Bryan Sise

Bryan SiseShare

VP of Marketing, Process Street
Bryan Sise is VP of Product Marketing at ActiveCampaign. Bryan has built and led product marketing teams at Twilio SendGrid and Twitter, co-founded Dynamic Signal and Athletic Motion, scaled go-to-...more
Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 3

It sounds like you’re in for a fun and challenging few weeks :). While they’re likely to be stressful, they might end up as some of the most memorable of your career.

I would focus on “doing less” on launch day / rebranding announcement day, then activating with elaborative messages and resources in the following weeks and months.

By “doing less”, I mean that what’s most critical on launch day / rebranding announcement day is that you get your message in front of the right people, and that your message resonates with them. They’ll only be willing to give you a moment of attention, and they’ll only have a tiny bit of space in their brain to allocate to the way they perceive your company and its offerings. So how do you want to be perceived, and what message will make you stand out? Getting to a crisp and compelling announcement message, and ensuring that the message will be effectively distributed, is the first order of business.

So keep your plans for launch day / rebranding announcement day simple. And put together a calendar of all the follow-on ways you’ll get more mileage out of the message in the following weeks and months after launch day / rebranding announcement day, with attention to the resource constraints you have.

In other words: spread it out. Even if you had a team of 100 marketers and a huge budget, there would still be a strong argument for spreading it out.

Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 3

Great question. That’s a tension that comes up in a lot of organizations. I’ll start with what you don’t want to do :).

You don’t want to slow down product velocity. You don’t want to be seen as advocating for the Product and Engineering teams to slow down the cadence of new releases they’re pushing out. (Keep in mind that I’m making a distinction between a product release and a marketing launch.)

You also don’t want to miss the train. If you have set stakeholder expectations (whether explicitly or implicitly) that “this is an important release from a marketing perspective, and we’re planning to have go-to-market comms and assets ready on the day of release”, you don’t want to be the guy who’s not ready with those comms and assets when release day comes.

Here’s what you do want to do:

1) Learn as early as possible about upcoming releases, by establishing strong lines of communication with PMs (see my thoughts on PMM:PM partnering in other answers).

2) As you learn about upcoming release, assign launch sizes to them (see my thoughts on launch size in other answers). Explicitly and broadly communicate to internal stakeholders what the assigned launch sizes are for each release. This sets their expectations around the level of marketing support each release will be given. Where applicable, also explicitly and broadly communicate: a) For which releases you’re planning to have different timing for the marketing launch announcement than for the release go-live itself. b) For which releases you’re planning to bundle them up into a larger marketing launch.

An additional note about A above: in terms of timing the marketing launch and the release itself differently, I’ve often found it’s effective to have a basic announcement to current customers on the day the release goes live (so they aren’t surprised or confused by seeing something new), but then the bulk of the outbound marketing activity aimed at prospective customers is saved for a later date.

Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 3

Really early :). When the release is just a twinkle in the PM’s eye :). The way to do this is to set up a formal PMM:PMM partnering system where each individual PM is partnered with 2-4 PMs, and they all focus on the same area of the product. The PMM meets regularly with their PM partners. The baseline topic (in addition to other selected topics of conversation) is always: what’s coming down the pipe? What was recently prioritized on the roadmap? Who will the new product be for, and what need does it serve? How will it work? Does the PM have any thoughts about key considerations that will need to be addressed as the product goes to market?

As the PMM continually gathers this info about upcoming releases, they assign launch sizes to the releases (see more about this in my answers to other questions), and, for the releases with larger launch sizes, they start the process of considering what the product positioning / launch messaging should be, forming a launch plan (drafting the launch guide), assembling the launch team, etc.

It’s all in the name of avoiding the situation that many PMMs have encountered, when a release gets thrown over the transom to them by a PM with “hey, I wanted to let you know that this release is going live next Monday. Could you, like, market it?” :)

Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 3

Yes, my team uses a document template for what we call a Launch Guide, and what at prior companies I’ve called a GTM Plan or a Product Marketing Brief. 

The document template is organized into sections that cover a wide variety of topics around the launch, such as the beta and GA launch timing, the members of the launch team, description of target customer and relevant need, summary of competitive research, the messaging framework for the new product, links to key launch resources, and a whole lot more. 

For the smallest launches, it’s not required for the PMM to create a Launch Guide, and for the somewhat smaller launches, it’s unlikely that the PMM is going to fill out every section of the Launch Guide. The sections of the Launch Guide are intended to ensure that the PMM and the launch team have thought through every consideration around the launch.

It’s useful to set up a hierarchy of launch information that is always available to any internal stakeholder (e.g., a sales rep, etc.):

1) A product launch tracker that lists every upcoming release, with basic info about what the release is, its timing, who the PMM point person is, etc. For releases deemed more important (i.e. releases with larger launch size), the product launch tracker also shows a link to…

2) ….the launch guide, allowing the internal stakeholder to drill down and learn about the launch if they’re so inclined.

Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 3

Using launch messaging that over-focuses on the nuts and bolts of the product itself, instead of using the launch opportunity to highlight the broader value of the product line. (Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, using launch messaging that is so high-level that customers and prospects can’t figure out what’s new and different and how they can use it for success.)

Not writing things down. Not providing broadly-available internal-facing resources to make it easy for stakeholders to learn about upcoming and recent launches.

Being order-takers from Product Managers. PMs are very important partners for PMMs, and the PM should feel free to express their suggestions and feedback on how new products are taken to market. (Just as PMMs should feel free to express their suggestions and feedback on which products are prioritized on roadmap, and how products are built.) But at the end of the day, PMs are the decision makers on product strategy, and PMMs are the decision makers on go-to-market strategy.

Not working as early in the pre-launch period to assemble a launch team of cross-functional stakeholders, and involve them closely in the planning for an important launch. A PMM who tries to execute on an important launch in isolation is setting themselves up for failure, even if their individual execution and quality of launch deliverables is strong.

Not setting up ongoing listening posts to continually gather info on what customers want and what's happening in the market. This info will prove valuable with every new launch.

Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 2

I think the process of communicating about a launch to internal stakeholders starts with identifying the goals of the launch. As you consider launch goals and how you’ll measure goal attainment, it’s useful to distinguish between:

1) Channel metrics. These are metrics that show how many people you reached with your launch message, and how engaged they were with your message. Examples of channel metrics are open rate of an email, unique visitors to a blog post, views of an in-app message, etc. It’s good to track lots of channel metrics around a launch.

2) Business impact metrics. These are the downstream metrics such as product usage, new customers acquired, incremental revenue generated, or customers retained. You typically only want to focus on one or two business impact metrics for a launch. At the end of the day, it’s the performance on the chosen business impact goal that really indicates launch success.

It’s the chosen business impact goal for the launch that you want to include in your updates to internal stakeholders. You might be surprised at how including a business impact goal in your launch progress updates can make cross-functional stakeholders sit up, take notice, and think about how they can contribute to helping the company meet that goal.

Another tip for keeping broad internal stakeholders informed and involved in the launch planning is to use your launch team. In other answers here, I explained how, for launches of real significance (typically launch size M and above), it’s important for the PMM to assemble a cross-functional launch team. The PMM organizes and leads regular launch team meetings in the pre-launch period. Meetings may increase in frequency and have more required attendees as the launch draws closer. A launch team member is not typically the senior-most person from their function. They are a designated representative of their function, and/or a person who will create launch deliverables. Some launch team members (e.g. other marketers) will own the creation of key launch deliverables. The PMM elicits the help of these people, and establishes clear deliverable ownership. Other launch team members are responsible for representing the perspective of their function in launch team meetings, and filtering launch info back to other people in their function. Let’s say you choose a star Customer Success Manager to represent the Customer Success function in your launch team. In doing so, you are distributing the responsibility of keeping stakeholders informed. You will make it clear to the CSM that they are responsible for filtering info about the upcoming launch back to the Customer Success team after each launch team meeting.

Of course, for larger and highly anticipated launches, good old email updates still have their place, to ensure that information about the launch is making its way into all the relevant pockets of the organization. Whereas your launch team should primarily include the “doers”, your email updates can include a selection of senior stakeholders. A few tips on emailing launch progress updates to internal stakeholders:

1) Include an executive summary or TL;DR at the top. Don’t forget to mention the main business impact goal of the launch in the executive summary. If you have a request or action item for the stakeholders, highlight it in the summary, and elaborate on it down below.

2) Keep the whole email as brief as possible. Ask yourself: is this really need-to-know info?

3) Structure the email the same way every time. For example, you could have sections that cover developments and decisions since last update, emerging considerations and concerns, and requests for the stakeholders (the elaborated version of the requests that were mentioned in the executive summary).

For larger launches, build internal celebrations into your launch plan. Here are some examples of internal celebrations my teams have led:

1) An ice cream social with the whole company invited.

2) Stickers and postcards left on the desk of every employee at HQ to serve as a token of the launch. The postcards included launch messaging to teach every employee about how to talk about the newly-launching product with people outside the company.

3) Launch messages queued up in our employee advocacy platform Dynamic Signal, enabling all employees to celebrate the launch by sharing the news in their favorite social channels.

4) A post on our internal blog, thanking the Engineering team for the work they did to build the new product, and describing the technical challenges they overcame to make it happen.

Finally, as the entire launch process runs its course and once the dust settles, don’t forget to package up a recap of launch performance. The best way to do this is usually to hold a launch reflections meeting with your launch team, to discuss what went well and less well about the launch, and what the learnings are for next time. Then share the launch outcomes with the broader stakeholders you had been communicating in the pre-launch period, including key performance metrics, business impact attainment, learnings, and perhaps most important, gratitude for the contributions of people throughout the company. (Don’t forget to thank the people who built and support the product, not just the people who took the product to market.)

If things went well, celebrate it. If things didn’t go so well, own it — stakeholders will respect you more if you do.

Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 2

Great question; it gives me a chance to describe a concept we use at ActiveCampaign called launch size. Each of our PMMs are partnered with 2-4 PMs, and they all focus on the same product area. As the PMM meets regularly with their partner PMs, they learn about new builds/releases that are planned or in progress. The expectation is that the PMM knows about every upcoming release in their product area, large or small. And the expectation is that the PMM tracks every upcoming (and recent) release in our product launch tracker, to provide visibility (and historical record) for internal stakeholders.

The PMM is responsible for assigning a launch size to every upcoming release in their product area. The launch size assigned to a release determines the level of go-to-market support that the PMM and members of the launch team will provide for the release. Think of launch size as the “service level” for a release — the PMM is setting internal stakeholders’ expectations about how much marketing muscle they’ll put behind the release. Launch size relates closely to how impactful the release is for customers, and how strategic the release is for the company. The launch sizes are simply t-shirt sizes: XS, S, M, L and XL.

At ActiveCampaign, we use a Product Launch Handbook for PMMs. One page in that handbook lists, for each of the launch sizes, the required deliverables and the optional deliverables to consider for that launch size. As you might guess, the list of required deliverables for XL is much longer than the list of required deliverables for S.

When talking with stakeholders in Marketing, Sales, Product and other functions, we take every opportunity to mention that “this release is an S” or “that release is an L”, and we’re careful to make the distinction between “release” and “marketing launch”. It helps to create a common language, and avoid misunderstandings about which releases we’re prioritizing. Gradually, internal stakeholders begin to get comfortable with the notion that some releases will get a lot of go-to-market support, some releases won’t get much go-to-market support at all. That also helps us get everyone on board with the idea that, for example, sometimes the marketing launch for a release will happen a week or two after or a week or two after the release, and sometimes a handful of XS, S and M releases will be bundled into an L or XL launch.

At ActiveCampaign, we look for opportunities to up-level the message, highlight an entire product line or solution instead of a particular new feature, and repeatedly hit on our key company messages relating to the importance of Customer Experience Automation (CXA). For example, we recently had a release of Mobile Campaign Reporting in our mobile apps. We used that release as an opportunity to showcase our mobile apps as a whole, and to make thought-provoking statements in the market about the role of mobile and how it ties to customer experience. 

These kinds of approaches can make a product launch more impactful, though I will note that it’s important to find a balance between up-leveling the launch message and grounding the news of the launch in the actual capabilities of the product and the company. You don’t want to up-level the message so much that you end up with marketing fluff, or with messages that confuse customers about what you really offer.

So, as you’re looking over the array of releases planned in an upcoming time period, ask yourself:

1) What is the customer value with each release? What are the company goals for each release? Are we clear, and are internal stakeholders clear, on which releases we’re going to prioritize for go-to-market support, and which releases we aren’t?

2) Are there groups of releases that are similar to each other in some way? Even if those individual releases aren’t particularly noteworthy by themselves, would the news of their launch be interesting to customers if they were bundled together? If we did bundle them into one larger marketing launch, what would the thematic message be for that launch? How could that thematic message be expressed as a thought-provoking point of view, rather than merely a message of “we’re releasing several enhancements that are similar to each other in this way”?

I’ll say a little more about that last thought. I really believe that the companies that stand out in the marketplace are the ones who boldly express thought-provoking (and sometimes even a little controversial) points of view. A product launch is a great vehicle to make those kinds of statements, and to back them up by demonstrating how the company is developing its products based on that point of view.

Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 1

For clarity, I’ll draw a distinction here between product research and product launch research.

1) Product research happens before resources are committed to build the proposed product. Product research is critical to ensure that you are, to use YCombinator parlance, “making something people want”. This is frequently called validation research. You are validating that A) a customer need exists, and B) what you propose to build will meet that customer need. And you are seeking to understand the nuances around that customer need. Individual customer interviews are the main way that validation research is carried out.

2) Product launch research is conducted to ensure that your launch is effective in driving launch goals, which might be product adoption, increased customer acquisition, revenue from an incrementally-priced product, enhanced customer retention, etc.

While in early-stage startups a single person may have a PM and PMM role, in more developed companies it is typically the PM who is the primary owner of product research, and the PMM who primarily owns product launch research. (This fits with my general belief that the PM should own product strategy, and the PMM should own go-to-market strategy.) Thus, from here, I’ll elaborate more on product launch research.

The amount of dedicated research you do for a product launch should be commensurate with the importance of that launch. For more important launches, the research will likely include:

1) Customer research. Which launch messaging will most resonate with customers? What questions and objections are customers likely to have when presented with the launch messaging?

2) Competitive research. How differentiated will this new product be in the marketplace? How have competitors positioned similar products? What is the likely response from competitors once we launch our product?

The PMM’s launch plan should have sections that cover the above two types of research, summarizing the findings and making recommendations accordingly.

But here’s the thing: the reality of being a PMM in a fast-growing tech company is that the PMM’s window of time before launch is often quite brief. Even when the PMM has good lines of communication with the Product org, the PMM may only get a few weeks to prepare for the launch with the launch team they’ve assembled. For that reason, the PMM is often very limited in the amount of dedicated launch research they can do before they have to draft and finalize the messaging for the launch.

So what should a PMM team do, to ensure that their launch is well-informed with knowledge of the customer and the marketplace?

The PMM team should establish listening posts and intelligence-gathering processes so that, when it’s time to prepare for a new product launch, they’re already well-informed with regard to the usual research questions that surround a launch. These ongoing market research activities should be 80% of how a PMM knows about customers and the market — and the PMM can close the remaining 20% while preparing for the launch, to answer specific questions related to the unique nature of that launch.

What are some examples of those ongoing listening posts and baseline intelligence-gathering processes?

1) Listen in on product validation interviews the PM conducts with customers.

2) Listen in on calls the AEs hold with prospects, or the CSMs hold with current customers. (Additionally, if you have a sales call recording system like Gong, use keyword searches to scan through Gong audio transcripts to find conversations of note.)

3) Read posts in online customer communities, whether first-party or third-party communities.

4) Read popular third-party websites and blogs written for your target audience.

5) Survey the Sales and Customer Success teams to learn about their perceptions of customer needs, and/or hold roundtable discussions with them.

6) Survey or poll your customer base to get their perspective on chosen topics.

7) Read websites and sales materials from competitors to understand how they describe their offerings and how they position against their competitors.

8) Sign up to use competitor products, and conduct detailed product teardowns to understand the nuances of competitor product capabilities and shortcomings.

Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 1

I’m glad you asked this question because I’m a big proponent of “rolling thunder instead of flash in the pan” :). It’s easy to overestimate how closely customers and prospects are paying attention to every message coming out of your company, and think that if you make a lot of noise on launch day, that will be enough to put the news of the launch on everyone’s radar. 

It’s important to keep up a drumbeat of messages to the market. Part of that drumbeat should be the repeated emphasis on the latest product offerings and how customers can get value from those latest products. “Repetition doesn’t spoil the prayer.”

But let’s be real: product marketers are often so busy that, as soon as they get a launch out the door, the next upcoming launch is vying for their attention. So how do you preserve launch momentum? By building ways to “get more mileage” out of the launch into your original launch plan. 

As you write your launch plan, ask yourself: which deliverables and channel activations must go live on the launch day itself? Which ones could be spaced out across the days and weeks following the launch? Draw a distinction between the “breaking news” and the “elaborative content”. The elaborative content is less time-sensitive, and can be more focused on inspiring customers with what they can achieve with the new product, and showing them how.

Example elaborative content:

1) A how-to webinar held the week after launch, giving step-by-step instruction for using the new product.

2) A topic in a talk at a conference occurring 2 weeks after the launch, in which a company leader gives their take on why the product is exciting, in addition to touching on other topics.

3) A blog post published 4 weeks after the launch, telling the story of how an individual customer found success using the new product, and shares their advice for other customers.

Additionally, ask yourself whether there are channels where it would be straightforward to reactivate your message several times in the days and weeks following launch. Here are two examples:

1) Does your company have a weekly newsletter email that goes out to your customer base? If so, you could do the launch day announcement in that newsletter (among other channels), and then, in the following newsletters over the next few weeks, feature the new product again, with varied messaging to keep things fresh.

2) Does your company use in-application messaging (e.g. via Appcues or Pendo)? If so, you could pre-arrange a sequence of messages about the new product that are shown to the user at their first login after launch day, at their second login, and so on, with varied messaging to keep things fresh.

Bryan Sise
Bryan Sise
VP of Marketing, Process StreetJune 1

I think it’s useful to think of the PMM as the quarterback of a product launch. I’ll acknowledge that this is a thoroughly American reference :). For larger launches, as early as possible while the to-be-launched product is still in development, the PMM should assemble a cross-functional launch team consisting of the PM, marketers from several other disciplines, and a representative from each key function such as Customer Success, Sales, Support, etc. The PMM holds regular meetings with the launch team, educating them about the to-be-launched product, gathering their perspectives on proposed launch messaging, forming a detailed launch plan with them, and eliciting their help in creating launch deliverables and activating the launch in chosen channels.

The PMM is a quarterback in the sense that the launch team doesn’t report to the PMM; i.e. the PMM doesn’t have formal authority over the launch team. The PMM's informal authority comes from the fact that the PMM is at the center of the planning for the launch. In American football, a quarterback is not the coach or the owner of the team. But they are a key decision-maker who is at the center of each play. 

As the game progresses, the quarterback throws the ball to other players who attempt to score. In a launch, the PMM’s core positioning for the new product is activated by different members of the launch team in the channels they’re responsible for (e.g. the blog, the email channel, the sales channel, etc.). So, at launch time, the PMM is “passing the ball” to each member of the launch team. The PMM herself creates several launch deliverables, and the members of the launch team create additional deliverables based on the core positioning the PMM wrote, or take key actions based on the launch plan the PMM wrote.

So how does the PMM ensure that stakeholders give her the opportunity to be the launch quarterback in the first place? By laying groundwork through the establishment of certain practices and processes. Here are a few examples of those practices and processes:

1) Ensure that the Product Marketing leader (and/or the senior-most Marketing leader, if applicable) has strong lines of communication and mutual understandings with Product leadership and Sales leadership. In the case of Product leadership, the mutual understanding needs to be: Product Managers own product strategy, and Product Marketing Managers own go-to-market strategy. In the case of Sales leadership, the mutual understanding needs to be: for Sales reps to learn about plans and timing for new product launches, and for Sales reps to get messaging to enable them around product launches, their go-to people are the Product Marketing Managers.

2) Set up a formal PMM:PM partnering system where each PM who is responsible for a given product area / customer persona is formally partnered with a handful of (typically 2-4) PMs who are responsible for the same product area / customer persona. The PMM should meet regularly with those PMs and form a strong working relationship. This partnering system has multiple benefits. It greatly reduces the possibility of the PMM encountering nasty last-minute “Hey, this feature is being released next Monday, can you take it to market?” surprises. It gives the PMM an early view of new releases coming down the pipe, so they have enough time to prepare. It ensures that the PMM is getting thorough information about the product area on an ongoing basis, which positions the PMM as the go-to product expert for the Sales team. And it gives the PMM a seat at the table in product strategy conversations with the PMs, allowing the PMM to bring their unique perspective to inform key roadmapping decisions and product design decisions.

3) Maintain several resources and regular activities that allow anyone in the company (especially the Sales, Customer Success and Support teams) to easily learn what the upcoming and recent launches are, and to learn about the plans for each upcoming launch. Examples of these resources and activities include: A) a Product Launch Tracker showing the timing and current phase of each upcoming and recent launch, with basic at-a-glance info on each launch, B) an in-depth Launch Plan for each launch of significance, so stakeholders can deep-dive as needed, and C) a Sales Briefing cadence where Product Marketing / Sales Enablement keep the Sales and Customer Success organization abreast of key product happenings. All of these resources and activities position PMMs at the center of all product launch activity, which allows them to naturally occupy the launch quarterback role.

Credentials & Highlights
VP of Marketing at Process Street
Top Product Marketing Mentor List
Product Marketing AMA Contributor
Lives In Denver, CO
Knows About Competitive Positioning, Product Launches, Influencing the Product Roadmap, Messaging...more