The Product You Deliver Will Change – Agile Marketing Principle #2

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Build your marketing plan so that the “Oh that changed” moment doesn’t derail you – Agile Marketing Principle #2

Have you ever started a project assuming that the end product you were delivering would look exactly like the original specification? Yep, everyone’s done that once (or twice) and then realized that the process of product development lends itself to greater certainty the closer you get to the delivery date – and not before. It would be great if agile development always delivered the results of the original team’s vision. The second principle of Agile Marketing is to build your marketing plan with the knowledge and expectation that your product deliverables will change – and to not let the “oh s$%^t” moment prevent you from being successful in communicating and delivering value.

The Product Process: Capturing Rainbows and Unicorns

It’s easy to think that the first (or even second) iteration of a project will somehow emerge, full-formed and testable, feature-complete and pixel perfect, at the time that development teams, product managers, and marketers agree. And this turns out to be about as easy as procuring unicorn hairs or gathering gold at the end of a rainbow – because the real product that gets delivered is a product of the process, the people, (and the users, if they are lucky enough to use the product during this process.) in the digital world, where the prototypes are usually built in someone’s head or delivered as sketches rather than physical products, the gap can be bigger and unexpected. What’s a marketer to do to mitigate this product shift?

Products provide solutions to customer needs – sell those needs

Any product worth its salt provides a tangible solution for an unmet customer need. Dropbox solved the problem of being able to share files across desktops. Stubhub allowed customers to sporting events and concerts to buy tickets more efficiently on the secondary market, and for season ticket holders to sell their unwanted inventory. Twitter gave people a mouthpiece to speak to the entire world (albeit in very small 140 character bursts. And all of these products didn’t end up exactly as their creators expected originally. Selling the customer’s need (resolve an immediate work process pain; access unwanted and “secret” inventory; and share news with the world) gave the marketers of these products a broader brush to sell the idea until the product caught up.

Focus on the activity that will address those needs

Simply selling an idea falls flat if there is no specific activity that delivers on the promise of the idea the product is selling. In the previous Agile Marketing post on delivering what people need, we talked about an end-user benefit – the specific thing the customer will get by using your product – and how critical it is to selling the habitual use of your product. Your marketing plan needs to focus on the activity that addresses the customer’s needs, and educate the customer directly on that benefit.

Build the marketing campaign off of the “Paper Prototype”

What’s it going to look like? During the design process, you should have built a “paper prototype” – or some sort of approximation of the eventual functionality, user experience, and feedback the user receives when using your product.  This prototype gives you a design idea (what you’re selling), the end-user benefit (why the user wants to use this product and the motivation for continuing to use it) and the user experience (what they will do and how they will feel while using it.) These are all emotional reactions that you can harness in your marketing plan that won’t change even if the product experience is a bit different than that original paper prototype.

Put in place a good feedback process to understand where you missed

Except that sometimes, the product does change in a way that’s contrary to your original marketing plan (even if it’s agile.) So part of your marketing process needs to be intelligence gathering that can foster a continuous improvement process matching how the customer feels about the end-user benefit you’re selling, and how well your product lives up to that promise. Agile marketing responds to this uncertainty by focusing both on the deliverable and on the problem solved by the deliverable, leaving “wiggle room” if the team slips or weird things happen and opportunity to expand if everything goes perfectly. If you talk about a specific feature that you will deliver, you’re in trouble if you don’t ship – if you talk about solutions to a customer problem, you have more room to adapt.

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