Marketing Your Startup

with Alice Lankester

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How marketing and product should interact

Alice Lankester

Startup Marketing Executive, Silicon Valley Veteran, Entrepreneur Enthusiast

Lessons Learned

The product team should bring the roadmap & the marketers decide which new releases to celebrate.

Great product managers love details & processes. They champion their products & feel responsibility.

Never manage a project through email.


Lesson: Marketing Your Startup with Alice Lankester

Step #4 Product: How marketing and product should interact

I am, at my heart, a product person as opposed to a marketing person. That's where I started and so everything I do is about the product. So when a company doesn't have really good product managers, I think they really suffer and they suffer because there is nobody in the organization who is the champion of the product. That's what I see a really good product manager doing.

So when I work with really good product managers, and I've worked with a few. And I've also worked with some really bad ones. I would say that that is a person, or that is a group, with whom I meet on an extremely regular basis. In a larger organization, maybe not in a startup.

So I'll talk about larger organizations I've worked with. We will have regular get-togethers so that I will understand what's coming down the product pipeline. I will decide, not decide myself personally, but decide with the group, that feature is really worth marketing and talking about. That feature, you may like it but it's not that interesting. This is going to be a big launch. This particular release that you have coming up here August 1st, we should get behind that because that is particularly new and unique.

The product manager and the product team are the ones that know all those things. They're going to bring that whole road map to you as the marketer. And you as the marketer is going help decide which ones should we really put out the bunting for and have a party around, and which ones where you say, it's jut a kind of regular, normal update. So a lot of communication between the two.

The product road map itself, I would like to think that marketing has a certain amount of influence in that because marketing should know what's going on in the industry, what's resonating. Marketing and product together should know what all the competition is doing. Marketing should know what the competition from a marketing standpoint. How are they pitching their product? How are they marketing? What events are they going to? What schemes are they using to get users? Products should know feature sets the competition has. What's working. What isn't working. What they think really stinks. What they think is great.

So between the two of them, those two brain sets will have a really good time if they can work on the product road map together to say, "Wow, this would be a great place to go." Product owns the road map. Product will tell marketing what the road map is. Marketing will go back to product and say, "These are the ones that I feel like I want to double down on. This is how I think that we should talk about it. What do you think?"

So it's really collaborative because good product teams, they know that product intimately. They champion that product. They know every detail of that product, and they can tell you the status of every single feature that's in the pipeline. Marketing is well advised to work with product to get as much of an understanding about what's coming down as possible. So I really couldn't say anything other than as close as a collaboration as possible. But it doesn't always work that way.

What makes a good product manager? Somebody who absolutely loves managing details and process. I'm often fond of saying, I and other people will throw a lot of balls over the net and you better catch every single one of them and do something with them. Many of those balls, they may say, Alice, I caught this ball. It was a crappy ball. I just want you to know I caught it. I put it in the bin, but it wasn't that interesting. But I caught it because a good product manager will take all the ideas and all the things everybody's seeing and put them all into the bin and then try to make sense out of them. Organize them and help organize them into releases and make sure that release happens.

So very detail oriented, very process driven, and feeling really responsible for whether that product works or not, and really responsible for whether users love it and they use the features that they're getting excited about. So when I see that working in a product team, I just think it's the best thing ever because it's just a work of art.

There are some tools and processes that startups should think about doing to try and organize themselves. One of the things I'm fond of saying is that, if it's not in a Google doc, it doesn't exist for me, and don't ever manage a project by email. So I will find that I work with teams and they will send me tons of feedback by email and I say, that's great. I took all 25 things of input and they're all in this Google doc. I caught them and I'll comment on them and so forth.

Because you'll find that an email will come to you with incredibly valuable content and it doesn't matter what email tool you lose, all email sucks. Email should be a pointer to something that doesn't suck. The cheapest, best thing that doesn't suck right now are all the Google docs, and Google spreadsheets and Google presentations. All this kind of stuff. It's free. It's easy. It works. Use it. And it's getting better all the time.

So make sure people plan themselves in some way. Maybe in Google docs, maybe they have a Wiki space, and collaborate on it. So some engineers prefer to use Wiki spaces and not Google docs and that's fine. Whatever everybody wants to use is the one you should use. And then get everybody on it and get people collaborating.

So I will often help to build a spec and I'll do it in Google docs. Everybody will swarm on the spec and comment and update and discuss and plan. And within five minutes the Google doc becomes a complete mess. And then you say, "Right, everybody out. Everybody out of the room. I'm going to tidy it up." You go back in and you sort it all out and you make it all neat. "Right. You can all come back in."

Then they'll do it again and, before you know it, you've got a great collaborative document on, might be messaging, it might be a launch. It might be a plan. It might be a spec. It doesn't matter what it is, but that's a really great way of working with a small team that doesn't have money for some big thing. Actually, I find it works best.

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