Marketing needs to get curious again

User stories demand that your team is asking why and who. These are more important than how.

In my last post, I asked us to consider the shrinking differences between Product teams and Marketing teams. At Mozilla, we realized our marketers are just as much in the business of designing, creating and deploying user experiences as our product teams.

Most of the time, good marketing puts something in front of a target consumer in order to get them to think, feel, believe or act differently. The trigger to get someone to think, feel and act is an experience. Ads, websites, sales collateral — these are all experiences for the consumer. We spend money and time to put them into the world because we believe they will change someone’s perspective or behavior in particular ways.

Marketers need to see the problems more clearly before solving them

Moreover, the way we put this work into the world increasingly looks like most product teams. Our marketing is almost entirely built on code (with notable exceptions). We can iterate quickly whether it’s testing engagement with multiple copy lines or A/B testing landing pages. Designers, engineers and product managers now make up the core of our Marketing durable teams. Marketing is just a product created in a certain wing of the building.

If you accept this (and I’d love to hear objections, if you don’t!), then it should follow that user stories, which fuel a lot of traditional product development efforts, should find an easy home in a marketing development process. I’d even venture to say the stories have been there all along.

A major shift at Mozilla came when we realized that the user story may just be one component of an old “requirement” doc we’ve been using forever — the marketing brief. We’re used to handing briefs off to internal creative teams or agencies and most of us are experts in what makes a good brief. If that’s you, then I think you’re probably an expert on what makes a good user story too, even if you’ve never heard the term “user story.” But, it’s still fair to wonder how you’re supposed to write a user story for an “experience” like a banner ad. So let me offer an approach.

Step 1: Don’t write a user story for a banner ad

If your teams commit to user stories, then you should see a massive benefit in the way they shift focus to what they are trying to achieve — and when they reach a state of Agile nirvana, why they are trying to achieve it — instead of jumping directly into execution mode. We assume we need boosted content on Facebook. We assume we need banner ads. And these assumptions end up driving strategy. Hopefully that seems backwards to you, but I bet we’ve all seen this mistake play out.

Successful marketing campaigns rarely begin with the choice of a medium. They begin with a consumer insight. And when a creative approach succeeds in playing off that insight you’re on your way to a campaign that works: It’s memorable, it drives conversation and it drives the action you want whether that’s sales, trials, downloads or all of the above.

Good insights come from an intimate understanding of the consumer.

  • What does she want?
  • What does he believe?
  • What makes her laugh?
  • What makes him think?
  • What would change their minds?

These questions form the basis of a good marketing brief or a collection of good user stories like the ones below.

(Now, I know that I’m about to open many cans of worm because I haven’t yet addressed topics like epics, story sizing, personas, etc. all of which are really fascinating and important and I’ll get to them in time! And you’re gonna ask about why I’m not using THE user story syntax [As a user, I want X, so that I can Y]. A chat about that is in our future.)

Let’s assume that we all work at Mozilla and that we’ve launched a new podcast (because we have and it’s great!). There’s lots of podcasts for consumers to choose from but we believe ours is pretty appealing to an audience we call “conscious choosers”. And we’ve got some budget to advertise the podcast to them. So, what are some user stories that can drive our decision making about how, where and when we advertise? Here are a few examples:

  • “I feel confused and a little bit guilty that I’m not better educated about issues like online privacy or the Net Neutrality debate happening at the FCC.”
  • “I always discover new podcasts through ads on podcasts I’m listening to today like This American Life and S-town.”
  • “I feel like I should be making smarter choices about what me and my family do online but I really don’t know of a single source of truth on these issues.”
  • “Though I pretend to care when I’m talking to my friends, I really don’t understand how things like Net Neutrality affect me or people I care about. I’d like to hear stories about real people that take this out of the abstract for me.”

This is not an exhaustive list, but it highlights some of the core benefits that we feel we can deliver through our podcast and some of the emotional levers we can pull with our marketing in order to get people to listen.

Imagine handing these user stories over to a designer and copywriter. Could they create compelling advertising directions? Does writing from the user’s perspective change the way they read or the impact they have on the reader?

Is the team now equipped to make smart decisions about the marketing tactics that they can use to reach and satisfy these users? I think so, but only after addressing these user stories can the team decide that the best way to do this, given budget and all other realities, is to create a banner ad or two. But starting from that assumption would have been an error.

You probably have questions about how those user stories above actually lead to the work that becomes that banner ad. What is the process of taking a user story and turning it into specific work because none of those stories specify that they should drive a banner ad? I’ll talk about how we make that happen in my next post.

Illustrations courtesy of Rick Pinchera Illustration and Design