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Dave Steer

Dave SteerShare

Vice President of Product Marketing, GitLab
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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 28

I love this question because it widens the aperture from product launch to go-to-market plan. The product launch is an important part of the go-to-market plan, but the launch only represents one (really important) point in time. I like to think of the product launch as the rocket booster that you need to get your message to the marketplace.

Before I share my blueprint, I have an important PSA for product marketers: product availability is not the same thing as product launch. Product availability is when the product is functional (as defined by the product requirements doc) and can be used by customers; product launch, on the other hand, is when you’ve executed your marketing launch plan to meet your business and marketing objective. Product managers and product markets confuse the two at their own peril as it can lead to extraordinary stress and, more importantly, missed opportunities to tell a big, compelling story to the market.

The blueprint I use for go-to-market planning is straightforward:
1- Audience - Identify the target audience(s) and included all of the insights you have about them,
2- Problems & Job to be Done - Articulate the problems that the product solves,
3- Positioning & Messaging - Craft a positioning and messaging strategy that will resonate with the target audience based on the problem statement above, and
4- Creative & Channel - Show the creative concepts and channels you will leverage to break through the noise in the marketplace so that the target audience is inspired and acts on your message. 

5- Execution - The last part of the blueprint is vital: as the product marketer, your job is to ensure that all of your customer-facing teams -- from marketing to sales to communications to EVERYONE -- are rowing in the same direction. 

You are the conductor of this orchestrated set of events, so make sure that you’ve articulated how, operationally, this will be done in the go-to-market plan.

It sounds simple, but the details of each of these elements is what separates a meh Go-to-Market plan from a great Go-to-Market plan.

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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 28

I’ve had my fair share of challenging product launches in my career. The Tier 2s that you desperately want to become a Tier 1. The launches that you, as a product marketer, learn about 48 hours before the launch. Those are painful.

But the most difficult have been in the areas of Trust & Safety, which I believe is one of the most critical and sensitive parts of any business. Get them wrong, and corporate reputation goes down the drain. Get them right, and your product can be a significant boon to your company’s brand. Two product launches stick out the most.

The first was early in my career when I was the product and brand marketer for trust at eBay. My job was to build trust and confidence in the eBay brand and between buyers and sellers -- it was a lofty challenge.

One of our new products was the introduction of the Resolution Center, a platform that enabled buyers and sellers to manage their disputes. The marketing challenge was that the community, at the time, expected eBay to manage disputes for them (like a traditional retailer would) and, if we sided with either the buyer or the seller, the other party would take their frustration out on eBay. We were the referee and, as one of the PMs told me, no one goes to a sports game to see the referee. The Resolution Center launch was aimed at solving that reputational challenge, but launching it was akin to kicking a hornet’s nest -- drawing the ire of both buyers and sellers.

This launch taught me an invaluable marketing lesson: always lean into community engagement. We managed the launch in a way similar to how an aspiring political candidate would engage with communities, spending countless hours answering questions on community chat boards and making ourselves -- the eBay employees responsible for this product -- available to our most loyal customers. In many ways, the Resolution Center launch was painful as we were hearing critique from all sides; but, the way we approached the product introduction demonstrated our passion and commitment to trust on the platform and the long-range success of our community of buyers and sellers. It was marketing that mattered.

The second launch was more recent. I was the product marketer at Twitter responsible for the launch of the Mute button, an important feature that enabled people to not have to see Tweets in their timeline. This launch came at a time when Twitter was dealing with an enormous amount of bullying and abuse on the platform. Similar to the eBay experience, Twitter was caught between two countervailing pressures -- the need for freedom of expression and the need for protection from abuse.

This launch taught me another invaluable product marketing lesson: always be transparent and listen to your customers. One of the ways we approached this (and many other) launches was to put together a Safety Advisory Board, a group of experts and Twitter customers with whom we shared and gathered feedback on our safety roadmap. This type of feedback made our safety products better and, when it came time to launch, created advocates for us.

Product launches are hard - some harder than others. But all product launches represent important opportunities to tell a story and advance a narrative that is important to your company and, more importantly, your customers. Approaching product launches with this truth in mind will help you make the most out of these moments.

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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 29

I answered a previous question about measuring success of a product post-launch, but it’s worth diving more deeply into KPIs for the launch itself. 

The most important step here is to tie your KPIs to the marketing objectives and strategies that you are adopting. For example, if you’re launching a ‘tier 3’ product without any investment in press outreach, does it make sense to track media coverage? Nope.

Let’s assume that we’re focusing on a Tier 1 product launch. Here are the KPIs I typically track:
1- Press Coverage and Analyst mentions. Important to track quantity and sentiment.
2-Social Media engagement. Also important to track quantity and sentiment, as well as both consumption (e.g. views of Tweet) and more activate engagement (e.g. Retweets). A few product launches I’ve managed led to people actively educating their followers about the product. Pure gold!
3- Visits to website/landing page
4- Engagement with the top, middle, and bottom funnel you’ve created
5- Adoption and usage of collateral from Sales team, as well as their satisfaction with enablement.

These are all leading indicators of success. Ultimately what matters most though -- and what should be tracked closely -- is long term product adoption, usage, and referral itself.

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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 28

Changing your positioning is a big deal. So much of your Go to Market plan relies on a positioning strategy that is well thought out and embraced by your company. 

Whenever I need to manage a change to positioning, I start with understanding whether the real need is to change the positioning or whether the need is to tune the messaging strategy. A lot of folks confuse the two. Remember: your positioning defines how you want your target audience to think about your offering. Since shifting perception takes a long time, your positioning should be stable and long-term. Your messaging strategy, on the other hand, is the full narrative and set of statements that reinforce your positioning. It is the story that cements your positioning. Since messaging can shift over time to respond to competitive dynamics or new customer insights, it is quite often that you need to tune your story, but you don’t need to change your position.

But, if I do need to reposition, here's how I start: 

First, I work with my team and stakeholders with a basic positioning statement template: For [your target market] who [target market need], [your brand name] provides [main benefit that differentiates your offering from competition] because [reason why target audience should believe your differentiation claim.]. Repeat after me: I will not rush this process. Your go-to-market strategy is only as strong as the positioning foundation on which it stands. Shoutout to Thomas Dong for providing this.

With new positioning statement in hand, I then approach rolling it out as I would a normal Tier 1 product launch (see blueprint above). This means creating a wide array of content and documents so that all of your internal and external stakeholders are aligned.

Finally, I tend to think big and creatively when there is a new positioning to be supported. For example, when my team repositioned PayPal years ago, we used the moment as an opportunity to create new messaging, a new website, enable the global sales team, and develop a new brand logo -- which meant sunsetting the giant physical logos on our office buildings (we sold one on eBay for charity!).

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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 28

Identifying and prioritizing channels to reach your target audience is key to any product launch. Typically, my channel goal is to surround the audience with a repeated, salient, and consistent message.

Depending on the business objective (note to product marketers: clarify the business objective of your product launch first), the goal of a launch can be different from product to product. At times, the business needs to build awareness of your product in order to drive consideration and usage -- this is the most frequent objective. At other times, however, the business wants a product launch to drive a different corporate-level objective, such as positive sentiment or consideration for a broader solution.

The first step of any product launch channel strategy is to identify your target audience(s) and, based on a deep understanding of them, identify the best ways to reach them. From this starting point, you can begin stitching together a channel strategy.

People’s social and professional networks and media behaviors are complex, so we try our best to develop a comprehensive understanding of our target audience. Beyond their title, who is this person? What keeps them up at night? Where do they learn, get, and share information? What terms do they use when they search for a product similar to yours? How do they engage with channels such as email? Be sure to have a truthful answer for each of these questions -- as a cautionary tale, an IT executive recently told my team that he deletes ALL marketing emails at the beginning and end of his day. Ouch.

For product launches, my team typically weaves together a mixture of ‘owned & operated’ (e.g. email, website), earned (e.g. press, analysts), social media, and paid channels with core content that can be integrated into each channel. We prioritize the channels that have the greatest likelihood of reaching our audience and motivating them to make the purchase consideration and decision journey.

Laying all of these considerations out is part of the fun of creating a cohesive channel strategy.

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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 29

Overall, you want to be looking at metrics that give you an understanding of success (e.g. adoption, revenue, word-of-mouth), inform tweaks to your messaging, and future direction of the product. These metrics may differ between B2B and B2C products, especially around Sales Enablement.

Post launch, I’m tracking several metrics for my products, including:
1- Adoption and usage of the product
2- Revenue derived from a product
3- Customer support inquiries related to the product (this is a good source for additional product education and messaging)
4- Understanding of product from the Sales team
5- Influence of product for larger broader selling

When I worked in Consumer Product Marketing, I would also track mentions of the product in social media channels, NPS related to the product, awareness and understanding of products, and other related metrics.

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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 29

This is such a brilliant question because it identifies the fact that, with teen products, there are multiple audiences, each with different concerns and needs. (B2B Marketers - the analogue here is envisioning the difference between the technical champion and the economic buyer).

I have no experience with pre-teen marketing, though I have worked on marketing efforts where teens use the product. The first and most important rule is simple and bold: do no harm. Even if they don’t think they need them, Teens need special protections from harm and your job as a marketer (and advocate for the customer) is to not cross the line.

We handled this challenge by developing segmented messaging aimed at parents/guardians, who were primarily concerned with safety risks, and teens who primarily want to connect and share with their friends. 

Authenticity with both audiences is key. If one audience feels like the message is disingenuous, your go-to-market won’t work. For the products I worked on, we accomplished this goal by encouraging parents and kids to engage with each other on the product (Insight: Teens don’t want to be lectured at, but some will readily take the driver’s seat to explain a product to their parents).

Finally, it's important to fully understand the wants and needs of all of the audiences, not just the teens. Gain a deep understanding of the 'jobs to be done' for all stakeholders and recognize there may be more influencers than you think.

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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 28

Creativity takes discipline, and over the years I’ve developed a few habits to keep font of creativity alive for all projects, including product launches. Here are my top three:

First, I’m an avid observer (read: marketing geek) of product launches from other companies. When I see something cool, I make note of it and then refer back to my running list for inspiration when it comes time to craft a product launch strategy. I'm also an obsessive reader and have been inspired by product launches inside and outside the technology industry. Sure, there’s the prototypical Steve Jobs product launch keynote address as inspiration, but have you read the case study of how the Swatch was launched (they literally took over the Empire State Building with an image of the product)? Or how Nike introduces a new shoe by establishing a ‘shibboleth’ with early adopters and brand advocates? For inspiration, I find looking outside of my own industry really helpful.

Second, I’m a huge believer in brainstorming, especially with creative teammates that aren’t necessarily close to the product itself. I have three simple brainstorm rules: (1) it’s about quantity of ideas, not quality (curating ideas comes later); (2) there’s no such thing as a bad idea; and, (3) double word points for ‘yes, and…’ (magic happens when people build off of each others ideas).

Third, I try as often as possible to do a retrospective (not a post-mortem….no one died) with my team on any project. These sessions become helpful, blame-free learning environments that create a growth mindset culture which fuels creativity.

PS: If you are looking for a good book on creativity, I highly recommend Creativity Inc. from Pixar founder Ed Catmull.

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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 29

Like the answer to a previous question in this AMA, it is good to make a distinction between Go to Market process and Product Launch process, as there may be marketplace or cultural differences region-by-region that impact the long-term adoption of your product.

For Product Launches, we typically do global launches with as much simultaneous translation as possible. This simultaneous activity is harder to accomplish if the launch preparation runway is short. If that happens, you translate as quickly as possible.

For the broader Go-to-Market process, there is more nuance regionally, especially when you tune into messages (not just translation) that will resonate with a particular audience or when you’ve identified a different set of vertical industries to target based on regional demand. We tend to listen very closely to our regional sales and marketing teams as they are much closer to the customer insights than corporate headquarters. Regardless of the approach you take, the same steps of audience identification and understanding, messaging development, and so on, apply to regional launches. In fact, you’ll likely find (as I have) that the more regional and vertical you get, the more likely your message will breakthrough since you are focusing your message on specific audiences and needs.

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Dave Steer
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab July 28

Good question, since not defining the time period can lead to a fuzzy idea of impact. You can't just move the goal post out. Sorry.

I typically define the product launch timeframe by the set of activities that are uniquely associated with the launch itself. Some product launches are specific to a day’s events -- more often, however, while there may be an initial set of events on a particular day (say, a launch press announcement + a customer email + a trade show event and speaker), there are a set of other activities that might extend the window of the launch. A good example of this might be a new product webinar or an advertising flight that is specific to the new product introduction.

Credentials & Highlights
Vice President of Product Marketing at GitLab
Top Product Marketing Mentor List
Top 10 Product Marketing Contributor
Lives In San Francisco, California
Knows About Platform and Solutions Product Marketing, Brand Strategy, Vertical Product Marketing,...more