An online marketer’s guide to the full product life cycle

(Originally published in iMediaConnection, July 2011) by Eric Picard

Let me state the obvious — because clearly it’s not so obvious, especially to those of us working in online marketing. Most products and services are designed with a target market in mind. This market could be as broad as those of us with teeth, who hope to keep them healthy into old age, or as specific as 38-year-old women who want white teeth for their 20th high school reunions. The trend for the last few decades has been toward designing products for narrower and narrower markets — and using specific differentiation between target markets to drive sales and profits. And of course, with better targeting available all the time, the ability to hone the product to a specific subset of customers will become ever more possible.

The best companies use a combination of personas and scenarios to ensure that they are nailing the product requirements early in the design phase. These scenarios (sometimes also called use cases) are pushed into the hands of eagerly waiting marketers, who in turn get the product put into a strong series of marketing messages (and even the actual creative) that tie to specific target customers (the personas). The personas for which the product and marketing teams have developed their products ideally make up the basis of a media plan.

I’m frequently shocked at how few of the basics are used in the development of media plans for online marketing. And I’m frequently shocked at how products are released with marketing messages and targeting that don’t match. In many cases, the creative for online is either just completely different than the offline creative, or it has been so incredibly simplified for online that none of the powerful messaging from other media actually make it through.

So I thought I’d write a short primer for online marketers so that they understand the whole product life cycle and how they should be plugging into it. In advance, I’ll warn you that there are numerous methodologies here, and almost every company does this just a bit differently. So I’ll just push forward a simplified version of a typical process, and you should be able to apply the concepts as you stumble across them. And of course, if any companies you’re working with don’t use some variant of what I’m describing, you should be a bit concerned.

Product planning
In a perfect world — where there are plenty of resources, time, and money to properly plan a product — the model goes something like this:

Three to six months of market research are commissioned, funded, and executed to ensure understanding of the market demand for the product in question. This process begins with a series of ideas and invention, combined (at least for existing products and services) with feedback from existing customers, and is turned into a strategic plan for what product will be built.

In this process, the target personas for the customers to whom the product is designed to appeal are created. Ideally some market sizing is done to determine what the financial opportunity for all companies running after similar products and services might be — and what the specific opportunity for the product in question might be. Simultaneously, work typically is done to determine what scenarios will be supported in order to bring clarity to all members of the product team, from research to development to marketing to sales.

Example persona: Wealthy, highly educated, sophisticated urban empty nesters — Brad (64) and Sandra (62)

Example product: Online banking services for wealthy clients with multiple homes

Example scenario: Brad and Sandra live in New York City during the spring and fall, in Martha’s Vineyard during the summer, and in Killington, Vt., during the winter. They need a way to ensure that all their bills are paid on-time for all their properties, all year round, even when they are rarely there. This service creates a very clear portfolio of all their properties, and all their expenses, such that bills can be easily assigned to a property, tracked, and managed in a clear automated way.

Product planning is really the process of defining the opportunity at a broad level, and ultimately answers the question of why a product or service should be rolled out. The more discipline, time, and effort put into effective product planning, the easier the job of all the subsequent teams engaged in the process.

Product management
Once the product has been planned and approved, it’s time to build it. In this case, we’re talking about a software development project that will be rolled out via a website and a variety of apps across PC, phone, and tablets. The process entails defining the specific features, creating the project plan, working with the product development teams to ensure the correct product decisions are made, coordinating internal communications, and development of the appropriate key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the product’s success in the market.

In most companies, the product management team is really the “product owner” and makes all the decisions and prioritizations of features of that product. Essentially, the team defines what will be built, leaving the how to product development. In some companies the what is shared between the product management and product development teams.

The key to strong product management is always being customer driven — which means creating very powerful and accurate personas and scenarios that always drive the “true north” of what is being built. This process should become the basis of what is handed off to the sales and marketing teams in order to drive the go-to-market strategy and sales positioning.

Product marketing
Product marketing is typically one of the most important teams, leading one of the most important efforts — but frequently this discipline is under-funded and under-resourced. In an appropriately resourced product marketing effort, key partners and customers are engaged in deep ongoing conversations. Ideally, the personas and scenarios that were created during the product planning effort received vast input from the product marketing teams. The go-to-market strategy for how that product will be launched, including all the marketing and training materials used by sales and customer services within the company, is managed by this team, which also feeds the key marketing positioning to the marketing communications teams.

If the product marketing team does its job correctly, the corporate marketing and sales efforts will be successful. Product marketing ultimately owns the decisions related to where and when the product will be rolled out (with huge dependencies on all the other teams).

Marketing communications
Given the intended audience reading this article, I won’t spend a lot of time here — as this is either you or your direct customer. However, a few key points are worth spending time on:

If the correct personas were created, the media strategy and even the core media plan should come together like a breeze. If the correct scenarios were chosen and executed against correctly by product management and product development, then the creative of the advertising should be quite easy to conceive and execute. In a perfect world, there is a direct feed from inception to creation to getting that product or service in front of prospective customers — and converting them to active customers.

There are, of course, many other teams involved any business, and all play critical roles at varying moments of the product lifecycle. Hopefully this rather nuts-and-bolts summary of the overall process will help those of you who have grown up attached to this mechanism either internally or externally, but who haven’t had full exposure to the processes and roles.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: