Monday, June 20, 2011

On Working With Marketing

Working with marketing is one of the more interesting parts of my job. It turns out that most marketer don't think anything like me. Their ideas, thought processes, and working styles are pretty much nothing like mine. That's actually really educational - I get insight into entirely new ways to look at the product and even the company.

I'm sometimes surprised at something I think is pretty irrelevant, and that they think is a great product attribute that is a huge differentiator. Or this thing that we worked on for ages and they say, "well, yes, the product needs that, but you can't go making a big deal of it because it's just not interesting except that if you don't have it then that's bad. Having it is not interesting. Not having it is a real problem." It's a great different viewpoint.


We have to work together, which means we have to find a way to communicate effectively. Now, I'm an engineer. I'm used to communicating with other engineers, and we're generally able to be fairly precise about our requirements. We can say, "create this feature, and be sure you use a singleton for that bit of it because it'll be used in this scenario." We speak the same language.

When I'm working with marketing, we speak less of the same language. I speak some marketing, and they speak some engineering, but the alignment isn't quite as close. I need to do some translation and some more active communication to make sure that I'm getting marketing what they need.

For example, I recently got a request from marketing that they want to do a press release to show some "even more impressive performance". The good news is, we can do that. We've increased performance in several dimensions since the last "we're fast" press release went out. But we're not done communicating yet. I don't yet know what marketing needs.

So I ask: Tell me your headline.

I'm trying to figure out what I need to provide. Does marketing need the biggest single number I can provide? Do they need a chart (up and to the right is a theme of these)? Do they need to show a number that directly addresses a competitor's numbers in a particular configuration? It could be any one of these. By asking what marketing wants to use as a headline, I'll understand which number they're looking for.

If they say, "Solution is 10X faster!" then I know they want a single big number.
If they say, "Blows [Competitor] out of the water!" then I'll figure out which configuration and get that (or tell them that they need to rethink that press release).
If they say, "Now scales better than before!" then we probably need a graph.

How you work effectively with marketing depends on you and depends on your marketing team. Working from the conclusion - the headline - is one way to help ensure that you're getting information they need, and not providing the wrong thing or wasting your time gathering data that isn't helpful.

So ask.... "what's your headline?"

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