Andrew Stinger

Andrew StingerShare

Head Of Marketing, Universe
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Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

Yes!

Persona-based messaging

Before I joined Coda, the team already had a set of personas derived from shared observations about who uses different kinds of technology within a team, and how they use itーand with what expectations of the technology. Since then, my amazing colleague Elaine has expanded our set of personas to guide things like shared product & story ideation in support of our enterprise offering. You can see the fruits of that labor at coda.io/enterprise, which I’m hopeful you’ll find feels very “Coda” in look, feel & tone, but directly speaks to the topics that are top of mind for an Enterprise buyer.

Prior to my time at Coda, I was privileged to collaborate with colleagues across partnerships and research to guide personas and principles for our products and outreach strategies on the Instagram Creator & Media marketing team. While Instagram is viewed primarily as a consumer app, there are three distinct audiences (personas) on the platform: 

  1. Consumers who “tune in” to the app, 
  2. Creators who “produce” the content consumers view, and
  3. Businesses who engage with those audiences in a number of waysーfrom ads, sponsorships and their own organic engagement. 
  4. This is a fairly common 3-sided participation marketplace for any content platform. 

A single person using Instagram might identify as any combination of the three audiences, but they tend to bias primarily towards one of them. Which is why within each audience, there are a number of additional dimensions and personas. The more you scale your reach, the more opportunity you have to build out increasingly precise personas. And the more help you’ll want to recruit from your talented colleagues in learning about them, documenting them, empowering them with product, and reaching them with messages!

Format

In terms of format, I've seen many successful approaches at different organizations, and candidly don’t have one that I’d recommend above the others. It depends on the type of market you’re playing in, the capabilities of your team, the stage of your businesses, and the goals you have in developing personas.

Distribution & Buy-in

Getting buy-in and distribution can also vary wildly, but there are a few best practices that have helped me wherever I’ve done this work:

Socialize your intention to build a persona program early and often! Especially in a start-up environment where you have to make tradeoffs with your time every day, help your colleagues and leaders in other departments understand why this work is important, how you plan to use it, and how it helps them and their teams. This should at least make sure you have the buy-in to carve out time for this work, but you might even get some volunteers to share the work!

Set and share a research agenda. Make sure your personas aren’t built on instincts, but on insights. Conduct surveys and interviews. Collect as many dimensions of identity as possible (geographic, firmagraphic, demographic, etc.) but be sure to store your info in a way that it is secure and anonymized before sharing your synthesis.

You might have to demonstrate the first “win.” It’s great if you have a killer write-up or presentation. But other teams are likely mid-flight in their own work, and probably won’t halt their world on its axis to shift course based on your personas. Instead, leverage them for a quick winーa small outreach campaign, a lightweight virtual event, a weeklong social media series, etc.ーand report out on the win as loudly as possible. People will want some of that secret sauce when they hear how delicious it is!

Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

Two-part question? Two-part answer :)

Messaging Processes & Consensus

The type of messaging we do varies depending on whether we’re looking at our entire product, a feature or set of features, or a campaign or sales motion.

In most cases, we’re likely to draft up a mini-brief to make sure we have strategic alignment. You can find an example mini-brief template in my PMM Hub template .

For net new products, or those that shift the paradigm of our product, we likely need to allocate time to naming. My impossibly talented colleague Laura, who leads our brand team, has codified her process in this Namestorming doc , which you can copy and use.

Both of these help drive alignment, but when it comes to overall consensus for naming and messaging, we’re likely to dedicate some time in a “Catalyst” meeting at Coda to drive decisions. It’s common for these meetings to have a pre-read, which includes an opportunity to log sentiment and questions, and to vote on questions or feedback ahead of time so that we can focus on the top issues/concerns.

Driving consensus requires a company-wide set of guiding principles and governance for decision-making. The way you confirm messaging decisions shouldn’t look wildly different from how you confirm product, budget, headcount, etc. decisions.

You can see how we put our principles into practice in the Coda Meeting Starter Kit. 

A/B Testing & Alternatives

Never underestimate the power of talking to your customers, community and colleagues.

While A/B testing might be costly, the only cost to sitting in on customer calls is your time. If you have 2-3 options for how you want to frame an upcoming product or feature release, jump on a few calls and try describing the upcoming feature with a different option each call. Take notes on the types of questions you get, the level of excitement, etc.

We’re fortunate to have a pretty vibrant community on community.coda.io, where we’ve announced a few betas this year for bigger product updates like infinitely nested pages, forms, and attachments. The volume and content of responses to invitations to participate in betas help to identify key value props and resonant language, and your beta participants can also be engaged as customers in the above example.

While your colleagues might have some biases (they’re likely power users of your product!), it’s still helpful to poll them if you have some options. At Coda, we pretty frequently use a voting table and/or sentiment tracker to get feedback at scale on proposed messages, campaign strategies, feature sequencing, problems to solve, and more.

While none of these provide the objective, data-driven insights as a well-articulated A/B test, they can help point you in the right direction so that any tests you do conduct are a good use of resources.

Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

A few options we’ve employed recently:

Data-based indicators

  • A/B testing marketing email subject lines, and evaluating click-to-open rates
  • Running multiple variants of ad copy and evaluating CTR & conversion rate
  • Making three variants of a landing page (usually a published Coda doc), then (1.) supporting with paid ad spend to evaluate against ads metrics, as well as (2.) measuring SEO scores in AHRefs
  • Running experiments on our site with language and/or design updates

Qualitative indicators

  • Social media feedbackーwe’re still hearing about our Enough of this Sheet campaign nearly a year later, which is a strong indicator that this message still resonates
  • Phrases used/sentiments shared with our support team via email (usually sorted by topic tagging)
  • Search queries in our Doc Gallery
  • Talk to (and listen, listen, listen to!) your customers; get on sales calls and take furious notes
  • Good ol’ fashioned user surveys

Coding free response data or reviewing a bunch of raw text can be a bit of a slog, so I often maintain a table in Coda that I can visualize as a word cloud to give me a jumping off point for deeper exploration and categorization.

Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

Yes!

At Coda, I’m very lucky to have a wildly talented Brand Team that supports our company, and privileged to have worked on 100+ customer-facing feature launches in 2020. (Seriously. Over 100. Because Coda runs on Coda, our product team ships incredibly. You can count all the launches here if you don't believe me!)

Your overall product messaging should serve as an umbrella covering all of your individual feature messaging. Top-line product messaging is going to play a role in generating evergreen assets and long-term marketing strategy. As such, we set out to have core product messaging for Coda and its primarily building blocks like pages, tables, buttons, Packs etc. that can stand the test of time. As part of our recurring “marketing infrastructure” work, we meet across Product Marketing, Brand, Education & Solutions at a regular cadence to audit and fine tune this messaging, but for the most part make small tweaks vs. large-scale changes.

The product messaging then serves as a set of guiding principles for our feature messaging. For example, the way we talk about pages and frameworks we use should match features that apply toーor are experienced withinーpages in Coda. With new features launching every week, we can’t always dedicate the longer message-generation cycles with a cross-functional team for each feature launch, so the initial messaging (especially in the feature brief) is likely the product of a few quicker drafting sessions by PMM + PM. For higher tier launches, we loop in our colleagues from other teams to fine tune the message or help craft a smoother story.

The moral of the story here is to understand the hierarchy of your messaging (and value props!), and support it with a mechanism of tiering/prioritization if you’re going to be taking a lot of features to market in short order.

Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

Above all, meet your company where it is. If you’re a small team just getting started, you’re likely going to have nail a brand identity and core message, and then be flexible as you evolve from there. If you’re part of a 500 person marketing team, you’re going to navigate some different challenges related to step-wise refinement of your messaging.

A few tried & true rules here:

  1. Define & Know your Core Nouns 
  2. Assign them value props and core messages of 25, 50, and 100 words
  3. Establish clear ownership for #1 & #2, and make a company ritual around reviewing and adopting nouns and messages

To faithfully complete #1 - #3 at Coda, a team across marketing and sales met to first propose what our list of nouns were, and which were most core to the product. We shared this framing with the company to get resounding buy-in.

From there, we met at regular intervals to propose definitions, sample usage, and revisions to build out company dictionary. We continue to meet to tweak language, propose new nouns, and/or retire old nouns that were driving confusion.

This makes sure we have the ingredients we need to spin up new messages quickly and consistently, since a shared vocabulary should help to articulate your product and company’s past, present, and future.

In terms of campaign lifespans and giving them time to breathe, grow and be iterated upon, it’s helpful to present campaigns or launches in phases before your go-live date. What tactics will you employ on Day 1? What are the intervals at which you’ll stop to evaluate and iterate? What drumbeats do you plan to hit in the weeks/months after the campaign initializes? What do those drumbeats do to sustain momentum or even cultivate additional momentum? Do you need any assets or resources beyond launch day to hit those drumbeats (tip: the answer is yes . . . or conversely, if you never ask for those resources, the answer is always ‘no’)

Documenting & proposing phases upfront helps secure internal trust and buy-in, and gives you an artifact to go back to should you feel you are being pressed to move on from a campaign too soon. If it’s not written down, it’s not a plan.

Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

Anything from my friends at PMA, hands down. They have a great certification program, and they also offer one-off sessions.

Their Narrative Design Masterclass is coming soon!
https://productmarketingalliance.com/narrative-design-masterclass/

They've also got a great Slack community where Product Marketers can share tips & tricks, and ask each other questions, get gut checks on strategy, etc.

Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

In 2020, there has been major interest in workplace productivity software. Competition begets innovation, so it’s great that users have more choices than ever. Our role is to help potential users understand what Coda can offer in a sea of possibilities.

Some of our guiding principles for competitive messaging are:

Benefits & Value > Solution > Features > Jargon
This means we always strive to show the value & benefits of our solution, instead of getting bogged down in the kind of industry jargon that is all-too-common in bakeoffs.

Show, don’t tell (but let others tell the good news as much as they want)
Our Doc Gallery has thousands of examples of how people are using Coda to run their businesses, facilitate meaningful changes in their lives, or just have fun. We let that stand alongside social proof and advocacy from clients and makers without invoking direct comparison.

Honesty is the only policy
In our Doc Gallery, you’ll likely find some docs comparing Coda to other products. We strive to acknowledge where we don’t provide the same solution as other tools. But we also don’t shy away from when we have features and utility that you won’t find on other platforms.

One example of how this came together is our friend & advocate Ben Parker’s “Notion User’s Guide to Coda.” Ben published this doc alongside the launch of our Notion importer. We checked in with him along the way to make sure we were honest about where certain paradigms in a named competitor can’t be repeated in Coda, and to identify how to translate other patterns in Coda. We’ve heard from fans of both products that it’s quite fair and candid, and that it was helpful for those that were newer to Coda.

In doing so, we believe we provided (1.) value, by (2.) showing (3.) honest comparisons between tools.

Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

No. But I do think their value changes over the lifecycle of a product and company, and the narrative should be re-evaluated at regular intervals. It’s one thing to have a hypothesis and convicted story that gets you to an MVP, but once you have real users giving real feedback in a real marketplace, you likely need to make sure you’re not clinging to an originating narrative at the expense of opportunities in your new context. 


In “Crossing the Chasm” terms, once you’ve secured your beachhead, it’s probably time to see if elements of your strategic narrative need to evolve since you’ve likely made some tradeoffs or entered a market with dynamics that are subject to change.

I think that’s where Eigenquestions (as described my colleagues Shishir & Matt ) go a long way towards making sure everyone at a company is framing the right questions in the right manner, so that the right products and supporting narratives can be built and re-articulated on parallel tracks as needed.

Candidly, this is a personal opinion based on only a handful of experiences. I’m sure there’s quite a bit of room for debate on this one, and I’d encourage you to ask this question oftenーof others and your own teamーand to let me know what you think!

Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

You can find my thoughts on that in response to this question: https://sharebird.com/whats-the-best-way-to-ensure-that-messaging-evolves-at-the-pace-of-the-company-while-still-maintaining-some-consistency-should-i-give-up-any-hope-of-running-a-campaign-that-lives-more-than-a-few-weeks?answer=aWNAKGMxgy

tl;dr - It depends on the "level" of the message, lifecycle stage of your company, and team priorities. Messages need some time to breath and resonate, but it's never a bad idea to thoughtfully consider (and re-consider . . .) your messages.

Andrew Stinger
Andrew Stinger
Head Of Marketing, UniverseDecember 17

If things are going right, these should almost feel one-in-the-same: The product direction reinforces the story and brand promise, and the brand messages easily and thoroughly communicate the value of the product.

But, this isn’t always the case, as timelines, teams and strategic visions shift. And that’s okay! Especially at nimble, early companies! If one or the other falls out of alignment, just be sure you make the time cross-functionally to identify and discuss why, re-articulate whichever strategy needs some changes, and make some commitments (ideally with a time bound ー e.g., we’ll make these changes and aim to keep them for at least 6 months).

So, how do you work with this in reality? The answer, at least in my current experience at Coda, is iteratively and with the assumption of positive intent across product and go-to-market teams. We’ve refined our approach to a point that feels really good going into 2021, which gives us a chance to aim high, exercise tactical proficiency, and tell great stories along the way.

Said differently, be open to testing & iterating upon the cadence at which product and brand story reinforce each other.

Twice per year, we engage in a company-wide planning cycle, setting our highest order goals.

Once per week, our product managers and product marketing team meet to discuss tactical updates on our productsーhow are launch timelines looking, has anything changed from a design or outreach strategy perspective, etc.

But what about the space in between “this is product xyz and what it does” and “this is the story of our company if we do what we intend to do?” For that, we’ve begun meeting with the PM + PMM team quarterly to think through: “What is the story of our product for the next few months?” “What are the headlines of what we ship?”

We’re continually testing & iterating upon this rhythm ourselves. With over 100 customer-facing launches this year, our PMM team can sometimes get caught up in the tactical and operational elements of our work. Thankfully, our broader marketing teamーincluding brand, copy, design, solutions, press & commsーkeeps us accountable throughout the week for imbuing our product with our brand promise. This bears out in everything from in-product UI strings and designs, to collaborative content marketing that highlights recent launches.

Credentials & Highlights
Head Of Marketing at Universe
Top Product Marketing Mentor List
Product Marketing AMA Contributor
Lives In San Francisco, CA
Knows About Product Marketing Interviews, Brand Strategy, Messaging, Product Marketing Career Pat...more