It is impossible to account for all of the “content” (blogs, videos, podcasts…) circulating online. Its sheer quantity, however, has influenced audience perceptions. The fact that most of it is free and broadcast 24/7 across all possible channels has seemingly undermined the value of content. But it remains as indispensable as ever.
In fact, content is much more than an area of Marketing. Sensible Product Managers are aware of its power, particularly those who emerge from customer-oriented positions. On the other hand, product people with more technical backgrounds might not know about content integration with other product features.
Let’s first examine why content is such an important ally in delivering a better product experience. Then, some practical examples will highlight the benefits associated with certain Product Management content strategies.
There is nothing new about product content: The example of video games
Product Management is the profession responsible for developing, designing and marketing a successful physical or digital product. While it is a relatively new development, associated with the “lean” Silicon Valley revolution, its functions have existed within companies for a long time. Certain positions, like Product Ownership or Project Management, have contained some of the responsibilities related to “PMing.”
Obviously, what makes PMs really special is their emphasis on quick iterations of products or features. Work is supposed to always be “in progress,” responding quickly to consumer demand and leaving behind those elements that no longer contribute to growth. How do we fit content within these operations?
Let’s explain this with an example from the past. Video games and their creation processes are one of the best ways of conveying what being a PM means. Most people have played one, either on their phones, computers or consoles. As users when we were younger, it is very possible that we have attempted to figure out the reasons behind level design. Or why options were unlocked in a particular order.4
These are all overall product questions because they directly impact access, replayability, loyalty and many other factors that structure product success. Most Product Managers in gaming have very particular visions and limitations that dictate the direction of their team’s work. For example, maybe the game is intended to be financed by microtransactions or watching ads. Then, whatever activity is offered to users must feel rewarding enough between sessions so as not to turn players away.
But there are also a lot of secondary questions that are linked to content. Most games do not simply launch you into an entertaining mechanism without personality. They have stories, characters, environments… Even Pong, one of the earliest and most simplistic games, had an enemy in the form of a bar on the opposite side of the screen!
Plenty of mobile games feel like a variation of Tetris, Pacman or other notable vintage games. But most successful games have a particular identity that helps people develop an attachment to them. In the past, this went beyond solving puzzles around “Candy Kingdom.” Certain companies took a very careful approach to the design and creation of user manuals. Some almost felt like fantasy or sci-fi novels, depending on the genre. Do you remember the number of details on maps from GTA games?
Product management and content: The Spotify example
Going back to products as a whole, the stories that brands have built around their products have had goals beyond marketing. Think of physical products for the kitchen: most new appliances have come with dedicated recipe books. And digital products have added “content” that transcends promotional purposes. Spotify is the perfect contemporary example.
At its inception, the Swedish music streamer had relentless competitors on many fronts. Beginning with traditional music distribution platforms (physical albums), all the way to illicit alternatives (basically, pirated music); it was difficult to believe that a free-at-the-point-of-use and ad-financed strategy could work.
In fact, Spotify was also competing against similar platforms. But they understood their initial user better than the others: music lovers. This is why they made sure that every Spotify customer could find, from the first second they opened the app, tailored lists with essential artists for each genre. Then, they realized that people might also want to organize their music by the moods it generated.
Of course, this was all based on data. By looking at what users were already doing in terms of content, Spotify was able to pivot into new areas. Were users building playlists for long drives? What type of songs did they pick? Were they different by geography? Adding these tailored lists did not just help with “word-of-mouth” marketing (“Did you know that Spotify has this?”); but also improve user experience. In fact, the product loyalty generated by these playlists impacted one of Product Management’s most coveted statistics: user retention.
Again, there is nothing new about using content in the product. While content strategies play a large part in attracting audiences to your projects, they should actually concern you across all phases of product development.
Using content in product management to improve the user experience: The essentials
Of course, there are many easy-to-see instances of successful applications of content in products. What would Netflix be without its TV-savvy production team? Some projects, like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, were developed to highlight both the functional and content aspects of the platform. Equally, dating apps like Bumble build a narrative through their functionality. Since only women can make first contact, they are reinforcing both the message and the opportunities the app offers.
In sum, every competent Product Manager needs a content strategy. These are the main principles product teams should take into account:
- Product Content cannot be an afterthought, but it has to be conceived across all development phases.
- Content adds value to purely functional product ideas, such as simple puzzle games or dating apps.
- Having opportunities for users to develop content provides solid examples for future product additions: let customers define what they want to see.
- Content is particularly impactful on user retention: it allows brands to build loyalty based on producing stories people want to hear.
- Narrative and functionality must reinforce each other, in order to make a coherent product.
Author: Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia
Carlos González de Villaumbrosia is the Founder of Product School, originally based in San Francisco. Product School was founded in 2014 and now maintains 20 campuses around the world where they offer certifications in Product Management, Full-Stack Product Management, and Product Leadership. They organize events discussing innovations in the software and technology space.
In 2018, Carlos launched ProductCon, a series of Product Management conferences attended by thousands of professionals in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and London. Carlos also co-authored The Product Book in 2017.