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The great debate of product vs. marketing – Who’s the land owner?


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Are you both the developer and marketer of your app? Well, so you avoid the tension between marketing and product/R&D teams. For all other cases, a marketer in the room during design meetings contributes to better product and reduced expenses down the road…

Before we start, two comments to set expectations:

  1.  This session is relevant for both huge and tiny publishers (e.g., app developers). Even though some of the arguments may sound irrelevant for someone working in a small company (well, mainly the remarks about the internal communication), the main point here is the importance of marketing insights during product design, and that’s relevant in all cases.
  2. This free article discusses the reasoning behind marketing involvement in product design. We assume you will ask some operational questions of “know-how”, when reading this post. These are answered in other posts. All relevant links are included in this post, how thoughtful of us, right?

Prologue – the personal marketing-product interface

When you have a conflict with a product manager, things can sometimes get unpleasant. Well, who am I kidding?  It usually does.  Professional arguments between marketers and developers are almost inevitable. Marketers think users; developers focus on effort. Marketers want innovation; developers are already late with existing tasks. Marketers are creative but somehow messy; developers appreciate organized, steady flow of tasks and information. Come on, it’s an accident waiting to happen… well that’s ok; it adds some drama to our everyday routine. It’s still annoying when it’s heating up, I know… Still, try not to lose your temper. It will do no good. Trust me, been there, done that, and learned my lesson. So, before we dive in to talk about why marketers MUST take part in product features design meetings, let me stress my point one more time: Make sure product people respect you professionally… do it any way you can, or die trying. Smile, stay calm and understanding. Product people may get frustrated by this “take over”. Taking part in the app design process is the right thing to do, but still, it might press on a few sensitive buttons in the product group. Take that under consideration. Make the developers understand the value behind your “out of the blue” requests or annoying feedbacks. Show some empathy (it’s the least you can do after you’ve pushed in a complicated feature; they probably have to spend the weekend at the office to work on it). Share the juicy stuff: money talk, increase in downloads, anything concrete that will surely happen when they implement what you’ve asked for. Ok, done my duty :). Now, let’s proceed.

Why marketing insights are important to product design?

Cause horrible things will happen if you are not in those meetings… Well, not… (Just checking pulse ;-)), but lack of marketing perspective in the initial app design, and then when planning major updates, will damage product quality and increase marketing expenses later on. Mobile apps have a “client” side (the code downloaded to the phone and reside there). Therefore, they are quite limited in flexibility (as they are depending on the cloud for changes/updates), and many improvements can only be published through a version upgrade. In other words, you have little room for improvement on the move. It’s a huge pain point. Trial and error, sure. Learning and improving, sure. But at the end of the day, app developers are very limited in what they can change real fast. Most changes require long preparations. Let’s not forget the app-stores supervision. Almost every change needs to be reviewed and approved by the stores before it’s released. Google play is rather fast, but iTunes approval might take a month or more!!  This means you cannot afford overlooking important parameters and catch on after a while; waste precious time until a better feature is developed, and then merged as part of a version update, wait for it to be approved by the store and only then release it. Exhausting. Frustrating. Happened to me so many times… I am here to help you avoid those mistakes. I am not asking you to attend every meeting. This will of course be a waste of time. I am asking you though, to make sure you join important product overviews, roadmap, features designs, prioritization discussions or anything else that you think is meaningful. The more involved you are the better the results are. That’s the basic rule.

The specific contribution marketing can make to product meetings

(6 main areas of contribution: objectives, usage trends and insights, industry insights, UX review, Audit capabilities and in-app marketing elements)

  • Objectives – let’s think of the company as a ship on its way to destination. All efforts should be on sailing (or in this case selling, brilliant right?) at the right direction. When creative juices start flowing, the focus on the actual targets may diminish. That’s defocus. And that is not good. You need to make sure that designs serve the apps’ objectives (which mainly relates to distribution, engagement and monetization).you should also make sure that changes are well prioritized and that time to market matches your marketing launch plan. You will sometimes ruin the party by insisting on changing the prioritization or the design so it matches the goals. Fun, ha? However, in other cases you will be the one providing the creative solutions, trying to deal with some challenges, when everybody else has given up.  So, summarizing this part- you should make sure that the product roadmap matches the app’s objectives and strategy.  
  • Distribution and usage trends – The numbers Sales and marketing people usually live and breathe the usage trends of the app. If your app is already launched, then you are probably intimate with the stats of its performance. You’d be the one with the best insights on what’s going on; what’s working well, and where improvements are needed. After all, you are probably the one checking the stats on a daily, maybe even hourly basis. No need to explain the importance of usage statistics to product design improvements. If your app is not yet in the market, you are still needed in these meetings, to share insights and usage trends of similar apps’ usage, based on public knowledge and some research. So, you should make sure usage trends are being considered as well. 
  • The industry – informing the product design team of what’s going on in the outside world is a must as well. Usually, we all are crazy busy and have no capacity to follow the industry closely. But this industry is ever-changing, with constant improvements and innovations.. Someone must stay tuned; keep his eyes and ears open and make sure he is up-to-date with the latest and greatest. Most likely this someone is you (if not, it should be!).  Correct, this is something the product people should be on top as well, but we, in marketing usually, have more chances to review industry innovation and be in the know of industry news. For example: Through external events, exhibitions and so forth. So, you should make sure product designers are updated with the latest and greatest industry trends. 
  • UX (user experience, also called user interface ) – right, there are UX experts out there; right, you shouldn’t be in charge of everything, but you still need to have a look, just to make sure the UX looks good and is compatible with the brand. UX should match the app’s brand, follow the overall Look & Feel, the basic “language” of the device, the operating system and the desires and behaviors of the target audience and market. So you should review the proposed UX and make sure it’s optimal. 
  • Audit – In my opinion, a design is not completed unless it includes audit capabilities. Take extra care with this as audit tends to be ignored in many cases. Since it’s a complex topic to deal with, and it requires only back end design, it is a lot of time easier to just leave it untouched. However, you just go blind without audit capabilities. Don’t wait till it’s too late and you just don’t have any knowledge or insights into how the app is performing (specific version, feature, and so forth – clicked, used, etc.). I used to work for an app company which handled this challenge by setting a process, in which no PRD (product requirements document) was approved without a full audit section. This section even had to be signed off by marketing. So make sure that you can generate usage reports.   
  • In-app marketing tools – these are features that are designed to help you achieve your marketing objectives from within the app: get better distribution by being viral, increase users’ loyalty, by opening pre-defined communication channels (e.g., push notifications). When it comes to in-app marketing features, you will not only attend product design meetings, but most likely initiate them, screaming and begging for others to attend (well, maybe screaming only in Israel?). That’s the bloodiest battle of them all because nobody understands the urgency of these tools as you do. Therefore you may be perceived as detached from reality, pushing aggressively your silly features when people are busy with the real burning tasks. I am here to encourage you! You are not wrong. Indeed, these are extremely important features. Excluding them means paying huge amounts of money later on. Cash. Green. Big ones. You get the idea. Here’s an example: buying a Facebook fan (using Facebook “like” ads) will cost you up to 1$ for one like!! Incentivize your users to “like” your page through the app (using a virtual goodie for example) will cost you nothing. That’s just one example. There are many many more. So make sure that in-app marketing tools are optimized early in the app design stage and are prioritized correctly.

By now, talking just a tiny bit :), I feel that we are in full understanding of why marketing should participate in product design meetings… Now summarizing the important points and adding some more tips:

  • Insist on marketing review of important features, and PRD approval if possible
  • Include audit section in product design documentation.
  • Take proactive part in design prioritization
  • Validate your arguments with facts (numbers, case studies, examples…)
  • Initiate sync meetings with product and R&D every now and then. Share updated strategy, targets and stats (downloads, usage, revenues). You can’t get them engaged and on the same page as you without it. Communication is highly important. Getting everyone on board internally is an ongoing process, so you need to make sure everybody is coordinated. Respect your colleagues with a well-built presentation 
  • Don’t forget to praise them after the release. My husband’s firm provides a wonderful incent plan, in which employees show appreciation to their colleagues by granting them a small reward every now and then, when they deserve it. It’s a great example for boosting motivation of employees and co-workers. If that’s too much, you just need to write an email with a few nice words and send it to the right people…that will be enough 

Wrap up

Whether you are working for a huge publisher, or the tiniest one, the marketing perspective is crucial in all levels, from the early design and development of the app’s core features to the post launch learnings. True, it is a bit of a burden on the product and R&D, but it helps delivering an optimal app, equipped with crucial tools to win the battle. So don’t give up here. Do what you have to do. You rock!

Elli is one of Co-Founders, a mobile expert and a mentor. Having years of experience in the mobile and marketing industry promoting popular mobile apps and B2B related services. Presenting specific expertise on users' acquisition strategies, PR, social media, product marketing, BizDev integrations and more
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