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Creating a product-led environment

Most publishers have a wish list a mile long. The challenge they face is knowing what to prioritise and where to start. What will give the biggest bang for their buck? The best approach, says Gemma Spence, is to be product-led.

By Gemma Spence

Creating a product-led environment

When it comes to your digital products, whether that be a website or an app, how do you know what keeps your audience coming back? What leads to some people dropping off and what are the key factors in ensuring new visitors are converted into regular users?

While a look at the headline stats in a metrics tool like Google Analytics can give you some basic data around what pages or sections are the most popular, to really unlock the potential of your digital offering requires a deeper analysis and understanding of users.

At the core of a product-led environment is building profitability by consciously and methodically finding ways to meet your users’ needs, resolve a problem they have and reduce any friction points they encounter. This should be done in a way that fosters brand loyalty, increases regular engagement and allows you to develop a real understanding of their interests and needs as they evolve. The focus should also be on opening up avenues for new revenue streams by meeting these needs and offering an attractive proposition to clients through targeted advertising.

Where to start

With so many potential paths to take, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. The way in which people engage with content and each other continues to evolve and it can be tempting to dive into whatever the latest thing is. Maybe a brand in another part of your business is enjoying success with a new mobile app so it seems like a no-brainer to follow suit. But tread carefully, this can lead to wasted time, resource and money, while not giving you the results you are looking for.

When it comes to building a robust roadmap for your brand, the best place to start is at the end. What are the results you are looking for and how can they be achieved? The North Star will invariably be how to increase revenue but how can you do this in a way that also offers a great user experience, keeps your advertisers happy and grows profits in a way that is sustainable?

While you and your teams may have many years of experience in the market you cater for, be mindful not to bring in any assumptions around what makes a difference to your users and what they are and aren’t looking for. Conducting reader surveys can give some indication of general trends but to gain real insight into how your users perceive and engage with your products, it’s important to speak to them directly.

This can either be done via user group sessions or one-to-one interviews. While group sessions offer insightful discussions, one-to-one interviews allow more opportunity to build rapport with each individual and can uncover gems that can make a real difference to the user experience. If possible, experiment with both to find the format that works best for your needs.

Team alignment

However, as important as user feedback is, it’s crucial to make sure that there is an overall consensus on direction of travel when it comes to deciding on outcomes for your brand. Are your commercial, marketing and editorial teams in alignment over what the key outcomes are and what the plan is to get there? There may be an assumption that everyone is on the same page but different priorities and viewpoints can mean that this may not be the case.

One of the most effective ways to bridge any gaps is to set aside time to have a brand session to ensure that everyone is heard and that a strategy is in place that everybody is clear on. Work together as one team to decide on the key outcomes – these can be based on the feedback and data obtained from users. It can be useful if someone neutral can facilitate this session and perhaps even speak to each person involved separately beforehand to help ensure that all voices and ideas are heard. Even with internal teams that know each other well, there can be a tendency for the views of the loudest voice or the most senior person in the room to drive the agenda. Make sure that everyone has the opportunity to voice their opinions in an environment where it feels safe to do so.

As well as using these team sessions to secure alignment on what the aims and mission are for your brand, the next key question is how you are going to get there? Take a step back and decide together what key outcomes will move the dial towards where you want to be. How can serving your customers better translate into increased revenue and better customer satisfaction?

Once you’ve decided on the outcomes that are going to be most impactful, brainstorm ways of how these outcomes can be met. Again, circling back to the feedback you’ve had from your user interviews will help with this.

Focus where it matters most

While putting in place actionable steps to work towards your agreed outcomes is a fundamental part of the process, it is only one part. After building a list of proposed features and functionality that directly link back to ways to achieve the outcomes, the next step is to identify the strongest and most efficient suggestions. The best way to do this is to employ a prioritisation framework, such as the RICE model.

RICE stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence and Effort. In this framework, each element is given a score, which will help to ensure that effort is geared towards the most impactful features first.

In RICE, ‘Reach’ relates to how many individual users the feature will reach over a defined period of time, ‘Impact’ relates to the positive impact it will have on these users, ‘Confidence’ relates to how sure you are that the feature will have the reach and impact that you hope it will – the more evidence that this will be the case the higher the score – and ‘Effort’ relates to the amount of resource required to develop the feature. Remember that the effort score should factor in the resource required across all departments.

At this point, it is important to have the input of your internal developers or the external people who deal with your sites or apps as there may be other technical considerations that are not immediately obvious and what may seem a simple change could have wider ramifications and require further analysis. If you are using an external agency to look after your digital products, also consider if there is going to be any long-term maintenance associated with the feature and, if so, who will be responsible for this, although this will not necessarily form part of working out the RICE score.

In short, the score is calculated by multiplying the Reach, Impact and Confidence scores and dividing this number by the Effort score. If you are interested in finding out more about feature prioritisation, there are a number of resources from product organisations including Product School and Mind the Product.

Using the RICE model can help you to put together a roadmap that will give you the best chance of meeting your desired outcomes as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Once you have a plan in place and start to release features and updates in line with your prioritisation plan, make sure that you take the time to monitor the effect the changes have made, if any. Discuss what success would look like as part of your prioritisation plan so that you have an objective indicator of what you are gunning for and are measuring what matters. For example, depending on what you are trying to achieve, it may not be enough to simply measure visitor figures if your goal is to get users to take a specific action, such as to give certain data via site or newsletter registration or to convert into paying subscribers.

Don’t be disheartened if you don’t see the results you are looking for straightaway. Delve deeper into why this may be and continue to tweak and refine as necessary. Product analytics software and further qualitative research may help to uncover the answers.

Creating a product-led environment can allow you to make a real difference to your users’ experience of your digital products and develop them in a way that ensures their long-term success. However, like any major change, things won’t happen overnight. Be prepared for much trial and error, a few false starts and a slow take-off. Done right though, leading with a user-centric approach can not only build strong products but also strong teams working together towards the North Star of making your brand more profitable. Enjoy the journey.

Top Tips

  • Always focus on outcomes. Don’t get caught up on the features and functionality you ‘feel’ you should be offering if it isn’t backed by evidence.
  • Never make assumptions. Just because your brand may have expertise in the field you cover, don’t assume you know what your users’ pain points are – take the time to find out, using both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Listen. Make the most of the opportunity afforded by user interviews. The person conducting them should focus on making interviewees feel at ease to maximise their value.
  • Test the waters. When conducting one-to-one interviews, if an interviewee makes a suggestion, use the following interviews as a chance to see if there could be a potential trend worth exploring.
  • First things first. Use a feature prioritisation framework, such as RICE, to help to build a product roadmap that takes into account the effort required from departments across the business and focuses on the ideas that the team is most confident will have the reach and impact desired.
  • Further Reading. For those looking to find out more about adopting a more product-led approach, ‘Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value’ by Melissa Perri offers useful tips to get started.

This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list to receive the magazine, please register here.