Start with the media release, not the MRD, when developing new products

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Most product-management methodologies offer an organized series of steps, from the more strategic aspects to the tactical execution. One of the key pieces that is almost universally considered a key deliverable by product managers is the market-requirement document, often simply called the MRD. These steps and documents are very fact-based and almost always lack a way to share the big picture and the emotion you want to create.

Don’t get me wrong, understanding the target audience, the competition, the personas, the feature requirements, the go-to-market route and the pricing (among other things) are very important. But if you cannot get everyone involved with the product’s development excited early on, you will end up with an uninspiring product that will have difficulty finding success in the marketplace.

As a product leader, you need to both make sure every milestone is achieved throughout the project and get everyone excited about the difference the product will make to the user. (With MRDs often exceeding 30 pages, have you ever wondered if team members had actually read it? And, if they had, if they remembered anything about it?)

To align teams and make sure all members are sharing a common vision, I’m going to suggest you start with one of the very last deliverables: a media release. Although this is an internal document at this point, if you can clearly explain why this new product or version matters to the target audience in a one- to two-pager (including the title, the subtitle and the boiler plate brand information), you will have laid a great foundation for every other subsequent step in the product-management process.

Once you written the media release, the next step is to craft reviews (one per target audience) as you would like to seem them on Amazon (or any other review site that matters to you or your business). Combining the media release and the reviews not only shares the vision of how your product will be presented to the world, but it also shows how you want it to resonate with your users.

If you want this exercise to work, however, there must be rules. There can be no jargon, no buzzwords, no acronyms or initialisms, no branded terms, no marketing fluff—it should be in plain English (or the language of your business). Your goal is not to impress them with your superior knowledge or command of the language. Your goal is to explain things in a way that gets them excited!

Even though this is simply an internal document—the real media release should be written by the person or team in charge of communications, of course—don’t assume everyone knows what your acronyms mean or that they have the same meaning across different regions.

Now, let’s look at the headline. While some advocate writing the headline last, here, we will address it first.

Can you distil the value proposition of your new product in one sentence? Why does it matter? What is the single biggest take-away? Can you summarize your core differentiator? Can you do it in 140 characters so it can easily be tweeted and retweeted?

The first paragraph of the media release is your chance to expand on your headline and explain why your product matters and who it’s from. Do not—I repeat, DO NOT—include a list of new features at this stage. That comes later. For now, focus only on user benefits.

What’s are the gains for the users? Will it make them more productive, more creative? What pains are your relieving? Will there be savings in time or money, will there be less waste? If you can provide measurable facts that are significant in areas that are important to the users, you will get their attention.

People are very busy. They have little time and lots to do so it is wise to assume that some team members will stop reading after the first paragraph. How do you deal with that? If they read just one paragraph, how do you get them to understand what this new product is all about? You do it by making the first paragraph so compelling and interesting, they really needn’t read any more. In other words, treat that paragraph like your executive summary.

The next paragraph is about telling a story. This is where you can make it memorable by expanding on the product’s “raison d’être.” This story shows why your product matters from the perspective of the user. Tell a story about Mike who now can do things faster or better. Talk about Marie’s ability to waste less and save more.

Use a quote to show the strong emotional link with the product.

“I am now able to spend less time in the back office and more time in front of the customer. To me, that’s incredibly valuable,” said Mike, the proud owner of our new product

Include a second quote from an internal stakeholder, usually the executive sponsor or owner. This also gives you a chance to send a message of passion, care and deep user understanding from the whole team.

“We were determined to avoid feature creep,” said product developer Susan Thorpe. “We new the best thing we could give Mike is more time. And that’s what we did.”

Ready to cover the features? You’ll have to wait just a little longer. Part of the problem with writing about the features at all at this point in the product’s development is that it’s often too early in the process to have finalized the full list of features. Instead, this third paragraph should look at the key pillars that are the proof-points of your claims in the text. These areas of focus can be supported by feature descriptions, but make sure to phrase them in the context of the benefits they provide to the user.

Assuming you have it, you should end your media release with information about pricing, geographical availability, the languages supported and any other specific requirements related to your product. In the high-tech world, this is also a good place to list the operating-system requirements (be version-specific) and any key hardware or software compatibility requirements your product may have.

One last thing you can include is a boilerplate “about” section. Because everything, so far, was related to the specific product or version of the product you are working on, this is a great place to summarize what the overall brand stands for.

And now for the fun part. So far, you’ve shown the tone you want to use in your communication and you’ve presented a good argument that supports why this product matters. Now, you must communicate to the team the feel of the product, the emotional link users will have with it. We do this through draft reviews of the product.

Please note these are not real user reviews and should NEVER be used as such. These are simply draft (mocked-up) reviews from various personas we are using to help the team understand the feel of the product.

There should be one review per target audience, each about 100 words long, highlighting why that persona loves the product and what key benefits she gets from it. (If you are in the enterprise space, make sure you cover the buyer as a separate persona.) This is also another opportunity to highlight key metrics that are targets for the product.

Without a doubt, starting with the (internal-only) media release and (mocked-up) persona reviews is a novel approach. But developing it first allows you to share the tone of the product, the way you expect the product to feel and why it will matter to the users.

If done right, this will resonate with team members, enable them to become passionate about the goal and empower them to craft the product with care.

Original picture and photographer credits available at http://unsplash.com/.

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