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Your Product Launch Questions Answered by a HubSpot Product Marketing Leader

Posted by Emily Dumas on Mon Nov 25, 2019 08:00 AM

AMA: Hubspot Principal Product Marketing Manager, Marcus Andrews on Product Launches originally appeared on Sharebird - the place to see how people at top companies do product marketing.

Answers by Marcus Andrews, Principal Product Marketing Manager at Hubspot, on Sharebird:

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How often is too often when it comes to launching a new product feature/enhancement publicly?

Great question! 

First and foremost your launches have to have substance and that should dictate the cadence more than marketing need. I've seen some companies try and do a launch every week and it starts off great but then loses momentum quickly because people stop caring. That’s a bad situation to be in. The launches just don't have enough substance and people are overwhelmed. 

You may have lots of different updates happening all the time, but the trick is packaged them up into a bigger more interesting update that has a slick narrative that ties them all together. 

One a month or one or two a quarter (depending on the size and speed) is a good cadence. It gives your audience time to breathe and will make your launches more substantial. Having one launch as the one big thing your team is focused on for a quarter also gives you a lot of direction and a launch shouldn't happen all in one day. It can rollout piece by piece over the course of at least a week or even a month.

How do you and the PMM team communicate updates and progress on your product launch to the rest of the org? What is the format? What do you report back on? Etc.

There are a number of ways we keep everyone up to date on the progress during a launch. Luckily at HubSpot we also have project managers to help us. I’ll say it, I’m not a good project manager. It’s another level of organization that I was just not born with. These people really help during this process, bless their meticulously organized souls.

We usually have a bi-weekly or weekly meeting as we run up to a launch with everyone who is part of the DARCI model. The key stakeholders. This is a series of updates and conversations about blockers.

During that meeting we usually run through some sort of doc, a BFS (big frickin spreadsheet). This sheet includes a timeline and is managed by the project manager but everyone is required to give updates. It includes a simplified red, yellow, green, view for leadership.

Slack: Open slack channels where we can @here big updates, share news, and have discussions is extremely useful.

The product marketers job typically revolves around positioning a product. Sometimes, it can be difficult to align sales, marketing, and product teams around your positioning. What do you use or do to get people to buy into your positioning plans and consistently using them? Thanks!

Product marketing is often defined as the people who position the products, but I think it's as equally important (especially as you grow bigger) that Product Marketing is also the most cross functional role in marketing. Creating alignment, securing buy-in, and building momentum around a launch is just as important (if not more) as any positioning work you've done. After all, what good is a great narrative if no-one put it to use? If you want to ace this there are two things you need to do really well.

1) Leadership buy-in - You need product and marketing and sales leadership to be pretty aligned and give the project the top down support it needs. The best way to do this is to build some sort of prioritization device, that helps select the one or two biggest priorities a quarter.

2) A great roadshow. I love to build a strong narrative and get in front of people and pitching it. The key to getting buy in is usually sharing lots of information and the resources other teams need to execute easy. It also helps if you get them really excited about the launch. I do this by building and perfecting my pitch deck and then going to team meetings across marketing and sales.

What are the most important parts of product positioning? How do you get the rest of the company aligned on positioning?

Going to cop out on this one a little bit (all the parts are important!) and just tell you how we do it at HubSpot. There are many ways to slice it but our approach has worked really well for us.

We always start with the change in the world. How people are different today, where they are headed and why. This is a great set up and will quickly give your positioning context and root it in a specific market and audience.

We then talk about how businesses (or whoever your persona is) has to adapt to those changes. This should establish some very serious stakes and not be related to your product at all. Higher level strategy about what the ideal way to approach it is.

From there we talk about how hard it is to do this, the tools you’d need, the strategy you’d need, and anything else that shows it’s very hard.

At that point we’re really well set up to introduce our product and solution.

If I had to pick one thing I love right now, it’d be a single page mock story. A narrative driven doc that walks the reader through the above, but through the lens of an actual (made up) person. Those docs are fun to read, communicate all the important bits, and get people excited (which translates to buy-in).

What stage in the product lifecycle is best for a product launch? What effort would you put into launching a product that is still very much an MVP?

This is such a great question!

At some point every PMM will find themselves in a situation when they are asked to launch a product that just isn’t ready. It’s always a mistake to go too early (launching too late isn’t good either but less dangerous).

If it’s truly an MVP and you launch it with the expectation it isn’t people will be disappointed. I think it’s possible to change the narrative around your product but why take the risk? A launch should be a celebration and underwhelming people at the jump isn’t going to get you anywhere. People usually understand a new product won’t be 100% built out, but it should fulfill the core promise you make if your messaging. 

The best thing we’ve done here to help make this easy (because product and leadership WILL ask you to do this even though it’s a bad idea) is to document launches that went to early and why that was bad. And to have some sort of SLA with product, like you can’t enter beta until at least 10 real customers are using the tool, and you can’t launch a product until your NPS hits a certain number. Those rules will save you from launching a product too early and disappointing your audience.

How does product marketing integrate with the PM team? Who decides what features to focus on in each launch? What documentation is provided to PMMs to help in crafting messaging?

At HubSpot our PMMs are aligned by product line and are aligned to a Product Director and GM, although we still meet regularly with our individual PMs.

I think in general we try and tell a higher level story that doesn't really focus too much on any one feature but often certain features are very marketable. This is primarily the PMM's job to call out. To make it known that they are very excited about a certain feature and blow it up in the marketing launch. I think my product managers really appreciate that and are generally always very supportive. 

A product marketer jobs starts way before the product launch. However, it is a difficult situation when the product launch is delayed from eng side. How do we approach the launch plan that was pre-decided? What changes in approaches would you recommend

I know this pain! 

Part of working at a product driven company is that this will happen and it's ok. The health of the product should come first and that will disrupt marketing plans from time to time. Stick it out. Don't stop doing product launches just because the timelines didn't work out a few times. 

Other things you can do (which we have done) are seperate the marketing launch timeline form the product launch timeline a bit. Maybe the product goes into open beta a month before the launch starts. People won't really notice and it gives you a huge buffer to work with. 

Also, maybe you do the launch, PR goes out and ad spend starts, but other launch material goes out later that month as it's ready. There is value doing as much as you can in one day / week - but spacing it out often helps things breathe and gives you flexibility. 

What’s one piece of tactical advice and one piece of strategic advice for a small company (2 person marketing team) that’s doing a product launch and company rebrand at the same time?

Strategic advice: Is it a good idea to do them at the same time? You could separate them and stretch out the pop you’d get from each. Also, can you tie them together? For many companies their brand story is tightly aligned to their product story, this is especially true for product driven companies. Which in my opinion are the type of companies that built to win in the future.

Tactical advice: Do some sort of event for the rebrand. Such a good opportunity to bring people together who you care about and build some momentum with your advocates around your new name and identity.

Hope that helps! 

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This AMA originally appeared on Sharebird. - the place to see how people at top companies do product marketing.

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