“Everything I Really Need to Know About Product Marketing I Learned in Elementary School”

Dr. Stuart Payne is Principal of Northwood Elementary School, a National Blue-Ribbon School and California Distinguished School in Irvine, California. I am also proud to call Stuart Payne my brother-in-law. ūüėÉ

I was already impressed with the work of Stuart and his staff, and was even more so after reading his Principal’s Message in a recent issue of Northwood Elementary’s parents newsletter, which summarized the goals he and his teaching staff set for the school year:

At the beginning of this year, our dedicated staff set…three goals for ourselves: (1) Rigor, (2) Differentiation, and (3) Progress Monitoring.

These succinct¬†goals no doubt rang true for Northwood Elementary parents.¬†¬† In fact, they rang quite true for me in my world of product marketing.¬† Let’s look at each one more closely:

Photo by courosa (Flickr CC)

Rigor.¬† Stuart Payne writes: “Through rigor, we endeavor to make sure that every child is challenged in a developmentally appropriate manner.”¬† This vital educational goal can be easily adapted to product marketing/product management terms: We must challenge ourselves to really understand our products and our markets, and convey our value in a compelling manner that our target markets will understand and be motivated to learn more.¬† I am reminded of a good blog post by Dave Kellogg on applying (rigorous) critical thinking¬†for effective product positioning (I elaborate on¬†Dave Kellogg’s post here, btw).

One sidenote:¬†Stuart Payne also wrote: “(R)esearch indicates…that when the work is too difficult, (students) become frustrated.”¬†¬†This reminded me of a classic blog post by Kathy Sierra: Do your customers feel a similar¬†sense of frustration trying to understand and/or use our products?¬† Why?¬† How can this be corrected (and fast)?

Differentiation.  Of course, as a product marketer, product differentiation is critical.  However, Northwood Elementary is referring to differentiation as in the non-standardization of classroom instruction:

By designing differentiated lessons that meet the needs of our students varying ability levels, we ensure success for all  (emphasis added).

So let’s look at “differentiation” in a similar way for marketing: The “standardization” of marketing and PR is long gone, as David Meerman Scott and others have already made quite clear.¬† That said, what different means, what different avenues should we share our product messaging? The book¬†Content Rules by Ann Handley and CC Chapman addresses this very topic.

In a nutshell, Content Rules is a how-to guide to differentiate your product messaging in video, podcasts, webinars, blogs, ebooks. Doing so enables us to connect with prospects in the mediums of their choice, in which we convey in informative, compelling ways what our products are and why they are essential.

Progress Monitoring.  Stuart Payne explains:

Progress monitoring is the way in which we gauge the effectiveness of our instruction and the way in which we measure students’ progress toward their learning goals (Emphasis added). During our Response to Instruction (RTI) block, for example, we are able to target instruction in a way that aligns with each child’s reading ability.

Similarly, how do you know if your marketing programs are any good? I’ve always defined success of¬†my product positioning, messaging¬†and marketing content is its capacity to¬†yield qualified leads and ultimately translate into revenue.¬† True enough, but just counting up “leads” is insufficient. Ardath Albee, in her¬†excellent book eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale, connects the dots between marketing and revenue with content marketing:

Building online engagement…depends on your ability to develop compelling content…’Engagement bling’ is what I call the positive results your company gains from sustaining trusted engagement with prospects and customers throughout their buying journeys…

The goal of marketing in a complex sale is to generate qualified demand that efficiently transitions to revenues.  And if you want to increase the level of demand for your solutions, it is critical that you enrich the relationships your company establishes with prospects and customers.  Marketing with contagious content operates like a pay-it forward system for your company.  This is because the value your content provides transfers to the value your prospects and customers ascribe to your company (p. 14 & 16 Рemphasis added).

Ann Handley and CC Chapman elaborate further in Content Rules:

(A)ccording to Forrester Research, “Long sales cycles and complex purchase decision-making challenge B2B marketers to find the most qualified prospects and to build relationships long before the first sales call.”¬†As a result, you need to embrace a new mind-set – one focused not just on generating leads but on developing a [content] strategy to keep prospects engaged until they’re good and ready to talk to your sales reps. (p. 25)

In other words, the old¬†metaphor of the marketing department “throwing leads over the wall” should be replaced by a metaphor of marketers throwing an entertaining, informative¬†party that prospective customers want to stay at and meet all your friends… who happen to work in the sales department!

There’s plenty more to write about on this topic, but it’s important to note that¬†Northwood Elementary¬†is taking an innovative¬†approach in how student progress is being measured (its Response to Instruction block noted above, as opposed to, say,¬†grades – a flawed, lagging indicator).¬† Similarly,¬†marketing programs should be judged not just on a flawed measure such as the number¬†of “leads” who, for example,¬†opened¬†an email link, but based on the quality and duration of the engagement of prospects to “keep them at the party.”

The staff goals of Northwood Elementary to engage and help their students succeed bear close similarities with the goals of effective marketers, working to engage and help their prospects succeed with your products. Class dismissed!

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Be a Dogged (Not Dog!) Product Marketer/Product Manager

Play the Product Marketing Game Like a Chess Grandmaster

‚ÄúMissionary‚ÄĚ Technology Really Requires a Technology¬†Evangelist

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