Hi there. Now that we’re all back and in the swing of it, I want to kick off the year looking at three of the big themes we’ll be covering in the initiative this year — and why. These are the three big things we’ll be talking about, looking at trends for, and sharing best practices on.
What it means to build customer-informed products.
How to manage (what appear to be) conflicting product objectives.
How we go beyond traditional products to become part of a customer lifestyle.
For each of these topics, I have included the questions I’ll be aiming to answer. If you are one or more steps ahead of me on these, have opinions/questions/case studies, or simply want to chew the fat on any of these topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out. E-mail me now and tell me what’s on your mind.
Looking forward to engaging with you in 2022 — Jodie.
What it means to build customer-informed products
Making the end-to-end customer experience outstanding is product’s main role. Product is built around solving for user needs and wants, and the first step in any product process is to define a user problem. This is especially true at media companies. Whether we are improving current products or building new ones, our decisions need to be based on solid insights.
I think we pretty much all agree on that. But how do we turn data sources into insights we can rely on?
There are many different ways to mine data, both qualitative and quantitative. Rarely is this as straightforward as face value. When doing user interviews, how do you ensure that you glean the information you need without leading people? How do you make sure you are listening and responding to responses that encourage additional information, while leaving scope to go in a direction that is valuable but hadn’t been planned for? There is a reason research is a specialist subject — and that this often sits within marketing, not product.
We are also aware of how valuable data is. And almost every organisation I am talking to is gathering and housing this data in vast databases. Again, the skill sets to interrogate the data are specialised. Large organisations have teams of data scientists. Not everyone can afford this and even those that can find bottlenecks as the mountain of requests can only be answered by the human capacity available.
So here are some questions I’ll be asking on this subject:
Many companies have invested in audience analytics for the newsroom. To what extent can this be capitalised on for product?
To what extent should product managers have direct access to data to glean the insights they need? Do we need to make investments in training? And what about dashboards?
What insights do we really need? How do we balance need to know with PhD level insights?
How can we use data to develop multivariate testing?
How do we balance “what users should know” and “what users want to know” when we look at personalisation and how consumers move around our products?
How do we connect the digital product “dots” for insight on what consumers don’t even know they want?
How do we involve other departments in the data gathering process to create a democratised data set while truly making stakeholders partners in the product process?
Date for the diary: April 5
I’ll be spending the next three months going deep on the questions above with a view to seeking out the best insights and case studies to share with you in a three-part master class on building customer informed products. You can find more information and keep an eye for the evolving agenda and speakers here.
How to manage (what appear to be) conflicting objectives
OKRs are used by many. And those that use them will say they are exceptionally effective. However, one struggle I often see is as they trickle down from company/CEO level objectives to departmental, and even individual, they can — unintentionally — conflict.
As it is usually product that brings departments together to make decisions, it is often product that finds breakdowns between the objectives that have been set. It’s also product that needs to be the arbitrators of these conflicting wants and needs.
VMing Chew, a senior product manager at SPH in Singapore, shared this cartoon with us in the December master class on product methodologies. It stuck with me because I think anyone who has worked in any organisation has come across this. Even with the most aligned objectives, sometimes it’s not enough to sway the opinions of people who matter.
Here are some questions I’ll be asking around conflicting objectives:
How do we determine objectives at both a company and departmental level?
What formats and processes can we use to prioritise and make decisions? Which of these are best for both efficiency and effectiveness while protecting relationships?
How do we protect relationships? What are the soft skills our teams need and how do we acquire them?
How do we manage conflicting revenue pillars? Is LTV (lifetime value) the best, only, solution?
How we go beyond traditional products to become part of a customer lifestyle
There has been fragmentation of the distribution channels for news from printed newspaper, TV, and radio to digital channels such as Web and mobile. The smarthome devices such as Alexa are far from reaching their potential. And, of course, there is a huge growth of wearables: My Apple watch is only taken off to sleep (and that will probably change when sleep apps become better) and my airpods are never far away.
As I have been running the INMA XR series, I realise how close we are to getting glasses that are ready for consumer adoption. Oculus had a great Christmas as Benedict Evans wrote: “The companion app was at the top of the app store charts on Christmas Day, and the analytics firms are now guesstimating 2m downloads (late last year Qualcomm revealed FB had sold about 10m units in 18 months).”
But it’s not all about new devices. It’s that we’re moving away from screens. Partly that’s about what the new devices enable people to do. I take walks without my mobile and am still able to talk to friends using airpods and a watch. If I pass a store, I can use ApplePay on my watch.
Related, consumer expectations are different. News has become a commodity. Insights are more valuable. And insights in relation to the individual consumer even more so. At news organisations, we have a wealth of expertise that we have tapped into from a content point of view but not always a product point of view.
Just think about The New York Times Cooking. Despite the plethora of recipes available online, enough people feel The New York Times channel gives them what they need, solves a problem, and they are willing to pay for it. And by buying Wirecutter, they solve another user problem: What product/brand should I buy? It gives advice that people can rely on. It saves time doing the research.
With all this in mind, here are some of the questions I’ll be asking:
How can we think about bringing news off-screen onto other devices?
What products are related to our in-house expertise that can be used outside of news, both to inform and to entertain?
What tools and utilities could you offer readers to help with their lives?
Tweet of the week
Rarely do we get to look at something as early stage as this so publicly. I have included the tweet and comment by two smart ladies in international media (whom you should absolutely be following).
This is the ultimate product question: What is the problem that they are trying to solve? These two potential customers say that there isn’t one. I wonder what data Mr & Mr Smith are using to validate their hypothesis.
Use the news “gets to the bottom of young people's news use and literacy and develops new information and educational offerings.” Something many are interested in: how to attract young readers.
About this newsletter
Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.