SOURCE: Hub­Spot

Con­tent strat­e­gy is a phrase that means a lot of dif­fer­ent things to a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple.

For some, it’s a rig­or­ous, drawn-out process that can take months to com­plete. For oth­ers, it’s a hand­ful of slides. Or worse, what­ev­er it takes for the client to sign off the annu­al retain­er. It usu­al­ly depends on the agency or in-house team you’re work­ing with.

Prod­uct man­age­ment, by com­par­i­son, is more stan­dard­ized. And arguably more sophis­ti­cat­ed. It relies on a range of frame­works and mod­els that help prod­uct man­agers:

  • Under­stand their users
  • Build a user-base
  • Plan for the future
  • Pri­or­i­tize their time
  • Stay focussed on the big pic­ture

Steve Mess­er is a prod­uct man­ag­er on GOV.UK, the Unit­ed Kingdom’s online por­tal. As user bases go, GOV.UK is pret­ty mas­sive. On a typ­i­cal day, it gets around 4.9 mil­lion ses­sions from 3.5 mil­lion unique users.

Steve agreed to talk me through a hand­ful of prod­uct man­age­ment prac­tices that would ben­e­fit any con­tent strate­gist or cre­ator. If you have ques­tions or want to learn more about any­thing men­tioned below, you can con­tact or fol­low Steve on Twit­ter at @StevenJMesser.

Product Management Practices for Content Marketing

1. Generative and Evaluative User Research

Prod­uct man­agers are seri­ous about user research. It’s one of the key parts of their role. And they don’t just comb the inter­net for stats to drop into their decks. They sur­vey users on a reg­u­lar basis to find out what they’re think­ing and how their prod­uct could be improved.

Why is this so impor­tant? Steve says, “You don’t want to spend time build­ing the wrong thing. That’s a lot of wast­ed effort. For exam­ple, you could build an app which solved a prob­lem you’ve been hav­ing for years — but with­out estab­lish­ing whether any­one else needs that prob­lem solved, you’ll just have wast­ed a ton of mon­ey.”

Prop­er research can help you build the right thing, but it can also help you build it right. A good mantra for prod­uct devel­op­ment is ‘You are not the user,’ which reminds you that not every­one sees the world the same way. It’s impor­tant to under­stand the diver­si­ty of your user base.”

An inter­est­ing dis­tinc­tion Steve talked me through was how prod­uct man­agers dif­fer­en­ti­ate gen­er­a­tive and eval­u­a­tive research.

Gen­er­a­tive research helps you define the prob­lems to solve, and eval­u­a­tive research helps you work out how well you’ve solved those prob­lems.”

Mar­keters and prod­uct man­agers alike review quan­ti­ta­tive data on a reg­u­lar basis so they can keep track of user behav­ior and per­for­mance. But I won­dered how often Steve’s team sur­veyed their users to gain qual­i­ta­tive insights.

We try to hold research ses­sions with users once every two weeks, which helps us stay cur­rent and pick up on changes in user behav­ior.”

Things to stop doing

Cher­ry-pick­ing stats that back up assump­tions that you’ve already made.

Things to start doing

Hav­ing real-life con­ver­sa­tions with users on a reg­u­lar basis to find out more about them.

2. Early Adopter Mindset

Any con­tent mar­keter who has launched a new domain or brand knows how hard it can be. Things take a while to get going. Often, you spend your first few months pub­lish­ing con­tent that gets seen by next to no one. It’s pret­ty crush­ing.

Prod­uct man­agers share our pain. They’re well-versed in launch­ing apps and star­tups from scratch. And, true to form, they have a method­ol­o­gy of their own for iden­ti­fy­ing and reel­ing in those pre­cious “ear­ly adopters.”

Ear­ly adopters will help your idea get off the ground,” Steve says. “They’re usu­al­ly peo­ple very inter­est­ed in the area you’re work­ing in, so they’re hap­py to answer ques­tions and test things, in return for being one of the first peo­ple to use a new prod­uct.”

A great way to onboard ear­ly adopters is dur­ing your user research phase.

Start off any new project with at least 20 cus­tomer inter­views. That’ll give you a good idea of what to cre­ate and who it’s for. A great ques­tion to ask at the end of inter­views is: ‘Is there any­one else you think we should speak to who’d be inter­est­ed in what we’re doing?’ Most peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about some­thing will know oth­ers who are too. Then you can build a com­mu­ni­ty around what you’re doing.”

So, where can we find these peo­ple?

Fig­ure out where they’ll be and speak to them — and not nec­es­sar­i­ly online. This might mean speak­ing to peo­ple out­side a super­mar­ket, near a trav­el agency, on the bus, or on forums”

Things to stop doing

Star­ing at your ana­lyt­ics wish­ing some­one would vis­it your new site.

Things to start doing

Fig­ur­ing out where your ear­ly adopters hang out, con­tact­ing them, and ask­ing for intro­duc­tions.

3. Roadmapping

Prod­uct man­agers are seri­ous about roadmaps. And it turns out they hate it when peo­ple con­fuse Gantt charts with roadmaps. Steve explains:

It’s real­ly annoy­ing when peo­ple con­fuse roadmaps for Gantt charts. A Gantt chart shows what you’re going to deliv­er by what date, but that doesn’t always work out in the agile world. A roadmap shows what val­ue you’ll cre­ate for users now, next, and lat­er. A Gantt chart assumes that the solu­tion has been per­fect­ly scoped and built upfront, but the agile world is all about start­ing small and iter­at­ing. For that rea­son, you can’t real­ly pin a date on things.”

Roadmapping

So, why is hav­ing a roadmap so impor­tant? Steve explains, “It’s a good com­mu­ni­ca­tion device. It tells your users, your team, and your stake­hold­ers what val­ue you’re going to cre­ate in what order. A roadmap can show your strat­e­gy for achiev­ing the organization’s goals. It helps every­one under­stand how what you’re doing now relates to future work and pri­or­i­ties.”

When asked if he has any tips for con­tent teams wish­ing to build more mean­ing­ful roadmaps, he says, “Start off with 3 columns: Now, Next and Lat­er. In the first col­umn, write all the pieces of work you’ll need to do now to make your users hap­py. These are your high-pri­or­i­ty tasks. In the sec­ond col­umn, write every­thing you’ll need to do in the future to keep them hap­py. Or any­thing you couldn’t fit in the first col­umn. In the final col­umn, write every­thing you’ll prob­a­bly need to do at some point to keep adding val­ue over time.”

It’s that sim­ple,” Steve explains. “Use a spread­sheet, a piece of paper, Post-its on a wall, a Trel­lo board, any­thing your team and stake­hold­ers can access eas­i­ly.”

Things to stop doing

Focus­ing on when you’ll deliv­er things instead of what val­ue you will cre­ate.

Things to start doing

Sequenc­ing events based on what your users want, instead of what your mar­ket­ing cal­en­dar dic­tates.

4. Value/Effort Mapping

Prod­uct man­agers sit at the inter­sec­tion of the busi­ness, the users, and the devel­op­ment team. As a result, they’re often field­ing a lot of requests.

This makes pri­or­i­ti­za­tion a key part of the job. You should be able to iden­ti­fy the high­est-val­ue tasks to make in order to allo­cate your time effec­tive­ly.

We focus on deliv­er­ing the right thing in the right way, which means we’re con­stant­ly mak­ing pri­or­i­ti­za­tion deci­sions. One way we do that is using Value/Effort scor­ing, a sim­ple tech­nique for work­ing out whether it’s worth doing some­thing based on how much effort it will take you and what you’ll get back.”

Then, plot the requests or tick­ets that are cur­rent­ly live against it. Tasks that fall into the top-left quad­rant are high pri­or­i­ty. Tasks that fall in the bot­tom-right quad­rant are low pri­or­i­ty.

Things to stop doing

Cre­at­ing nev­er-end­ing to-do lists.

Things to start doing

Pri­or­i­tiz­ing tasks based on the lev­el of val­ue they cre­ate for the user and how much effort is required.

5. User Stories

User sto­ries are a great way of bring­ing your user research to life.

Most mar­keters rec­og­nize these as being pret­ty sim­i­lar to per­sonas. How­ev­er, I think user sto­ries artic­u­late a groups’ pref­er­ences and needs in a more human way, because they’re writ­ten in the first per­son. And, because they’re more con­cise, they can be stuck up on the wall to keep them front of mind.

User sto­ries are there to remind you that the work you’re doing is for real peo­ple, to help them solve real prob­lems,” Steve says. “As the sto­ries are writ­ten from the user’s per­spec­tive, their needs real­ly come through.”

So how do you write a use­ful user sto­ry? Fol­low this sim­ple struc­ture:

As a [type of user] I need [to use a prod­uct or fea­ture] so that I [can achieve a goal/receive value/complete a task].”

Steve explains, “Once user sto­ries have been writ­ten based on our research, we’ll bring these into team design ses­sions where we co-design a solu­tion. Once we’ve esti­mat­ed how much effort it will take to cre­ate that thing, we’ll bring the user sto­ry into a devel­op­ment sprint to be built and released.”

Things to stop doing

Let­ting your pre­cious per­sonas gath­er dust.

Things to start doing

Turn­ing your per­sonas into users sto­ries, stick­ing them up on the wall, and refer­ring to them in your brain­storms.

6. Stick Stuff On the Walls

This is less sophis­ti­cat­ed than the oth­ers, but no less essen­tial.

When you’re in the thick of it, it’s easy to lose track of the vision, the strat­e­gy, and the end goal. But as soon as this hap­pens, you’re more like­ly to waste time. Keep­ing your roadmaps and user sto­ries on the wall for every­one to see is a great way to counter this.

Steve says, “We’ll usu­al­ly keep our roadmap near the team area, stuck up on a wall for oth­ers to see. This means we can point to it and remind the team of our strat­e­gy and why we’re doing what we’re doing. But it also allows us to move tasks around as need­ed.”

You might expect dig­i­tal teams to work pure­ly with dig­i­tal tools, but hav­ing some­thing tan­gi­ble real­ly helps get things out of your head.”

Things to stop doing

Let­ting your pre­cious roadmaps and user sto­ries gath­er dust on Google Dri­ve.

Things to start doing

Print­ing them out and stick­ing them up for all the team to see.

So, there you have it — six prod­uct man­age­ment prac­tices that will ben­e­fit any con­tent team or mar­ket­ing depart­ment.