Pete Bernardo
Pete Bernardo / Marketing / January 10th, 2017

Finding a Product Approach to Marketing: 6 Weeks to Smarter Strategy

Over the course of the last year, our product growth and marketing teams have seen a lot of, well, growth. Much of that growth stems from our experimental approach to digital marketing,  markedly different from most agencies. As our team grows and expands its skill sets, I’ve learned that our traction model of marketing requires a shift in mindset from both clients and the marketers we add to our team.

Just like all marketing is an experiment, I’ve hit upon a valuable experiment when it comes to interviewing potential marketers who will have to adapt to our model of marketing. Since 352 focuses on clients launching and growing new products, the goal is always gaining traction. It requires a process geared toward answering some fundamental questions:

  • Who is our best early audience, and how large is the market of early adopters?
  • Is the current business model effective for our client?
  • Which messaging and features resonate with our audience?
  • How can we most effectively and inexpensively reach our audience?
  • How quickly can we validate a marketing strategy?

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Hiring for Traction

It’s that last question that has proven to be the most valuable for our clients – and the trickiest skill set to bring on board our team. Unlike traditional marketing strategies, savvy marketers can validate a marketing strategy in six weeks or less through rapid experimentation and an agile mindset. Equipped with the right insights, marketers can invest fully in a specific set of tactics, pivot to a new channel or kill their marketing strategy entirely to gain traction.

In my view, traction results from dozens of small, intentional questions to which your company answers, “Yes,” rather than from a massive build-up of customers to a pass-or-fail moment. Typically, those questions are answered by a startup founder or a product manager before anyone has seen or heard of the product – it’s a ton of assumptions and scribbled notes on napkins.

Our process aims to eliminate assumptions as fast as possible through real-world tests; it requires an entrepreneurial and scientific mentality that not everyone possesses. Since the process can be a hurdle for both our clients and potential teammates, we struck upon a recent client scenario which provides a great exercise for anyone thinking about launching a product.

The Client Scenario

Since we’re first and foremost a digital product development shop, we often have clients approach us to quote a product build. Sometimes, they’re not incredibly confident in the project, though they’re pretty sure they have a good idea and a market opportunity. In recent interviews, I’ve begun asking potential team members how they’d handle a challenge we faced recently with a client looking to validate a new product.

In this case, our client was not confident enough in their idea and potential market to fund a full product build on an unproven idea. But, they asked what we could do with 10% of the build budget and a month to validate the idea with their target audience. Through a traction – or growth hacking, if you like – mentality, we took six weeks uncover the potential marketplace, the features users want and a price point to determine if a product build would be worth the price tag.

For a product agency, this is an ideal client – one with the humility to let the market validate and idea and not one hell-bent on just building their initial singular vision.

In an interview, we want to hear the candidate talk out the problem, determine where they think the goals of validation lie and set out a path to uncover those answers. Bonus points for concluding the client’s initial vision might have to change dramatically. That is the reality of what we are trying to accomplish: we want the market to tell us the path, even if it is a dead end.

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Obviously, there’s no wrong answer to this question and plenty of avenues to explore. It allows a candidate to lean on strengths and experience, while showing their ability to minimize a big problem into those tiny questions every new product must answer. Like in any experiment, traction marketing requires flexibility, creativity and a willingness to be wrong.

As you’d expect, the solutions we receive are all over the place, but most contain commonalities at the root of how we approached the same problem with the client: conduct broad market research, develop early assumptions and messaging, then establish a strong feedback loop to capture ideas and insights from our audience, while also generating buzz around a new platform.

It’s far more than driving traffic to a landing page and collecting emails, though that plays a role. Ultimately, we want to identify who is interested in this idea, why were they interested and what would get them to pay for it.

In an interview, we typically only give 20-30 minutes to ask questions and talk through a high-level strategy. It’s compressed to make an interviewee (or a potential client) show an adaptive mindset through a high-level strategy, not the nitty-gritty of tactics. Here’s how we approached the project and often hear reflected in many great product marketing interviews:

Week 1 – Finding Business Alignment

  • Define and agree to the business goals and objectives
  • Establish high-level brand voice and feel – just enough to create credibility and comfort with the audience
  • Conduct research into the market and audience
  • Establish user personas and customer journey maps to determine the pains, gains, or jobs our audience needs to accomplish

Week 2 – Brand Building

  • Design lightweight product prototypes and mockups of our product or features
  • Launch a simple landing page to capture emails and demographics
  • Begin audience segmentation and messaging to test
  • Create feedback portal for visitors to provide feedback, submit ideas and vote on core features

Week 3 – Gathering Fuel

  • Launch early messaging campaigns to attract visitors and promote user interest
  • Drive traffic to our landing page through social campaigns, influencer marketing, sponsored content, advertorials and other paid media
  • Analyze which messaging and audience performed best, then invest, pivot or kill campaigns based on performance

Week 4-5 – Blow Stuff Up

  • Iterate the landing page and feedback portal guided by early feedback and user-suggested content
  • Expand targeted campaigns and messaging to drive larger audience to our feedback loop
  • Email drip campaign with the best new ideas twice a week to anyone who signed up through the landing page
  • Survey highly engaged users to determine brand perception, acceptable price points and must-have features

Week 6 – Validation and Market Assessment

  • Complete review of feedback loop
  • What did we learn? Is there a market for this idea? How much did it cost us to acquire that audience? Cost effective? What features where they passion about?

Growing the Right Way

Most marketers, founders and product owners don’t think through the permutations of how people find their product, why they need it and what convinces them to pay for it. Through digital marketing, organizations have thousands of tactics to support a product launch. Rather than identifying a strong go-to-market strategy, they treat it like traditional digital marketing or just look at what other people in the space have done.

At 352, we look for the inflection points and think through the entirety of the client lifecycle, from development through launch to growth through revenue. And we look for people who consider the same things.

The reality of marketing is that most tactics may not bear fruit for months, and you may not always know the cost of a customer acquisition or the most effective channel to reach your customers. By conducting small-scale bets, however, you can quickly determine the efficacy of particular tactics and set predictable baselines for when those tactics begin to deliver large-scale results.

Determine what works in a matter of weeks, and you’ll have a strong foundation for months of iterative growth, guided by hard data.