As an agency working with a cross-section of clients, we get exposure to a vast array of organisations, team structures and politics, successes and failures. Whilst no two organisations are the same, there is a trend for companies to struggle reconciling the goals and outputs of product teams and marketing teams.
The product team is trying to create a product that customers will love, and the marketing team is trying to find these customers and convince them to spend some money giving it a try.
If you have a great message but the product doesn’t support it, customers won’t return. Equally If you have a great product but your messaging isn’t compelling, customers won’t know it because they won’t attempt to find out.
This challenge can create anything from mild friction to full-tilt dysfunction.
Looking back to a simpler time...
Traditionally, marketing teams have driven the business decisions required to launch and promote products. One example of this more old-school approach sprung to mind following an episode of The Apprentice.
Arguably, Amstrad's products throughout the 80s and 90s were fairly thin in technological innovation. To their credit however, Amstrad were “bloody good at sellin’”.
The undoubted yin to Amstrad's marketing yang were Sinclair, a (self-proclaimed) product-focused company; interested in all sorts from wearable technology to electric vehicles. Oh, how we guffawed at such needless innovation!
Whilst riding high on novel and affordable offerings, Sinclair's biggest blow came about when Amstrad produced a more competitively positioned and business orientated rival to the Sinclair Spectrum computer. Whilst Amstrad's products were, to use one of Sir Clive’s favoured adjectives - inelegant - Amstrad's marketing was forceful and their price-point competitive.
Moving beyond the Microcomputer revolution of the 80s, the battleground of the 90s proved to be satellite television.
Again, Amstrad - through sheer marketing force - dominated. And again, technological innovation from their side was minimal at best. However, their key differentiator, according to Sugar’s autobiography, was in it’s pragmatic and low-cost manufacturing. This centered around their “dustbin lid” satellite dishes. It’s worth noting here that the reference to dustbin lid dishes goes beyond aesthetics alone. So the story goes, after being quoted well above £70 for production of the dish, Amstrad sought out a manufacturer of dustbin lids. With negligible modifications the dishes were produced for less than £1.
To reflect on that for a moment… In the not too distant past, brute-force marketing convinced an entire UK population to proudly hang a white-painted dustbin lid from the side of their home.
Fast forward to 2021...
Today’s consumers are infinitely more savvy. Product diversification by way of multi-channel offerings mean that product launches extend beyond the marketing team alone. We also have greater expectations from the companies we like to associate ourselves with. Technologically empowered, product-led, lifestyle and fashion brands have altered the business landscape enormously.
This is not to suggest that marketing is any less relevant, it’s now just more nuanced as it’s interwoven with the product and overall brand experience. Technology products in particular provide experiences across multiple touch points that are supported by a rich service design component. Not only this, consumers buy based on a number of factors; whether its by recommendation, how it makes them feel, the user experience, how fashionable ownership might be to them, and much more besides.
A recent client project demonstrated this to us first hand. As our client’s well-established business is built around a key product, their task appeared simple - maintain product relevance, market it.
However, the internal product team had other ideas and they engaged us to help them deliver a new, innovative vision. Our engagement therefore involved deeply researching the product space and analysing consumer needs and trends beyond their own domain. This was with the aim of uncovering how tools, apps and services could be developed around the core product to disrupt the market before others did.
In short, our client knew it was time to move away from a sell-sell-sell mentality and towards building an engaged customer base. This meant giving consumers a meaningful experience, build its own audience through targeted advocacy and establish a long-term customer relationship.
So then, a natural “Marketing vs. Product” tension formed. Where previously it had been the marketing team leading the product by way of their own market understanding, the product team was now leading on product differentiation and market disruption. And they weren’t going to stand still either. Almost a year later and they’re still building their understanding of customer needs and shaping the product and service offerings to meet them. Herein lies the problem; in order to survive in today’s disrupter-filled landscape, products need to evolve so quickly there’s a natural desire for product teams to lead rather than be led.
Removing the “versus”
In truth, there should never be a “versus” between these marketing, product or any other discipline. Nor should they exist in silos and simply be encouraged to collaborate and get things done. In reality, these disciplines should be one and the same. One team, one goal. And that goal should be an unrelenting focus on meeting (and surpassing) your customer’s needs and expectations.
To deliver the best possible outcomes, a singularly focused multidisciplinary team needs to support and nurture expertise and granular specialisms. Collaboration amongst specialisms is vital, but it should extend beyond regular communication and transparency. The organisational structure should be such that each hyper-focused specialist pulls in the same direction and all with equal force. They should have the same reporting lines and collaborate because of a natural symmetry in their goals, not an imposed directive by the C-suite.
In a future article, we’ll directly address how to define your company’s customer-centric objectives, align multidisciplinary specialisms to these objectives, and develop a framework for company-wide innovation.
Whilst a unified purpose may sound idealistic to some, if your company has an unwavering goal of satisfying its consumers it not only becomes entirely feasible, it is - as no doubt Sinclair and Amstrad will attest to - an absolute necessity to stay relevant in the 2020’s.