(3m reading time)
When a company releases an update to its software that includes a new feature, it’s up to the product marketer to figure out whether, when, and how to tell the world about it. Every marketer has their own approach, and for some, experience boils this down to instinct. As I work to build my own instincts, I learn new techniques. Check out what I picked up recently.
Why Strong Feature Announcements Matter
At some point every product marketer will need to announce a launch. If you work with an innovative organization, you may get to build a new product’s go-to-market strategy.
The bread-and-butter launch announcement, however, is the new feature announcement. As a former product manager, I believe this low-level launch deserves more care than it usually gets. I have seen marketers dash off release notes emails without taking the time to understand the new feature. This causes missed opportunities, and wonderful, well-built features can languish because they lacked the right customer attention at the right time. Let me say that again:
Wonderful, well-built features can languish because they lacked the right customer attention at the right time.
This bothered me so much that I sought out a technique for writing a better feature launch announcement. I like it because it helps ensure I catch potentially hidden value, even in features that appear mundane.
I’ll cover this topic in a multi-part series. This first part talks about where I get my information to power my commercial plan. I also touch on the framework I use to assemble and organize info. Future posts will cover how to follow the framework for:
as well as how to select the right promotional tactics which comprise the commercial plan, based on what’s been learned.
So let’s dive in. My company plans to release a new feature soon, and it’s on me to create the commercial plan. Where to start?
First, Interview the Owner
The best information I get about my feature comes from a face-to-face interview. Phone calls are fine if my interviewee and I work in different places. A terse write-up, however, provides a poor foundation to define the right commercial strategy. I’ll get into why in a moment.
Who do I interview? The feature’s owner. This person oversaw the feature’s definition and creation. They determined it needed to exist and they made the feature happen.
Why must the interview be a meeting or call and not a survey form? Because to put together the right commercial plan, I want to start with a high-quality investigation. And I don’t know what I don’t know.
I can email pre-fab questions to my feature owner and get answers, yes. But these answers, given a critical review, will trigger other, important questions. If I only communicate with my feature owner in text, I can miss the opportunity to dig deeper and get the complete picture. Back-and-forth conversations work best in the real world. Also, feature owners are busy (something I know from experience!). This means I need to ask all of my questions at once, or I may not get them answered.
Sometimes more than one person acts as the feature owner. Maybe an executive or salesperson made a case for the feature, and they shepherded the feature along with its product manager. I thought about what I’d do if I were dealing with two feature owners. I’d want speak to them together, at the same time. I’d want to avoid getting two different stories.
If I met more than two feature owners, I’d probably feel worried. I believe in the old maxim “a camel is a horse designed by committee.” I’d cross my fingers I wasn’t about to sell a camel! Then I’d try to distill the feature owner group down to one or two primary players. I’d even ask the group to nominate one or two delegates to speak for everyone, if push came to shove.
The Secret to an Effective Feature Interview
I like to start from fundamentals, and I often call upon frameworks to help me jump into a new project. To conduct a thoughtful feature interview, I like The Big Picture Partners’s Big Picture Framework:
This powerful framework helps plan a a new product’s go-to-market strategy. I believe it can do smaller jobs as well, and it serves as a handy guide for messaging new features. It’s taught me to ask the right questions in the right order. This gives me the clearest picture of how to message the feature in the shortest interview time.
How does this happen? Stay tuned for the next installment! I’ll get into the specific questions the Big Picture Framework gets me to ask, and how this powers an effective feature owner interview.