In the classic hit “How soon is now” released back in 1985, Morrissey from the English band The Smiths lamented “I am human, and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does.” A feeling shared by customers when products are developed in a vacuum and thrust onto an unsuspecting world. Dennis Shiao suggests the remedy is the timing of when marketing gets involved. When? How soon is now?

A simple view of the product development process goes like this:

  • Product Management writes a Market Requirements Document (MRD) and a Product Requirements Document (PRD).
  • Engineering builds the product, coordinating closely with Product Management.
  • Marketing comes in mid-way through (possibly later) to define the messaging, positioning, and go-to-market plan.

I once was a product manager and recall the thinking: “Marketing? Yeah, that’s great, but let us build the product first and we’ll loop in you at the right time.”

“Marketing? Yeah, that’s great, but let us build the product first and we’ll loop in you at the right time.”

But when exactly is the ‘right’ time? And what if the product development process involved Marketing from the start? In this post, I’ll highlight a few ways to involve Marketing earlier when building new products.

The press release exercise

Marketing, whether it’s corporate communications, public relations or product marketing, is responsible for the press release when the product launches, right? So why not have Marketing and Product Management draft up a mock press release right after the PRD is written?

I learned this approach at a presentation hosted by the Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA). If this was a race, we’d be envisioning the finish line before starting to run. In a basketball game, we’d picture ourselves hitting the winning shot as time expires. It’s a great way to envision what we want to tell the world before we start building the product.

And yes, it should be a full-blown press release, complete with customer or partner quotes, CEO or VP quotes (from your company), even quotes from industry analysts. Include quantifiable attributes of the new product (for example ‘80% faster compute time’) and how they’ll help current and future customers.

As the product development process unfolds, refer back to the press release and update it as needed. And guess what? When you’re getting close to actually shipping the product, one of the items on your launch checklist may already be done.

Think it’s too early to loop in Marketing? It’s not

Even if Marketing will have little or no role in the development of the product, involve them early. Share the MRD and PRD and give them the timeline, pointing out key dates. This will give them advanced notice to know when to start:

  • Assembling the product launch plan
  • Working on the positioning and messaging strategy
  • Helping assemble beta users from your customer base
  • Determining whether (and when) to schedule analyst briefings
  • Selecting contacts from your media list to pitch your product launch story
  • Developing the sales enablement plan, including what new content assets need to be created
  • Mapping out the demand generation strategy, including new gated and ungated content assets.

You get the idea. Even if Marketing won’t lift a finger for two months, bring them into the product development circle early. That way, “you never told me the dates” cannot be an excuse from Marketing. Also, your product launch will be the better for it.

When Marketing IS the customer

When I worked at DNN Software, the Product team had plans to introduce content marketing features into the CMS. As Director of Content Marketing, I WAS the target customer of these features. So the VP Product smartly involved me throughout the process, including a review of the PRD.

This sentiment was echoed up through the C-level. At one meeting of Product and Engineering, the CEO said, “This prototype needs to be put in front of Dennis with no prior instructions. We’ll give him a task and watch him attempt it. If he struggles at all, the entire team goes back to the drawing board.”

In addition to testing working code, I was asked for feedback on prototypes that were built in InVision. I navigated a ‘form builder’ flow and was asked to comment on what I was thinking when presented with each menu.

Of course, the Product team looked beyond the four walls of our office to meet with customers, partners and prospects and get their input. But they wisely utilized the close and convenient access to their target customer. ME!

If you’re building products to serve marketers, then definitely leverage your internal marketing teams.

What’s your take?

My role as a Product Manager was short-lived. Since then, I moved on to roles in product marketing and content marketing. Given that I sit in Marketing, it’s not a surprise that I make the case for involving us earlier. I’m interested in hearing from product managers.

What do you think?

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