Why your product will fail without a compelling story crafted and told with data
Group Product Manager
July 18, 2018
The event was sponsored by Uptake, a predictive analytics SaaS provider focused on the industrial space. The panel discussion was moderated by Taylor Klassman, Senior User Experience Researcher at Uptake who leads research in the Renewable Energy vertical. In addition to the usual client interviews and meetings with PMs, Taylor “goes the extra 300 feet” (vertically) by climbing wind turbines to watch end users in their daily workflows.
The panel was composed of O’Dealya Price (Senior Product Manager at Uptake on the IoT Edge Team), Kelly Bishop (VP Product and Design at Fusion Media Group), and Shelby King (Senior Product Manager at Venmo).
Human beings have a fundamental need for stories, a need to craft narratives out of data. In fact the human need for narratives is so compelling, so innate, that people routinely craft narratives around random data, creating a storyline where there isn’t one. Parents have been telling stories for babies since the beginning of the human race, using stories as the primary method to teach children about the world around them.
The panelists emphasized the importance of being customer-obsessed, of crafting the product storyline based on data and customer research, and of evangelizing the product story with the product development team. “All of that rich context, all of that data that you have been looking at, all of those conversations that you have had with customers, the user research that you have done, the context you have gotten from leadership on what the business goals are for the next 6–12 months or the next 5 years. Everything you have in your head, get it out of your head. Share it with the people working on your project,” said King. She explained that at Venmo, product managers first write a Google doc that illustrates the customer problem, brings in data to contextualize the problem, then defines the solution and KPIs. Next, she shares the doc as broadly as possible throughout the organization — with engineering, with risk, with legal, with marketing, and with PR.
King shared an example about how she used the customer’s voice to tell the product story to her engineering team to tell the story of the Venmo Debit Card, launched last week. She told us how she compiled a list of customer tweets indicating a customer need for the debit card product. Customers were tweeting @venmo, lamenting the fact that the ice cream truck on their street did not take Venmo. King explained to her engineering team how the Venmo card solved the customers’ problem and provided immediate ice cream paid for by their venmo accounts. “If you’re able to bring through examples of what the customer is saying, that can be really powerful,” King explained.
Smart people doing interesting work
Writing the product narrative can also help with the strategy. Bishop shared with us a story about an initiative that her team was ready to begin work on, but then when she took a step back to write the story concluded that there was no “there” there. “We stepped back to look at the story, and we sunset the project because it wasn’t a good use of the team. Always second guess some of that pressure,” said Bishop.
The product panelists emphasized the importance of knowing your audience, and tailoring your story appropriately. “Knowing your audience is a big part of being a successful story. What I do is try my best to understand what the people I’m telling the story to care about. Tailor your story; everybody doesn’t need to know everything,” said King. It’s the product manager’s job to gather all of the data, all of the customer research, all of the anecdotes and all of the information — and then to edit it appropriately for the given audience. “The most important phase of this,” explained Bishop, “is when you edit your story.”
Laura Hamilton is a Group Product Manager at Groupon. We’re hiring Product Managers in multiple locations. Want to work with us? Browse our current job listings or learn more about us on our Product page.