I’ve seen this situation far too often.
The engineering team and product management decide on what the next revision of the product needs to be or, in a new product introduction case, what the new product will be. The development team goes through its process to define how to build the features or product and starts a large development cycle.
There is always a great deal of interaction between engineering and product management, but, sadly, marketing is left out. I’m not sure why; maybe they feel that marketing won’t “get it.” Instead, the development process winds through the last test phase without any input from the marketing team. When all the critical bugs are fixed the product is released. It is at this point that marketing gets the product information thrown over the wall with the unrealistic expectation that it will create an immediate miracle. And then everyone wonders why the press release, the collateral, the web site, and so forth are so late in coming.
Marketing needs to be involved as early as possible. There is a process that marketing goes through to develop materials for the new product that will resonate with the target market, a process which takes time. But marketing is too often left behind. By the time the next round of updates is released from engineering, marketing has just dealt with the previous set.
As more engineering teams embrace agile development methodologies, marketing has a greater chance of getting involved early. The regular, predictable cadence of iterative agile development makes it ideal for marketing to be part of the overall team that is designing and developing a new release or product. As each iteration is completed, there is a review and demonstration of what was built during the iteration. Marketing can use this opportunity to its advantage in the following ways.
- Groom customers to be references. As soon as features and capabilities are in a demonstrable state, engage the customers that were keen to have the feature in the product. Or, if this is a groundbreaking feature, show it to your top customers. Ask for their feedback – customers respond very well to new features that they can see and interact with. As the feature grows and matures during the development process, keep them engaged. Your chances of ending up with a customer reference at product launch time will greatly increase.
- Create buzz early. As features make their way into the product, start prepping the market for launch. Capture little snippets of someone using the new feature and post the video where your market lives. Create a buzz as the development of the product continues so that customers and non-customers alike will upgrade or buy the new release or product when it becomes available. Engage analysts and experts within your target markets to start blogging about the new capabilities. The idea is to have an overlap between developing the product and creating market awareness. Naturally, be cautious if you are in a highly competitive market and make sure the feature or capability is going to be part of the product when launched.
- Develop the messaging early. As the new release or product takes shape, work on the value it delivers to the market, the messaging that is needed to drive the marcomm engine and the unique selling proposition. Use those customers you engaged early on to help frame the message. Ask them what value they get, what problem it solves for them, or simply why they would use it. Test this message with other customers. Tweak your message. Since marketing has been engaged early, there’s enough time for all these activities to be done properly.
It is very important to view marketing as a member of the development team like quality assurance, product management and others. But it’s also incumbent on the marketing team to force its way into the engineering process. After all, without marketing all you have is a piece of software.