The Return of the Product Manager?

Product Management

Fifteen years ago when I first got into interactive marketing the product manager ruled. Brands thought hard and paid a lot of money for user experience designers to think about the types of interactions to deliver online, and how to create new ways of servicing customers in the virtual space. Content management systems were expensive, enterprise installations that serious online brands invested in out of an appreciation for the value of creating destinations that were fresh, current, and relevant for its audiences. Forrester’s Digital Agency Wave Report was the industry bible that could raise or dash the fortunes of interactive agencies large and small based on their appearance or absence in the ‘magic quadrant.’


But then things changed. Agencies realized that focusing on web builds created on-going challenges for their revenue streams, and advertisers continued to struggle with adapting to an online world that was taking a growing share of consumer attention. The consumer behavioral shifts created new challenges that the broadcast world never encountered but also provided opportunities for targeting messages to specific target segments more effectively, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the media spend.


And somewhere along the way the voices of the media side of the interactive world became dominant, almost obscuring the site/platform experience conversations. The biggest events in the interactive agency calendar are no longer Forrester conferences but (the seemingly constant) Digiday conferences. The most coveted title isn’t Experience Design all-star but Media all-star (congrats, by the way, Jordan Bitterman).


But I wonder if that’s about to change again, and the reason for wondering is the growing appreciation of content as an effective and increasingly essential mechanism for promoting a brand and its products and services. Content marketing agencies like to argue that marketers should stop talking about what customers want and ‘be’ what customers want. Brands across B2B and B2C are increasingly appreciating that delivering high-quality, helpful, entertaining content is one of the best ways of driving customer affinity. What sometimes seems to be less appreciated, however, is that great content is increasingly not a single asset – article, video, or infographic – but an intelligent weaving together of assets around a central theme. In other words, a customer experience.


Too often the impact of great content is diminished by a failure to consider the full experience customers have while interacting with it. It’s shocking to me when I choose to watch a featured video on a publisher’s site only to have a video ad, somewhere deep down on the page, start playing automatically. That, to say the least, is a bad experience.


Immersive content experiences, so far best exhibited by publishers like the New York Times (Snow Fall, The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek is a great example offer multiple avenues of exploration within a “single” story. Video, infographics, and sub-stories are integrated in seamlessly (and beautifully) to add detail and context.


As leveraging these immersive technologies inevitably becomes easier and cheaper, marketers will not be able to rely on a single writer or video team to develop content that stands out, and the skills normally associated with Product Managers and User Experience leads. Naturally I do not mean to imply that experience design experts and the creative process by which marketers and agencies conceive of and develop high-impact content experiences should outshine the innovative ways in which media planners drive attention to those experiences. Rather, I encourage those marketers and agencies to recognize content development for what it is: a full customer experience that requires planning and thoughtful consideration for how to make those experiences great.


Chris Marquardt, 6.1.15

The Native Advantage

(originally published October 2014)

Technology considerations are, relatively speaking, new to the world of advertising and the industry has had a lot to absorb in a short period of time. Unfortunately for those averse to change, advertising is not just technology, creative writing, design and media planning. More important than all of that is understanding the sociological changes that technology delivers through constant connectivity at your office, home, and now, well, pretty much anywhere for those with smartphones.


Those of us who remember a time before computing, never mind connected computing, also remember the early struggles with using the technology. My generation had to master computer commands or rely on “keyboard overlays” (don’t ask) to explain how to complete the most basic task. Once the internet came around, understanding what a web page was and why we wanted it had to precede our search for understanding about how the ability to richly share information – live, 24/7 – would help, or hurt, how people ‘felt’ about companies.


The internet immediately created new ways for delivering products and services. Almost overnight the sales and distribution mechanisms for travel-related industries were completely transformed.A lot of attention was given to making sure the designs of the new offerings were “on brand” but not much consideration was given to how much 24/7 connectivity changed what customers expected of the brands whose products and services they purchased.


The questions millenials and subsequent generations encountered when first coming to terms with connected computing can pretty much be boiled down to “who’s out there and why do I care?” not “how do I work this?” Marketers have had to relearn the art of conversation (unnecessary when broadcast was preeminent) in order to deliver effective advertising. Ironically a lot of the skills truly important in today’s marketing mix (responsiveness, good nature, an understanding of the individual needs of people) could be better taught by our 19th century predecessors than our broadcast parents. Digital natives were faced with the sociological challenges inherent in connected computing from the beginning.


In my industry I work with a lot of young people, probably at more senior levels than other major service industries. I know popular themes in the media about digital natives are that they are more selfish and entitled, but in general I find colleagues in those age groups to be more curious, entrepreneurial, and appreciative of the full ecosystem of marketing tactics than my older colleagues. And I think one reason this is so is that the digital natives in our industry were driven to it by a curiosity about how messaging, dialogue, and the full suite of touchpoints available to the modern marketer influence decisions.


Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed and am proud of my early experience in interactive marketing and know that the ‘how’ of communications technology will remain a central, essential part of the modern-day mix of marketing skills. It’s just that now more than ever the softer talents are more important in interactive marketing leadership than an understanding of and appreciation for technology.


Chris Marquardt, 10.15.14