A Product Marketer’s guide to: Feature Launches 🚀

With Nick Smith, from Geckoboard

7 min readJun 5, 2018

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I recently caught up with Nick Smith, Product Marketing Manager at Geckoboard. In this interview, Nick shares his advice on how to approach and execute your feature launches.

Hey Nick, tell us about Geckoboard and what you do there:

I’m Nick Smith, I manage Product Marketing at Geckoboard.

Geckoboard is a tool for building TV dashboards that communicate live business metrics to teams so they can react faster, feel more motivated and stay focused on their work rather than having to dig into emails, complicated tools or reports to get the numbers they need.

What’s the role of Product Marketing at Geckoboard?

I’m Geckoboard’s only Product Marketer and I mostly work within the marketing team. More and more though I’m spending time with the product team to ensure I’m involved as early as possible in the development of new features — I’m the voice of the product through our marketing, but equally I need to represent the voice of potential customers in other areas of the business, especially within the product.

How should Product Marketers work with Product teams on new features launches?

I feel like it’s less about you trying to put yourself in the position where you’re saying to your product team “hey, I’m the one who understands the market & the customer, so this is what we should build…”

It’s more like you as a Product Marketer having some kind of presence at the early stages of product discovery — because ultimately you’re going to be the one talking about it later on. If you can make some very early tweaks at the beginning of the process, for example around how a feature is named, or helping to define what the ultimate benefits of that feature might be in the customer’s mind before it’s built, it means that when it comes to shipping & then marketing a particular feature, both teams are already aligned.

What do your launches tend to look like?

One of Geckoboard’s strengths is the number of different business tools that we integrate with to make it easy to visualise metrics. A lot of our feature launches are us announcing these new integrations.

I usually kick things off by getting Product & Marketing in a room to start building a simple messaging doc, which we’ll use to centralise everything.

A scratch-pad for initial ideas on messaging, deliverables, and audiences for feature announcements.

I get the Product Manager to give me a rough idea of what the integration will be capable of doing at the point of launch. Then we start throwing around ideas about what the key features are we should highlight, as well as tying key user benefits to it.

Documenting the process helps you from the early stages, right up to the actual launch itself. It can become something you refer to when thinking about everything from internal guides & training, to how you promote the feature through your channels.

We usually start with a beta launch where the first milestone is to start gathering initial feedback. Product do this to test if certain elements of the feature are useful for people and to learn how they actually use it — for me, as the Product Marketing Manager, I’m dialling myself into the sorts of language people are using to describe the integration and its features, learning what the benefits of it are in their own words.

During beta, I’m fine-tuning the messaging, making it as relatable as it can be to my users, and identifying customers who could give testimonials.

What makes a successful launch?

Beware of vanity metrics. Page views on your launch post only measure if people have seen your launch.

Set clear objectives with your team as early as possible around what you’re expecting this release to achieve, then start measuring it.

For us, the ultimate goal of a new integration launch is to acquire new sign-ups from it. However, don’t just focus on one metric, you need to build an understanding of the full journey that leads towards it.

Are people seeing your launch collateral? Do they then come through to your Product? If they don’t sign up, why? If they do, are they actually using the feature you’ve been selling them on?

How should you decide what you communicate & how?

If you haven’t read it, then I really recommend Matt Hodges’ blog post on Prioritising product announcements in SaaS world. Even if you’re not working on a Saas product, it gives you really simple framework to adopt that will help you to build a launch strategy.

When it comes to planning a launch, I think generally as a marketer, it doesn’t harm to go in with the assumption that Product are going to deliver the full vision of what they set out to build.

Plan for the best case launch scenario, but have back-up plans for if (or rather when!) you run into commercial challenges or technical roadblocks.

How should people coordinate releases and launches internally?

Really the coordination comes in terms of making sure the people who need to know about the specifics, know. It helps if you have something like the messaging document I mentioned earlier to refer to throughout

Closer to the actual launch, I think it’s Product Marketing’s job to get really vocal. Think about your own company’s channels for sharing internal news and be ever-present in them.

If you’re not already, start attending all of the product stand-ups too. It means that a kind of granular coordination can continually happen, and other teams who don’t have the same relationship with product can get the smaller details of the feature and the launch via you.

What challenges might Product Marketer’s experience around feature launches?

If you’re a product-first company like us, it can be challenging to get people to think with a more marketing mindset.

I’ve always known and felt we can be doing more in terms of building a marketing perspective into our product. It’s not about massively changing the roadmap or really proposing anything different than our current course. It’s about trying to instil kind a commercial awareness throughout the business, which perhaps isn’t like the first thing at the top of everyone’s mind when trying to build a great product.

Another thing you might encounter relates to ownership.

It’s on you as the Product Marketer, to ensure that the positioning, messaging and collateral around new features and products is great. That is what your job is, therefore it’s important you get the space and the trust you need to do it well.

Don’t become an editor of other people’s comments and suggestions on product messaging. In the same way that Product own the specifics of how they’re going to deliver their roadmap, you need to own the specifics of your messaging and how the feature is talked about.

What’s the best way to overcome these challenges?

It will vary, but generally I think if your role sits within Marketing, speak to your team, your VP & get clear backing for what you’re in charge of. You’re the bridge between two very different types of team, and it might not be obvious to everyone what you do, so be vocal about any changes you think need to be made to help you do your job.

Winning the Product team round is a little bit different. Product teams in general are good at figuring out what companies should be building and why — so where as the Product Marketer to do you add value?

In my view you need to answer that question by showing how your skills can help elevate what Product are already doing. During a recent round of user research for example I made a point to not just be involved in that research, but to really be the one driving it — setting up calls, creating set of questions for our Jobs to be Done interviews and working closely with Ben our VP product to distill our insights into something the whole company could get behind.

Where I think Product Marketing can really help is to develop a much deeper understanding of how users are coming to a product in the first place.

Be data-driven too. If you’re building materials to support a feature launch, then measure how useful they are for things like acquiring new customers or teaching customers how it works. Then product can see in numbers the impact a Product Marketing function has — and reinforces the idea that you’re there to elevate the work they do.

What would you say to someone in Marketing who want wants to do feature comms better?

There are all sorts of checklists and blog posts about what exactly can you do and prepare for a launch…

But the advice I’d give is to go really deep into understanding your customer. Ignore demographics and go for the reasons why people want to use your service, why they do end up using you, or why they don’t. Share as much as of this process as with product as you can.

Having alignment between Marketing & Product around your understanding of the customer is the number one thing — it informs what you build for them and then how you deliver it to them, it also ends up making your launch sound way more authentic. You’ll be talking to people in their language hitting their exact mindset and pain points with the right product to back it up.

You can follow Nick on Twitter, or be his Linkedin buddy. If you have questions for him about this interview, then feel free to add them into the comments below 👇

Thanks for reading! ✌️

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A hands-on product lead for startups. Loves an analogy.