The Magic Behind Consumer Subscription Services - Banter w/ Tanya

I had the pleasure of joining my friend Tanya again for a friendly discussion on the world of consumer subscription boxes and services - from the Columbia Records days to Hello Fresh and Stitch Fix.

Here's our hot take on how to get to "personalization at scale" and what we like/dislike about this category of services.

Join us as we share our thoughts on how subscription boxes and curated services can successfully capture and keep an audience.

What is Product Marketing?

Product marketing is NOT product management.

Product marketing is NOT growth hacking.

Product marketing is NOT inbound marketing, or demand gen, or content marketing.

Product marketing is the strategy, science and art of bringing a product to market.

What do we do as product marketers?

Product marketers function as CEO’s of their products, product lines, or entire product portfolios. We are responsible for (feel free to steal this for your job description writing):

  • Operating with extreme empathy for our target audience(s);
  • Understanding the pain points and problems of our target buyers and users;
  • Partnering with product management and engineering to develop products and solutions that acutely address those issues;
  • Developing pricing that our target buyers are willing to pay and that conveys the value they will receive after a purchase;
  • Designing and delivering sales enablement and materials that will lead to pipeline development and closed business;
  • Knowing everything about our competitors and how to position our products/company in a unique way;
  • Identifying and engaging with appropriate sales/distribution channels and marketing partners to exponentially scale reach and business growth;
  • Leading cross-functional teams across integrated marketing, PR/Media, product, engineering, finance, sales, sales operations, sales enablement, HR, business development, and support to launch new products;
  • Understanding every aspect of a buyer’s journey and experiences with our company from awareness, to interest and consideration, to purchase, support, and ultimately advocacy;
  • Cultivating relationships with customers to drive retention and advocacy, and to develop case studies and reference materials for marketing execution;
  • Assisting sales teams as a subject matter expert in sales cycles;
  • Partnering with sales to incorporate feedback from the frontline into product marketing strategies and initiatives;
  • Partnering with product management and engineering to assess product usage and engagement patterns to develop more personalized and relevant customer retention strategies based on actual behavior;
  • Reporting success and failures to company senior leadership;
  • Briefing media, market analysts and investors on our product(s), go to market strategies and unique point of view on the market, our company’s positioning and roadmap;
  • Writing, presenting and publicly advocating for the company at events, in trade publications and press, and in the world in general;
  • Leveraging data and embracing an agile mindset in every aspect of the above responsibilities to make smarter, sounder decisions to grow our product business and the overall business of the company.

Who are we really, product marketers?

  • We’re the kids who started lemonade stands, traded and bartered in the elementary school lunch room, and were the first to sign up to help.
  • We’re insatiably curious and always ask why.
  • We’re students of business and business models.
  • We’re relatively obsessed with technology. Our less tech-savvy friends generally turn to us first for “tech” help.
  • Our parents have no idea what we do for a living.
  • We eventually want to start our own companies, we just haven’t figured out the perfect idea yet.
  • We love to see and use data to drive our initiatives.
  • We’re scientists. And artists. We were either engineers or English majors. Or maybe both.
  • We’re generally pretty tired of marketing buzz words and wish things like “synergy” would evaporate into the ether.
  • We’re happiest working in a group of super scrappy, smart, ambitious and fun people who like to get sh*t done. We work hard and don’t have time for a$$holes.
  • We’re not into short-term “growth hacking.” Sure, we work in sprints, but we’re in it for the long haul. We’re looking to build sustainable businesses.

What value do we bring to organizations and why are we “must haves” to drive business growth?

You’re itching to get product market fit as quickly as possible because your investors are pressuring you, or you’re pressuring yourself to get revenue so you can raise your Series A; you know that funding for dreams doesn’t really happen anymore. But without a product marketing strategy — how exactly are you going to market? Who needs your product and how can you convince him that he does? — you’re entering the Appalachian Trail without a map, or boots, or socks. All the money that you’re about to spend on copywriters, or your nephew who knows a bit of HTML, or paid search or Facebook ads, you might as well light on fire. Even if you do get a response, how will you know if they’re really the customers you want and can retain (e.g. drive more value to your business)?

Someone with product marketing skills is a key executive hire for your team as you think about taking anything to market. Ideally, this person is on staff BEFORE you finish building anything so you can assess the market and develop a product or service that will solve a problem that someone will actually pay for — otherwise, you have a shiny new thing, but not a business.

According to a CB Insights report that analyzed 101 essays from founders who had failed startups,
“The number-one reason for failure, cited by 42% of polled startups, is the lack of a market need for their product.
That should be self-evident. If no one wants your product, your company isn’t going to succeed. But many startups build things people don’t want with the irrational hope that they’ll convince them otherwise.”


Friends, 90% of startups fail. By following the logic above….let’s say 40% or even 30% of startups fail because they didn’t understand the market they were trying to enter and built a product no one wanted. Guess who could have helped them with that? Yes, a product marketer.

Now think about how much more economic value we could create for our communities by employing product marketers early in the development of our businesses. Could we keep 5, 10 or even 15% more startups in business? How many more jobs could we create? According to the latest data from the Small Business Administration, small businesses account for about 45% of total GDP in the US. If we were able to affect that by 1% we would make a significant impact in the economic health of our local communities.

Where are my product marketing kin?

So why is it so hard to find product marketers in Chicago? I know there are a bunch of you out there, maybe you just haven’t had the words to describe who you are, what you do and the value you bring to organizations. I want to help. I’m starting a guild in Chicago to share war stories and help each other bring more awareness to our craft. If you’re game, leave a comment here with your contact info or hit me up on my website —

Together we can build more successful businesses and drive real economic change in our communities — #productmarketers should be your first hire.


Also published on Medium

How to Become a Marketing Scientist

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at a General Assembly event in Chicago focused on predictions for 2017 in Digital Marketing. Based on the title, it seemed rather narrow and somewhat tactical, but nonetheless important; there are many shiny things that catch our attention these days. But what struck me was the opportunity to step back and focus on strategy, rather than the latest social platform we all “need” to be on. After all, if your target audience isn’t there, why are you?

Employing the Scientific Method to drive marketing success

Close your eyes for a moment and transport yourself back to your grade or middle school class where you were first introduced to the scientific method. I’ll wait….

As I remember it, Mrs. Cain taught us about making observations, hypotheses, dependent and independent variables, putting together a lab plan, observing what happened, taking copious notes and then drawing conclusions relative to what our hypotheses were. Were we correct? Incorrect? If incorrect, why? How can we reconstruct the experiment in a different way to test our hypothesis further? If correct, what are the proof points? What data do we have to support our conclusions?

This is the framework that we should all embrace as marketing leaders, but too often, we get caught up with the shiny pennies and funny names — growth hacking, content marketing, inbound marketing, social marketing, influencer marketing — that we don’t stop to think about actually developing a strategy and testing it. These channels and tactics are NOT a marketing strategy. They’re ways in which you execute and test a hypothesis based on careful understanding of your target market, pain points and the product or services you’re trying to sell.

The Marketing Scientific Method

1) Observe:

“You never know a man until you’ve walked around in his skin”

Ideally, before you build ANYTHING, you have already identified a group of people who share a problem. Perhaps this arose from a very personal issue you experienced and haven’t been able to find a solution. Once you started talking to others like you — maybe other moms, students, engineers, marketers, whatever the segment — you realize that you all share this problem and collectively haven’t found a solution. Aha! Invention, or perhaps just innovation on an existing tool or service that isn’t cutting it, begins!

“Get Curious. Talk to People…”

Your observations continue now at scale. How many other people have the same problem I do?

Note: they may not look, talk or live like you do (this is the issue with relying too much on demographics to segment a market), but they must have the same problem you do without a viable solution.

When you find people with the same problem, talk to them, ask questions that will draw out why they have this problem, what they’ve tried in the past to solve it and why it’s not working. Take notes. Tons of notes. Code them in some way where you can start to identify patterns that will inform a more quantitative way of surveying a larger group in the near future.

Note: I’m not suggesting you have to hire a big fancy research firm to do this; indeed, this isn’t in the budget for most startups. Generally, this is where that network you’ve been building your entire life comes in and where social media is particularly helpful. Crowdsource with friends and family. Walk the streets in your neighborhood. Eschew that advice to never talk to strangers. I’m particularly a fan of talking to @lyft drivers, but that’s another story for another time.

When you think you have enough qualitative information to begin crafting your hypothesis at statistically significant scale, start codifying and prioritizing your questions. Then sign up for free or free-ish tools like Google Surveys, Survey Monkey, etc. Be respectful of your audience’s time, however, and think about small rewards that you can provide them in exchange. Yes, here’s where money can come into play, but you’d be surprised at how responsive people are when you offer them a free cup of coffee. You don’t necessarily need to give them $100 in exchange for 30 min of their time.

2) Develop your Hypothesis

For marketers, developing a hypothesis rooted in audience observation, should include the following:

  • Audience definition (aka “persona” development; for B2B marketers, you may also include definitions of target organizations/companies) — For me, this needs to be human and comprehensive. Stating “males 25–35 years old who live in San Francisco” is insufficient. I need to know everything about this guy — his name is George; he grew up in Portland going to the Oregon coast with his family every summer. He’s 32 and is a civil engineer working for the San Francisco city government building and repairing bridges. In his spare time, he enjoys extreme sports and hiking with his girlfriend of two years. He just rescued a greyhound. He volunteers at a soup kitchen once a month and his favorite place to visit is Paris at Christmas-time. That level of detail. I want this person to come to life because then I can find this person and others that look/act/think like him and that most likely have the same problems for which I have a solution.
  • Product and Service definition — what is it that I’m attempting to sell to this audience and how will I support him/her as a customer? This is not just about the product. This is inherently about the experience — all along the buyers journey and throughout his or her time with you as a customer. I’m talking EVERY touch point. Map out what the ideal experience will look like across all those interaction points and see where you can improve.
  • A compelling reason to buy (aka why are my product/service AND company uniquely qualified to solve his/her problem?) — If you listened carefully and crafted the right questions in your observation phase, this should be a summary of what you heard coupled with why you believe you’re special. Yes, we’re all special snowflakes, but you need to make a compelling argument here. This is the crux of the hypothesis you’re going to test. It’s your positioning….which should NOT change over the course of this experiment. Your messaging for this audience may change, but the fundamental value you’re providing should not change until you have data that lead you to conclude your hypothesis was incorrect….enter testing mode.
  • Quantitative and qualitative goals to measure success — here’s where I’ve seen many marketers fall down. They don’t begin this process with a quantitative and qualitative benchmark in mind. If you’re starting from scratch, I believe the most logical place to focus is on quantity and quality of leads. For example, if I have 1 sales person on staff, I know he can process say 50 leads a week. I’m thus going to set my target for week 1 at driving 50 leads. At the end of the week (or maybe even daily), I will sit with this sales person to assess the quality of each of these leads — did we hit the right target based on the characteristics we laid out? were they qualified? were they in the right spot in their buyer’s journey? What questions or objections did you hear on your calls?

3) Experiment and Collect Data

This is your marketing execution plan. Ideally, it contains the following:

  • Messaging Map — A set of statements/messages that are tailored to the needs/wants/desires/perspectives of each of the personae you identified above. In this testing phase, you’ll want to develop a few sets of variants for each of these messages, maybe changing a few words or how you contextualize things across different channels.
  • Prioritized channels and spend — based on your understanding of the audience, where do they hangout and would be most receptive to your messaging? For example, if you’re offering a consumer product or service, is it more appropriate to reach them on Facebook? If you’re offering a business product, should you reach them in trade journals or at events? The good thing about channels like social and paid search is that you can test your messaging across audience segments and messaging variants for relatively low spend (I’m talking hundreds of dollars or even less depending on your target audience). Armed with a few weeks of data from these tests, then you can look to scale or increase spend on the channels and with the messaging you have proven to work.
  • Partnership with sales — the sales team needs to be your best friend. They hold the golden nuggets of information because they’re talking to your audience daily. As I mentioned above, I’d recommend at least a weekly session with your entire marketing and key sales teammates to review analytics and qualitative insights from sales calls. Now, no one wants another meeting on the books. This needs to be a session where everyone brings their recommendations based on what they’ve observed and where you take action for the following week. In effect, this is sprint planning (see more on Agile methodology here).
  • Monitor the market — we marketers can’t operate in a vacuum. It’s important to keep tabs on your competitors — what they’re saying, doing and maybe not saying to the market. Are they changing pricing? Have they announced partnerships with others? Are they acquiring other customers? Whom are they hiring? To me, this is one person’s (or at least someone’s half-time) job depending on how competitive and established your market is. If you’re creating a new category or market, good for you for getting your first-mover advantage on, but beware of new entrants. Don’t get complacent.
  • Pricing and Packaging — these topics can be separate experiments unto themselves, but should always be included in your overall plan. Pricing and packaging can severely affect — in good and bad ways — your success. There’s a lot on the interwebs and in thousands of books about pricing and packaging, so I won’t attempt to summarize it all here. However, note that while all of your other variables — messaging, channels, sales execution, etc — may be spot on, the reason why you’re not seeing traction may ultimately be due to a disconnect between pricing, packaging and the target customer’s perceived value of your offering. Please take heed and pay attention to this piece. If you need help, seek assistance from the smart people in your finance team wherein they can help you put together scenarios based on costs, margins that need to be preserved, audience willingness to pay and competition.

4) Making Conclusions and Taking Action

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” — a lot of people ask me how long is the ideal length of a marketing campaign or plan and therein lies the problem. Many marketers see “campaigns” as a finite activity with a binary outcome, much like political campaigns — there’s a prescribed length of time and at the end you have a winner and loser. Becoming marketing scientists forces us to think differently — our work is never complete as it can always improve.

As outlined above, I like to work in weekly sprints with a defined goal, hypothesis, execution plan, data collection with a defined infrastructure and time set aside to assess the success or failure of the experiment. You might say, ok, then the campaign is a week. Not really, as there are an infinite number of variables I could test, most of which don’t have a binary outcome. Breaking up the experiments into smaller plans helps us to quickly test and learn; however, we need to always root these weekly tests in our overall strategy. I’m NOT advocating for Willy-Nilly throwing money at different channels. Follow your plan and make tweaks to the entire offering and experience — product, service, marketing messaging, pricing, packaging, etc — not just to your spend on social media.

I believe that marketing is business building. If you believe that your business has the capacity for infinite growth, provided you’re willing to explore new markets and new products based on your unique competence, data and experience with your customers, then a campaign structure will never be appropriate.

Let’s change our mindsets to be marketing scientists. Embrace the power of experimentation, data and action to build better businesses and drive growth in our global economy.

Marketing should be about business building, not selling snake oil

I’ve been spending a lot more time on Twitter lately trying to learn about the social sector (and by social sector, I mean nonprofits, foundations and others bringing good to the world) and what people are talking about. However, about 90% of my feed, despite unfollowing people incessantly, is still filled with listicles and short cuts from “expert growth hackers” or “social media mavens” or the like. I’m all for working more efficiently, but these short cuts are akin to the lose-weight-fast pitches emblazoned on grocery store checkout aisle mags. Where are my marketing brethren that focus on strategy and business building?

Marketing is about building businesses.

I studied marketing in grad school, but it was really a formalization of what I’ve loved to do since childhood — build businesses, products and convince people to buy things from me. I, like many other suburban kids, started with a lemonade stand.

My parents were having some work done on our house in the late 1980's and it was summer in St. Louis — 90 degrees with 90% humidity. (Ps if you want to lose weight fast, work out for hours in those conditions — pro tip) I had a captive audience that had a need that I could fill and they were willing to pay a premium to get it. It was a great and successful business I ran for several weeks.

From there, I worked with my uncle (an engineer) to build a prototype of a floating table that would could affix to a wall in your swimming pool, because what kid doesn’t want to snack while swimming? (Ok, suburban Midwestern kid problem, admittedly.) 30 min rule be damned. I didn’t sell any of those and the prototype lived in our garage until my parents got sick of looking at it. I guess every product idea fails once in a while.

I spent all of my high school years working after school jobs to pay for my music and concert addiction. In college, when someone approached me with an offer to spend someone else’s money to produce concerts at Davidson, I said of course! 30 concerts produced by the time I graduated, I’d convinced the dean of students to give me $150k a year to play with. An English major with an education in building a break-even business and a team of 40 volunteers in four years turned out to be a good pairing and laid a foundation for my professional career.

In the 12 years I’ve been out of undergrad, I’ve been an Intrapreneur building businesses and teams inside McMaster-Carr, Disney, Jive  and Timshel— an industrial supply distribution company, one of the largest media and entertainment companies in the world, a collaboration software company and a company building a SaaS platform for nonprofit marketing automation. B2B, B2C, B2E...whatever you want to call it; marketing is — building and growing a business.

Why is everyone just talking about the tactics when we should be focused on the big picture? We’ve created marketing orgs that are so siloed and specialized, that we’re generating a core of marketers who can never run a business end to end. And this makes me sad for our function.

I’m a liberal arts junkie. I believe strongly in teaching people how to think critically and building relationships across seemingly disparate things to generate new ideas and innovation. With the way we’re building marketers today as highly specialized tacticians, we’re losing the value and need for marketing within an org. I can teach someone how to write copy for emails or Twitter in an hour; teaching someone to think about how to build and grow a business takes years.

If you’re a new or newish marketer, think about the value of the skill set you’re developing. How will you build a career if you’re just focused on social media tricks and tips? If you really want to get lean and build a “body” that will stay healthy and allow you to grow over time and take on more responsibility, you should be thinking about building businesses and all those tactics in service of that goal, rather than the goal unto itself.

Why I Coach, Not Manage

Coaching is founded on the potential to improve.

Management suggests a burden and a need to temper.

Coaching suggests there’s limitless potential if you’re just pushed a little harder.

Management implies boundaries. Management is task. Not a way of engaging.

Coaching connotes a human relationship rooted in care and concern for those whom you’re coaching.

This is why I coach, not manage my teams.

No, this post will not be an addition to the litany of sports references in people “management” literature. I won’t be talking about winning measured in inches or at bats or Buzzer-beaters.

Coaching to me is personal. So I’ll use an extended music metaphor instead.

My team is Beyoncé and I’m the roadie.

If I’m coaching well, I’m in the shadows, dressed in black, hanging lights, checking sound, tuning instruments. My job is to make the talent on my team shine, not take credit for what they do.

I watch the stage. I watch the audience. I watch the exits. Are there people leaving during one of the biggest numbers? Or maybe everyone’s grabbing a beer when she diverges from her greatest hits? I’ll give that feedback immediately after the performance so that next time, she keeps them glued to their seats. Next time, they won’t want to leave because FOMO. Next time, they just might be moved to tears.

My team is Beyoncé and I’m building the tour route.

My granddad always tells me to “hit ‘Em where thy ain’t” and I told you this wouldn’t include sports references, so I’ll quickly move off. But as I’m building the tour route for my team, I want to get gigs where they’re going, not where people expect them to be; where secret shows pop up and generate incredible demand; where bootleggers will be chomping at the bit to get a line into the soundboard to record what my team is dropping that night. Location, location, location. My goal is to get my team in the right place, at the right time to shine.

My team is Beyoncé and I’m the tour producer.

Details. I want my team to look good, sound good and perform well. Luck comes to the prepared mind and I want to help them prepare every last bit. What’s the set list? How will I open the show? What’s my back up plan if something goes unexpectedly different than what we planned? What surprises will I throw in to keep people singing with me? Whom do I thank at the end of the show?

It’s not my role to answer these questions for my team. My role is to ask them.

My team is Beyoncé and I want to sell out their shows.

I’ll sell tickets for them, market the hell out of what they do, tell people how great they are and how they don’t want to miss the next performance. But marketing is only as good as the actual experience. My team has to do it for themselves. I will advocate. They will be accountable for delivering. I can’t do it for them, but I will push them to be as great as they can be. To be as great as the great performers we’ve seen in the world. To be Beyoncé, if they want to be.

Do you manage or coach? Think about it today.

Here’s what a day as a working mom in a tech start up looks like, for real

I’ve grown tired of the articles, interviews, conferences, TED talks that just give platitudes about work/life balance or talk about the fact that it doesn’t exist. I think that argument doesn’t really provide any insight into what a day really looks like and how we get through it. So here are a couple typical days for me — one with both parents home, one with one parent traveling — to bring some reality to the melange of articles out there on this topic.

Context: I’m 34 years old, am married and have two kids — 11 months and 2.5 years old, both boys. I’m the head of marketing and communications for a tech startup in downtown Chicago. My husband and I both work full time outside the home, although we have some flexibility to work from home once a week.

Our Typical Day (both parents in town):

Wake up: 6:00am (note: this is a relatively recent wake up time as I’ve been getting up at least once around 3–4am to breastfeed for the past several months. Very grateful for the shift to sleep, although it changes daily)

Bathroom/shower for mom, Dad gets dressed: 6:15–6:30

Youngest son up: 6:30

Diaper change, breastfeed, mom gets him dressed: 6:45

Eldest son up: 6:45

Diaper change, Mom or Dad gets him dressed, Dad takes both boys downstairs for light breakfast, finish bottles for day care: 6:45–7:15

Mom gets dressed and is downstairs by 7:15

Shoes on boys, bottles in the lunch sack, got keys? Yes…out the door by 7:20

Get the boys in the wagon, walk to day care (yes, we’re lucky on this front), get them situated, get to the train by 7:45

“Date” time on the train — what are we making for dinner this week? What errands do we need to do this weekend? What do I need to order on Amazon prime? Did you remember to put out the dry cleaning? Did we call the pediatrician? Do I need to sign anything on that 529 form?

Until we arrive at our offices around 8:15–8:30.

Coffee/email/news/Slack until meetings start at 9am

Why is it, by the way, that we have SO many meetings????? Need to work on that.

In meetings generally from 9–3:30 or 4:30 depending on the day. I usually eat lunch at my desk. Except for the occasional date lunch with my husband (also grateful we can pull that off).

Oh, but I did forget to mention the 2 20 min breaks to pump breastmilk. I get that in somewhere between meetings so my boobs don’t explode — read: very embarrassing.

Walking to catch the train: 4:30, 4:38 train back home

Meet my husband on the train where I transfer around 5. Off the train in our neighborhood around 5:25.

Pick up babies at 5:30ish

Dad cooks dinner (my husband is a stellar chef and takes most of this responsibility. I’m forever grateful because I really like to eat) — 5:30–6:15

Mom plays with the boys, gets the mail, figures out what bills we have to pay, wipes runny noses or changes diapers -5:30–6:15. Somewhere in there we’re also singing songs, pretending we’re Ratatouille and finding great cheese in our living room.

Dinner: 6:15–7, no technology, great conversation and laughter — my favorite time of day

Clean up: 7–7:15, we split washing the dishes, vacuuming, wiping down the high chair and loading the dishwasher for expediency-sake. Our eldest son really likes the vacuum so yes, we encourage him to help (not encouraging child labor, but instilling accountability for cleanliness here)

Bath time: 7:15–7:30, both boys in the tub together = economies of scale and more fun

Mom takes youngest son to get a new diaper, dressed and breastfed.

Dad takes eldest son to get a new diaper, dressed, teeth brushed and settled. Eldest son picks out two books to read on the story couch.

Story time: 7:30–7:45ish, more breastfeeding for the youngest while dad reads 2 books

Bed time for kids: 8ish

Mom and Dad either fall asleep on the floor while waiting for eldest to go to sleep, go downstairs to prep bottles for the next day, throw in some wash or just settle in for some John Oliver, Jimmy Fallon on demand or live Olympic swimming these days. Or a few days a week, we’re both back on our phones or laptops answering emails, Slack messages or doing PPTX slides for the next day.

Everyone asleep by 10. Usually.

Rinse, repeat every day. Except the weekends are a different story of fun, trying to be as creative as possible to keep the kids in good spirits, fed and healthy, plus maybe getting in a run or a trip to the gym. And all the errands we laid out on the train commute earlier in the week.

And when one parent is gone, just multiply whatever the difficulty factor you applied to the above by a power of two. But honestly, you get used to it once you’ve done it about 5 times.

Thats my life in a few minute diatribe. I don’t purport to have it all figured out, or to have it all, or to not have it all, or to be leaning in or leaning out. But sometimes it helps just to be real about what life is like trying to be a mom, a dad, a participant in our society, working hard to build a business and grow our economy, a sister, daughter, friend and live a good life.

I’d love to hear more about your life. Be specific. You never know when it can incite a better conversation.