Crayon's Product Marketing Spotlight is an interview series where we chat with product marketers to get a glimpse into their careers and gain unique insight into product marketing strategy. In this edition of the Product Marketing Spotlight Series, we shine the light on Jeffrey Vocell, Director of Product Marketing at Iterable.
ED: What is your role, and what does your company do?
JV: Thank you for having me. I’m Director of Product Marketing at Iterable, a leading customer experience platform that powers remarkable experiences for brands and consumers. Iterable has leading customers across industries like Zillow, Fender, Doordash, Box, and many more.
ED: Tell me a little bit about your career. What led up to you becoming the Director of Product Marketing at Iterable?
JV: Great question. Before Iterable, I was a leader on the Product Marketing team at HubSpot. I spent nearly six years at HubSpot pre-IPO to recently, and loved the mission, people, product, and customers. Many people are lucky enough to find just one job they truly love, and I’ve been lucky to have two. As my career grew, I became more interested in growing and leading a product marketing team. I was fortunate to start that journey at HubSpot, and then through a connection, was introduced to the leadership team at Iterable, and it was a great fit based on experience. The team and technology at Iterable truly blew me away, so I’ve really been fortunate to find a role and mission that I truly love and get to execute it alongside people I not only consider colleagues but friends as well.
If I rewind the clock a bit before HubSpot - I spent a little time as a Product Manager, which gave me deep insight into the world of product development and launches. After leaving that company - I went on to be a co-founder of my own company providing mobile dashboard software for small businesses and marketers. After that company was acquired by Dyn (now Oracle), I really reflected on my experience. What I enjoyed and a lot of the skills I loved landed squarely in the job description of a product marketer. With that understanding, I set out to get my first “official” product marketing role.
ED: What sparked your interest in product marketing?
JV: When I first went to college, I was enrolled in an aviation program with every intention of becoming a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Needless to say, that didn’t quite pan out and when I switched to business, I decided to take a course on consumer psychology. That course was a turning point. I voraciously dove-in and read anything I could get my hands on and was fascinated by why consumers made the decisions to buy specific products. Ultimately that drove my interest in marketing, and really product marketing.
ED: How have current events impacted your day-to-day? Have recent shifts impacted the way you execute on a product launch or refreshed messaging?
JV: Yeah, the current events have definitely impacted the way launches are executed. Not only because of COVID, but also the social justice initiatives going on throughout the world. It's resulted in a lot of thoughtful planning from the executive and product marketing team on how launches are done.
More tactically, it’s meant a lot more virtual collaboration. For example, writing positioning in Google Docs, and handling reviews in parallel via comments as opposed to in-person meetings in the past. Because product marketers work across so many different groups and functions, it’s also meant collaborating with the company in new ways and communicating more intentionally across email, and internal places like the wiki and Slack.
Messaging has certainly been impacted as well, and it’s something we’re thinking about quite a lot right now. Stay tuned to our site and campaigns. 😊
ED: How is your product marketing team organized, and how does that help you focus on different product marketing goals?
JV: Our team largely is organized around the structure of the product team and mapped to individual product managers or product team leads.
ED: What’s been most successful for you when advocating for more product marketing resources (headcount or budget)?
JV: I think for a lot of organizations it’s different - but one thing I’ve consistently been able to point to is the ratio of Product Managers to Product Marketing Managers. If PMMs are supporting too many products, or have too many on-going launches, advocating for more headcount can be a relatively easy discussion.
Also, I think it’s important to take into account here how your organization defines product marketing. Does the product marketing team cover sales enablement or competitive intelligence? If so, as you grow you may want to consider dedicated resources within your team for those areas.
For budget - it really comes back to one of the core tenets of product marketing in my opinion. Influence without authority. Especially when it comes to a large-scale launch or campaign, there’s a lot to potentially spend budget on - ads, videos, podcasts, animations, design, and so much more. This is one area you can work with other leaders across the marketing team and help distribute budget requests since your launch or campaign will likely help the demand gen team with their goals, or customer marketing with theirs. That being said, if you are part of an organization that expects that all to come from product marketing, ensure your planning cycle is ahead of major launches, campaigns, and events - and that you have launch plans mapped to those key times of the year. That should give you a rough idea of what you need for your budget, and if a leader pushes back, then you can have a conversation around the plan and promotional efforts versus theoretical numbers.
ED: How do you balance supporting each of your internal stakeholders across sales, marketing, product, customer success, and executive leadership?
JV: This can be tough for a lot of product marketers and leaders. Ultimately I think it requires prioritization of key items, understanding bandwidth, and being able to say no.
For my team, we have a regular team meeting on a weekly basis where we talk about any major project updates or incoming projects as a team. It provides a layer of transparency that I think is really important as most teams are virtual.
I have regular 1:1 meetings with not only my manager, but leaders across the company where we sync on priorities for the product marketing team. Sometimes when a project comes to us, there’s another team that can handle it - like reviewing email copy, writing enablement materials (outside of a launch), or presenting at a user conference. These are all examples of things I think most product marketers would love to do if we had time, but oftentimes can be done by other teams that have more bandwidth.
ED: What’s something you wish you knew earlier in your career?
JV: The value of the foundations. I’m someone who is constantly learning and never believes I’m perfect. In fact, I’m often more critical of my own projects and work than others are - which has served me well in many ways. But the foundations of product marketing are critical to a long and successful career.
Writing and positioning are two of those, and if I put my critical hat on, I think the final 2-3 years I spent at HubSpot before coming to Iterable were transformative. There was a lot going on in my personal life (more on that below), and it gave me a chance to take a step back and evaluate what was important - and I invested a lot of time on writing in a compelling manner, and it’s served me really well.
I think another foundational attribute for many product marketers is curiosity. It drives our understanding of markets, products, competitors, and so much more. Curiosity can allow you to come up with questions, and as I’ve refined this skill over time, it’s given me a framework to ask the right questions.
ED: When you’re not hard at work, what’s your favorite thing to do?
JV: First, I’ll say that I’m a widowed dad of 5 kids - from ages 10 to 2. I was married for a long-time, and lost my wife due to cancer. That said, when I’m not working, I love being with my kids. Whether it’s throwing a baseball around outside, kayaking, having a nerf battle, or simply building a puzzle, those moments are really special and I try to protect them as much as I can.
Aside from that, I love hiking, camping, flying, working out, and riding my motorcycle. I learned to fly planes before I ever learned to drive a car, and it’s still a passion of mine. It’s a whole other viewpoint when you’re just a few thousand feet up in the air and looking down on an area you drive around all the time, or live in. It brings new fresh perspectives.
Also, with COVID, I’ve picked up an appreciation for cooking. Figuring out how to make items from scratch, and in a healthy way that not only I will love, but my kids will love as well, has been fun.
Topics: Product Marketing Spotlight