It Is All About The User!

16 March 2010

Over the past 2 weeks, I have had a few interviews where the question was “How did someone with a background in psychology get involved with product marketing?” or “I don’t understand how you made the leap from human factors to product marketing?” For me this is a funny question since I would assume that someone who is doing (inbound) product marketing has a strong background in understanding the user, since the core of their job is determining the overall product requirements for the current and future products. Obviously if you’re not specifying the product with the end user in mind as well as the business, technical, and competitive environment, you’re not going to have a successful product.

Many of my peers in this field build a career from a technical background and then attend business school to round out their knowledge and capabilities. Some simply leverage their technical backgrounds, time and insight with the company to take on this role. While these traditional routes have merit, I find that many of those with whom I’ve interacted, generally don’t have a super strong passion for the user. This isn’t to say that they don’t care about the user, but rather they are not able to place themselves into the user’s situation and understand the constraints, interactions, and environments that may influence or dictate how the user will interact or approach a given product.

At one interview I was asked my opinion about an upcoming product. To me, the user interface looked relatively cluttered by having a particular function appear in at least 3 different locations in the user interface. I immediately started to ask the interviewer about why this particular design was chosen, and then proceeded to ask questions about the user’s behaviors, trends and other details. It was clear to me that the organization did not have a clear sense of the “how” the average user might approach the functionality since the answers behind the design were geared more to exposing all the functionality in all the places and being at feature parity with a competitor – common flaws particularly when you don’t “really” understand the user.

The transition from doing user research was never truly a transition since I understood from the earliest days in my career, that simply understanding the user was only half the equation – you need to be able to project, recommend and provide the tools and insight that would potentially benefit the user. The more informed I was relative to the capabilities of the team, the business goals, the competitive landscape as well as new technologies – the more I was able to influence and drive the direction of new product development.

Thus I differentiate myself from my peers by having a rich background which mixes both quantitative analysis with qualitative observation and insights. This coupled with an inclination for technology, a research background, and practical experience in business provides a well rounded mix for providing robust, useful, needed, usable and marketable solutions.

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