As an e-commerce product manager, you are faced with many different pressures from multiple angles on a daily basis. You’re required to have a near encyclopaedic knowledge of your product range. You also need to seek out and aid the development of new products. You’ll probably need to analyse use cases and customer requirements, strategise, evaluate, approve and communicate… the list could go on.
One of your chief concerns is naturally going to be selling more of the products that you offer, and generating a growing network of satisfied and eager customers. This is an area where product managers and marketing teams can, and must, work together to avoid mediocrity or even disaster.
Here are some 7 insights to bear in mind.
1. Make friends with your marketing team
By allying yourself closely with an in-house or out-sourced marketing team, you can better understand what benefits your products offer to customers, and how you can communicate these most effectively. This requires the establishment of a two-way conversation between product managers and marketing teams, but once begun, this can be incredibly fruitful for both sides.
Although your training, experience, and priorities will be slightly different from a marketing manager or marketing director – the desired outcome of more sales is the same. These differences can be an area of tension – product managers need to understand the market and marketing people need to understand the product.
Once this appreciation and understanding occurs – the process of selling the products is more likely to succeed. In fact, you could argue that it’s essential for success – think of all the marketing disasters that have occurred. Some of these examples show that the most successful brands can fail (catastrophically) – even when they have great products.
2. What are the stand-out features of your products?
One of the most important ways in which product managers and marketing teams need to communicate with each other is on what makes the products special. What are the unique selling propositions which set them apart from the competition?
In the case of external copywriters, there is every chance that they have already worked on products very similar to your own, so they will look to you to illustrate how yours are different. In determining the stand out features of your products, you need to not only look at your own products but those of your competitors.
What niche can your products occupy in the online marketplace which isn’t already occupied?
Your marketing team needs to know whether they are to position your products amongst the most affordable, the most luxurious, most innovative, the longest lasting, or the most user-friendly? They need to also be made aware of any specific features that make your products stand out. This could be an innovative fuel-saving mechanism, a switch for extra safety, or an additional secret pocket.
3. Turning features into benefits
Once you’ve discussed the stand-out features of your products with the marketing team, you need to work with them to turn those benefits into features.
Having spent hours poring over the technical specs of your products and discussing their finer points with your product development team, it can be easy to become somewhat focused on their features. But it’s important to remember that its benefits, not features, that sell products to customers, and your digital marketing team can help you to understand these and communicate them to prospective buyers.
Again, this is a two-way street, and in order for your product copywriters to know what the benefits are, you must first tell them precisely what the features of each product are, as well as any other relevant information. Once they have this, your marketing team can, through empathising with the customer, transform those features into benefits that can be easily understood by the customer. For example:
- ‘Alloy frame’ becomes ‘strong, light, construction you can depend on’
- ‘high-capacity lithium battery’ becomes ‘longer battery life, so you won’t get cut short’
- ‘Made from polyester’ becomes ‘get active without worrying about rips or tears’
By communicating in terms of benefits rather than features, your marketing team can also help you to better understand what it is about your products that customers find appealing so that you can replicate this in future.
4. Understanding the product story
Behind every product is a story, and in an overcrowded marketplace with many similar competing products, that story can be what distinguishes your product from those of your competitors. Your marketing team or an external team of professional copywriters can bring that story to life and leverage it to promote sales of the product.
Famously, just after the turn of the 19th century, Claude Hopkins took Schlitz beer to number one in sales from number 8 – just by describing how they purified the beer. This was something none of their competitors had even thought about and meant customers differentiated between Schlitz and other brands.
First, though your marketing people need information from you which will help them to understand that story. This information might include:
The genesis of the product – What was the original need for which the product was created? Is it actually the result of many different versions of the product and subsequent refinements?
What core values and beliefs are central to the development of the product? What is it that is unique to your brand that has resulted in the product being created or offered in the way it has?
If applicable, what key staff have been involved in the development of the project? Is it the result of many years of research by a single team?
If you’re offering a range of products that are available elsewhere, what is different about how you have curated and sourced your product range? What are you seeking to offer the customer in presenting this selection of products?
Once you have helped your marketing team to understand the product story, you can work with them to determine how this is portrayed to your online customers. What values do you most want to project in your brand, and what narrative will help to put your products in the best light?
Copywriters are highly adept at storytelling, and a compelling story which communicates what is different and distinctive about your products can help them to stand out.
At all times when telling the story of your products, though, it’s important to incorporate your customer into that story, or you risk them losing interest and tuning out.
“The most powerful brand stories are the ones that prioritise customers as the stars,” say Neil Patel and Rikita Puri in QuickSprout’s ‘Guide to online marketing’, “think of your company as a supporting character.”
5. Product managers and marketing teams need to communicate over what materials are used in products
The materials which are used in your products are important in so far as these materials are perceived by your customers. For example, if you’re in the business of selling clothes, your customers want to know what each product is made from, so that they can judge things like how easy it is to wash, how it will feel against their skin and how hard-wearing it will be.
For items like mountain bikes and skateboards meanwhile, the materials that each product is made from is of paramount importance, particularly when selling to pro-level customers.
Again, it’s important to relate these materials to your customers in terms of the benefits that they offer them. Is a certain type of metal lighter, offering more convenience/ greater handling abilities? Has a leather part of the product been specially treated, so providing greater durability and longer product life to the customer?
Lack of information such as this can be a key reason for poorly performing products. According to a report by usability experts the Nielsen Norman Group, “Problems with product pages — when users couldn’t get their questions answered…accounted for 17% of the sales catastrophes.”
6. Ask yourself what innovations has your brand engineered?
If you’re in the business of selling your brand’s own products, it’s quite likely that you’ve had teams of product designers, product engineers and other staff working hard to come up with innovations that will help your product to stand out from the rest. But if your marketing team is not then leveraging those innovations and communicating them effectively to your customers, they will do little to improve your sales. In short, you need to be marketing every innovation that you create and develop.
It doesn’t even have to be a major selling point of the product, or relate to its key purpose – little things, such as spill-resistant cupholder, or an additional air hole for breathability, can engage the customer’s imagination and enable them to see with greater clarity the benefits of owning your product.
As a product manager, to ensure that your innovations are working as hard as possible for your brand, you need to first assimilate as much information from your product development teams about what innovations they have engineered which make your product an even better proposition.
It’s quite possible that they will give you a highly technical perspective of the innovation, so it’s your job to make this clear and understood by the marketing team, who can then actively sell the benefits of those innovations to customers.
Talking about specific innovations in your product descriptions is also an important way in which you can distinguish your products from those of competitors. As Moosa Hemani points out in a recent Moz blog, “If you have a website with thousands of products, the common challenge is to write unique and high-quality product descriptions. While overcoming this challenge can be frustrating, you need to do it or you’ll risk losing out on considerable amounts of potential traffic (and paying customers).”
By discussing innovations, you instantly deal with the ‘unique’ part of this content need, while your marketing team can take care of the ‘high-quality’ side of things.
7. Develop an empathic customer focus
“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself” – Peter Drucker
What marketers understand best is how to communicate with customers in a way that empathises with them and ‘pushes their buttons’ in ways which lead them to make a purchase.
Their innate and developed skills help them in this pursuit greatly, but as a product manager, you can also push this agenda further by learning more about your customers and communicating your learnings to the marketing team.
In a recent and highly insightful Product Plan article, Julie Hyman, Senior Product manager at Dell Software Group says, that not paying attention to customers, “is a misstep I’ve seen a lot of product managers make. We can easily become too insulated, reading the industry magazines and analyst reports, and talking with our own colleagues, and substituting those opinions for our own market research.”
She goes on to point out that, “when you think about it, it makes no sense to do it that way because we obviously have a much richer source of feedback — our own customers!” To engage this valuable source of information, she suggests approaching them with online surveys, requesting a short amount of time on the phone with them, or even meeting with face to face, such as in focus groups.
Once you have collated this research, you can then work with your marketing team to determine what messages you need to be putting out there in your product descriptions and other copy, to engage with the specific needs, drives and concerns of customers.
This paper by the University of Otago entitled found that e-commerce businesses, “need to take a holistic view of their customer in terms of their readiness and orientation.”
Only by understanding your own specific customers and considering them within the wider framework of their lives and how your products impact upon these, can you sell online with maximum effectiveness.
The study also determined that “The customer-intimate company conducts business by knowing the people it sells to and the products and services they need, to allow them to offer the best value proposition solution for customers with the intention of cultivating relationships in order to garner business opportunities.”
We think that every UX specialist would agree – the question is always how to implement this knowledge in the most effective way for your customers. As we argued in our last blog, Zen and The Art Of Niche Marketing it’s about understanding your niche, rather than world domination.
What Makes A Good Product Manager Better?
Are you a product manager in search of a content marketing team or experienced product description writers? Get in touch with us, and find out how we can help you achieve your goals.