a better place. It tells them how others have benefitted from my solution and whenever possible ties this back to an economic impact. Put another way, this is when the story can really help close the gap between awareness and engagement.
Finally there is one last piece. If I've told my story correctly then this is when sales professionals take it to the finish line. I've tried to help them up to this point by writing a marketing story to help convert targets in to opportunities. They should now have a funnel of potential customers who are well educated on what we do, how we can help them and have a sense of urgency that now is a good time to make an investment.

So that's the explanation I'm going with the next time I get asked "what do you do?"

I'm going to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich now…

Friday, March 11, 2011

Who needs product marketing…

I came across this post on Gigaom proposing that startup culture is becoming a fetish. The story references the churn being seen in the number of startups vying for exposure at SXSW. Lots of new ideas and new apps with no potential customers identified. The behavior seems to be driven by developers creating startups, and getting caught up with the glamour of turning an idea in to an app without a business plan in place.

The hole I see is the role that product marketing fills. At its heart product marketing helps determine whether an idea is worth bothering with. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I believe there is tremendous value in simply going through the exercise of turning an idea in to something. But one key piece is ensuring that something can actually be a viable business. Product marketing helps to fill the gaps between technology and a market need. An idea or technology only has as much value as the problem it solves and it's difficult to measure the size of a problem until you can identify who experiences it. In short you need to know what customers you're going after along with how you will help them.

Here's a very simple example of a world without product marketing.

This makes no sense to most people…

  • 2L Storage shelf on door
  • Adjustable Door Bin
  • Adjustable Rollers
  • Auto defrost
  • 329 kWh/Year Energuide rating
  • Reversible door swing
  • Slide-out shelf design
This does make sense…

  • A small refrigerator to keep your beer cold.
The impression I got from the article was that lots of these startups are simply trying to sell 329 kWh boxes without figuring out if there is a demand for cold beer first.

And that's why you need product marketing. Or that's why I have a job anyway…

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The first rule of design…there is no design

I was reading a story about how Apple's SVP of Design Jony Ive is rumored to be leaving. He's not a household name the way that Steve Jobs is, but many believe that he's been as critical to Apples success as anyone. He was the designer of the candy colored iMac computers that were the first big hit of the second iteration of Steve Jobs' Apple, and has had a hand in the design of their entire portfolio of products since then.

He has an elegant approach to design which he outlines in the documentary Objectified which profiles several prominent personalities in the world of industrial design.

The core of his approach in his own words is simplicity. Not simplicity for the sake of simplicity or to be a minimalist. He states that his main role as a designer is to get design out of the way. A good design isn't based on arbitrary shapes; good design should feel as though it hasn't been designed at all. It should feel natural and intuitive. An example of this in his work is Apple's exceptional discipline in not including unnecessary design elements in their products. Rarely does Apple add additional lights or buttons to their products unless they serve a clear functional purpose, and in some cases they even go so far as to remove buttons that are considered standard because ultimately they aren't necessary (the track pads on their Macbooks are an example of this).

I think there is a lesson to be learned as a product marketing person from this simplicity. Focus on the customer problem(s) you solve. Don't agonize over the hurdles that your engineers had to overcome to create a solution. Nobody really cares about that; they just want to know their problem can be solved, or in some cases they want to better understand the problem itself. Having potential customers read about patent pending technology, years of laborious development effort, and what every line of code does has little impact on how they use the product.

How the product helps them and the outcomes from using them is something that can universally resonate.

After all the first rule of design… there is no design.