Full transcript:

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:01

Hi everyone and welcome to the latest episode of the Product Marketing Insider podcast. My name's Lawrence Chapman and I'm a copywriter here at PMA. Today, I'm delighted to be joined by Kacy Boone, Director of Product Marketing at InVision. A product marketer with a passion for customer advocacy, product narrative, and managing effective end-to-end launch strategies, Kacy has extensive experience in product-led growth and product launches. Thanks for joining me, Kacy.

Kacy Boone  0:26

Hi, thanks for inviting me on. I'm really excited to be here.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:30

Awesome, so just to start off the podcast, can you explain your current role at InVision for all of us, please?

Kacy Boone  0:38

Yeah, happy to. I am the Director of Product Marketing at InVision and I specifically focus on our online whiteboard product called Freehand, which has taken off as you can imagine as folks are working remotely and looking for a whiteboard to do all their collaboration on. And yeah, that's all about me.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:59

Okay, and just for anybody who may not be familiar with whiteboard can just give us a little bit more information about it, if you don't mind.

Kacy Boone  1:07

Sure. I mean, just imagine anything that you're doing in an office on a whiteboard with markers and sticky notes and annotating, drawing, mapping out journey maps, brainstorming, all that stuff you can do with Freehand our online whiteboard.

At InVision we have historically been a company all focused on providing a platform for product design and product development and Freehand has been a product that we've had around for a while but in 2020, really took off.

I was actually just coming off maternity leave, right at the start of the pandemic, and switched my role a little bit into focusing on Freehand and taking that opportunity to the maximum amount we could take it since so many folks are looking for an online whiteboard. It's been super fun. It's a really fun product I have to say - we use it all the time internally, and folks love it.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  2:09

And obviously, I don't know what it's like there in the states but here in the United Kingdom, it's kind of a case of remote learning in a lot of schools. Is that the case with whiteboard, has the product taken off with schools over there in the States?

Kacy Boone  2:31

It has, it really naturally has been picked up by education. And that's not our typical core audience, at InVision, we have historically been known in that product design and development world. But it was naturally coming up, especially through folks that are using Microsoft Teams, they started searching for a whiteboard, found us very organically and started using it. So we definitely have a lot of folks who are doing math equations on Freehand, tutoring, all that stuff. It's been really cool to explore that new market.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:07

Sounds great. So looking at your career as a product marketer, what is it that made you want to become a product marketer in the first place?

Kacy Boone  3:17

Yeah, I look back on that time with a lot of fondness. Looking back, there's a lot of things that were not obvious to me at the beginning. But when I first got out of college I thought I was going to do high-end real estate. That's what I had done throughout college. When I was doing that, what I really loved was the marketing aspect of it.

What I found more difficult or challenging was the sales aspect of real estate. So I kind of had this inkling that maybe that wasn't the right fit for me. I got connected through a mentor at college to what was called an air quotes 'startup'. Being in Los Angeles, I wasn't close to the tech world at all and didn't really know what that meant. But I interviewed for a customer support manager position and I just loved everyone that I talked to.

So really just out of a gut feeling like it could be a good opportunity, I said yes to that opportunity and joined the team as a Customer Support Manager. It was like legit working out of a house - very startup and I started to get introduced to this technology world and grew the team to around eight people. And customer support is really, really hard and I have so much respect for folks in that field. It's emotionally draining. It's a really challenging grind.

I had no idea what product marketing was but I had started working more closely with the VP of Marketing at the startup called FiveStars and it's filled with amazing people. He had kind of told me, 'Casey, you're doing a lot of the things that a product marketer would do. You're working really closely with product, you as the Customer Support Manager, telling them what customers need, what they're looking for, their top issues, but you're also working with them to help roll out new features'.

The company was a few hundred people, we didn't have product marketing, so he started planting that seed with me. Of course, I'm going on to Google and searching, 'what is product marketing?', there was barely anything. What I remember back then is there was barely any content about product marketing and what it was. Now I look at resources like this and I'm like, wow, I wish I had this back then.

We did hire a Director of Product Marketing at that startup and the VP of Marketing encouraged me to interview. I was just really honored that he would consider me for that to join his team. I had reached a point with customer support where I realized that it wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Although I'd loved managing and I loved my team so much - that was what gave me a lot of joy. But I think the work itself is like I said, really, really difficult.

So I did everything I could to research the role and I interviewed and really had to... I didn't just get the opportunity, they really had me do my homework and learn and interview and there were external candidates that I had to compete against to get the position. I did get the position as their first product marketer and had to work with a tonne of different PMs, and it kind of took off from there.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  6:49

Sounds amazing. I totally understand where you're coming from, even as a copywriter, I'm not a marketer, I'm a copywriter. But I can totally understand where you're coming from in terms of it's almost like a big shade of grey in terms of when you're looking to see what product marketing actually is.

I mean, we published a piece with Product Marketing Alliance a few months ago and there were literally hundreds... we found probably around about 200-300 different definitions of what product marketing is. And we had to narrow it right down because it would have been like War and Peace on the website. But it was crazy, absolutely crazy.

In terms of that vague understanding of what product marketing actually is, how do you think that businesses and organizations can actually improve that? What role do you think that they can have to elevate the role of product marketing?

Kacy Boone  7:56

It's a good question. I cut my teeth at that startup and started to learn more, a lot through trial and error. Some of it is adapting to what you're intended to do and figuring out how that works in the organization. Then when I got to Lyft, I was so impressed by everyone that I had worked with, and there are 100% people out there that really, really get it.

I think at that time, it was kind of like a maturity level - if the organization was really mature, they understood what product marketing was, and had a definition, but that wasn't shared as broadly, especially with a startup or companies that aren't as close or as mature in technology.

So I think there is a lot that can be done, but I also look at things that have come up most recently - this podcast included - where some of it is flexibility, understanding maybe the core tenants of product marketing, those typically stand to be true. But there is flexibility that needs to be adapted to the organization's needs.

A product marketer is always going to need to understand the customer and help translate product experiences back out to the market, but your weight and the amount of time that you spend in those different activities could be different based on what the organization needs. So I think flexibility is going to be needed no matter what but understanding those core principles would be helpful for any organization.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  9:38

Yeah, absolutely. So looking at your career path, you had your initial exposure at your startup, can you talk us through what your career looked like from then to where you are now?

Kacy Boone  9:57

Yeah, sure. From there I think I spent around a year in product marketing at that startup after I'd been there for several years and starting to get the itch to learn and get new experiences. Actually, my former customer support boss, our head of operations had moved to Lyft. Lyft was back in that day, a product that I loved using personally, I loved talking to all of my drivers and I saw that they had a product marketing position open, and I asked him if he would refer me and he did.

Again, I really put my best foot forward to get that role and was just, like I said earlier, so impressed by the talent at Lyft. It was also such a fast-paced company when I joined. I joined just below 1000, folks, so it was still pretty big. It was definitely a big jump for me going from 300 people to close to 1000. But it's grown so much since then.

The head of driver product marketing, I was the first product marketer that she had hired. So it was just me and her tackling all of the driver products. Again, it was kind of that entrepreneurial, early-stage product marketing position, which I really love, where you get to form some of the thoughts and structure around product marketing, some of the processes, you can help other teams who maybe have not worked with product marketing as much understand the role better, and really get to dip your toe into a lot of different things.

At Lyft, I launched so many products but I also worked on a lot of growth initiatives. So optimizing the driver onboarding experience, there's a lot of driver initiatives related to bonuses and whatnot that I worked on. I got to do a bit of that traditional product launch motion, actually a lot of it but also got to dip into growth, which I really enjoyed.

I'm a problem solver, I love to be analytical and dig into those things. That was really fun. Then I had a desire to move out of San Francisco, I was ready to branch out, get closer to my family in Los Angeles, so when I saw InVision, it was a completely distributed company, which now isn't super foreign, but back then it wasn't common to find a company that would let you work from wherever.

That was the main thing with InVision that really caught my eye. Again, it was referred by someone that I had worked with at Lyft. From there, it's also been very entrepreneurial in a way. The team at InVision is still quite small, the product marketing team, and this new product that I'm working on, feels in many ways almost like a new product, because it's really starting to just get its time in the spotlight.

Yeah, that's kind of the journey from Lyft to InVision where I'm at now.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  13:29

Sounds great. You very briefly mentioned your experience with product launches, what would you say are the essential ingredients for an awesome product launch? I know that's a really big question to throw at you.

Kacy Boone  13:49

I could probably spend an hour on that. Let's see if I can break it out into some categories.

Product market fit - so much of the work happens before the launch, the majority, it's kind of like an iceberg, all the work happens before, and then you really just see the tip of the iceberg with the launch. So much goes into it from assessing whether you have really met the customer's needs starting even maybe before when you're in ideation understanding what the customer needs are, but then as you're developing that making sure you're consistently going back out to the market to adapt and make sure you're on the right track.

That includes your product but also your messaging as well. The way that you're talking about it - is this landing? Is this hitting on the right needs? The right pain points that customers feel? Is what we're saying really resonating with them?

Then all those things all your ducks should be in a row by the time that you're thinking about channels and actually the launch which is then a huge orchestration of many different people to deliver on an excellent launch, which should be rooted in very clear goals, a very clear target and audience, who you're going after, and what you're saying should all be really clear for everyone on the team.

You as that leader of that launch should be making sure that the ship is sailing in the right direction so that when it comes to launch day, everything is just all about execution, and then iterating thereafter.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  15:33

I'd love to be a fly on the wall. I'm not gonna lie, it does intrigue me. But in terms of just looking at a standard day for a product marketer, if there is such a thing, what does that look like for you at InVision?

Kacy Boone  15:56

That's a good one. I'm sure the stereotypical answer is there's no standard day. But I do think there are seasons or times that have characteristics that are different than others. If you're in the earlier stages of a product, your day to day is going to look a lot more connected to research and assessing looking at the data to figure out where the opportunities are, it's going to take more solo time for you to think through these problems and a lot of time to also online.

If you're later on, you're going to be more in an execution stage, getting closer to launch you might be meeting with large groups of people from across the entire organization, running those meetings, and then also creating the materials, lots of reviews, more of an execution mindset to get things ready to line up for launch. I do think there are different times, it's hard to balance both of those times, if you're ever managing multiple products, doing all that at once is really challenging.

But you're always meeting with a lot of different people, you're at the center of things, you're talking to sales, you're talking to product, you're talking to marketing, so you're always going to be at the center of things, and also hopefully finding some time to do some focused work.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  17:24

It's nice that you do have that variation because I can imagine that is almost one of the main pulls and one of the main draws in the part of being a product marketer. So in terms of your direct team that you're working with at the moment, can you give us an idea of what that looks like in terms of numbers and roles, please?

Kacy Boone  17:50

Sure at InVision, we're a small but mighty product marketing team, there are six of us, including our VP of product marketing, Fran, who's just the best human, he comes back from paternity leave on Monday, I'm very excited. In my world, it's currently me and a program manager that I brought on to help me run all the different programs related to Freehand, and then I'm hiring - for anyone that's looking - an enterprise product marketer to build out my team.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  18:21

Oh, sweet. So there you go everyone, get those application forms and CVs.

Kacy Boone  18:27

Hit me up on LinkedIn

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  18:30

In terms of the team's outside of product marketing; sales, product, operations, etc. which departments would you say that you interact with most, and what's your relationship with them like?

Kacy Boone  18:44

I work really closely with product design and engineering. We call them squads at InVision so that squad is typically made up of product design, engineering, and product marketing, and sometimes data as well.

Then also work really closely with what we call the customer-facing teams, that's a composition of sales, customer success, and customer support. I'd say in terms of how we work together, the relationship is really tight. We have dedicated meetings where we meet together weekly, and there's a lot of cross-sharing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  19:22

It's something I feel like I say every single episode but collaboration keeps on coming up as a skill for product marketers that's repeatedly mentioned all the time. If you don't have collaboration then it's like a house of cards, it will just fall if you're not working together, it will not work. In an absolute dream world, is there anything about those relationships that you'd change at all to make things even better?

Kacy Boone  20:02

I think the most important thing and the most success I've seen with teams like this, where it's composed of folks from different organizations and different functions, the most important thing is alignment on goals from the top. So in a dream world, everyone really understands what the specific OKRs and KPIs are and they all share them.

So the product team has this goal but the sales team has a different one, it should be the same goal. I think from there, everything falls into place a lot more easily. Whenever I think about healthy and unhealthy teams, that's a really important component that can determine the health of a team.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  20:51

In terms of your top three skills, personal skills, what are the top three that have helped you get to where you are today, in your eyes?

Kacy Boone  21:04

The first one that comes to mind is relationship building - maybe it comes to mind because you brought it up - but I would say that my ability to build relationships stretching over into product, but also even within the marketing team, when you're leading these groups of folks, relationship building is super important because you're leading but you don't manage any of these people. So you have to have that buy-in from people and they have to enjoy working with you and appreciate and respect you. So I think relationship building has been really critical for me, and something that I actually enjoy doing.

Problem-solving is another so I'm a pretty logical and analytical person. When faced with a problem, I'm typically pretty fast to try to figure out how we can work through it. That could be a problem with how the product is positioned, maybe it's not really going the way that we want it to go. Or it could be a resourcing problem, very operational. I think being someone that is entrepreneurial in the way that they can solve problems on their own and actively work through those things creates a lot of opportunity and success for someone in product marketing.

Then storytelling, I think, sets you apart as a product marketer and is something I also love to do. It's really the more creative side of product marketing but translating what can be more technical features or things that might feel a little vanilla and translating it into a story that is really human-centered is something that can set apart a product and a product marketing person through that. I think storytelling is somewhat intuitive, but can also be something that you really invest in and try to build up and learn.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  23:15

Okay, and just rewinding a little bit to what we were talking about before in terms of product launches, what does the process of introducing new products and features look like at InVision? And could you compare that to what that looked like in your previous roles?

Kacy Boone  23:36

Happy to. So the process is sort of what we were talking about earlier. There's a lot of work that goes into the pre-launch and that includes tight coordination between the product marketer and the product design and engineering teams.

So we're working on what is actually launching and what makes the cut, also timelines, managing timelines, and working together to figure out 'Okay, here's all the things, here's what it requires from us from an engineering perspective to build this out, from a design perspective, here's what the experience is actually going to look like'. And then product marketing is then shaping this into, 'Okay, well, here's how we're going to approach taking it to market'.

Those things are really done together because those things can't be done in isolation, or else it's really disconnected and problems arise. That's the first part and then once it actually comes to taking it to market, some of the ways are you're starting with a product marketing brief, you're putting this out into a document that includes all the important details about the approach so that anyone can step in and execute on the plan.

It's important as a product marketer to make that really easy for someone to jump into because so many different folks who have different expertise have to execute on the product launch plan in order for it to be successful. A copywriter needs to jump in, know what they're doing, a designer, etc. So starting with that brief is really important and then managing the execution of it is really a lot of project management, making sure timelines align, resourcing, etc.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  25:25

Okay. Product marketing of course is your career, you've devoted so much time to it, and I'm sure you love doing what you do but do you think there's anything that could be changed to make it even better than it is already?

Kacy Boone  25:46

Yes, of course, I think there are always things to improve. Product marketing is still kind of a new role. It's not as far along I would say as other roles like product design used to be super new and foreign. I think product marketing is following a similar path. I think we're getting better at the PM to PMM ratio, they can still be painful, I think where you're talking about it more and that's good and I think a lot of companies are aware that there should be an ideal ratio, of course, that changes based on the company.

I think what might get overlooked, which could be better, is really the resourcing that is then attached to the product marketer. If you're like a spoken wheel, the product marketer who's leading these programs is going to need to dip into resourcing from across the entire marketing team. I think that hasn't been quite figured out yet. Like, okay, we're starting to figure out that ratio between a PM and a PMM but if you have one PMM what does the resourcing look like from there, to make sure that they have everything that they need in order to execute on these plans?

I would love to see some experimentation in that, like, do we have squads? Is it like a certain group of copywriters, designers and they all work together on a squad together with that PMM? I think there are probably some structures that can be tested and see what works. But it feels like that's probably the next big challenge for us to solve in product marketing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  27:32

And touching on that ratio between a PM and a PMM, in your mind, where does that begin and end? Where do you think there should almost be lines in terms of the responsibilities?

Kacy Boone  27:48

Yeah. It's pretty clear to me, the PM owns the development of the product, they own making sure that what we've set out to build has the correct resourcing, the designs are fitting the customer's needs. The overlap that I see most often is probably in those earlier stages, where you're assessing the market need and putting together a proposal on what would solve it with the product. That can be some overlap with the PM but I'm of the opinion that should be done super closely.

That's where the nuances of relationship building come into play where it doesn't necessarily feel like a line to me, it just feels like something that you do in partnership and you do together. You're going to have different perspectives so it's actually better for you to work hand in hand on that part of the journey. It's super clear I think later on when you're getting into a launch who does what, the product manager is managing the release cycles and making sure things move forward, where the PMM is making sure that marketing's pulling everything together.

It feels like later on but distinctions are more clear, but earlier on, when you're maybe in a beta or in your exploration phase, it does get a little bit more blurry. But in those situations, I encourage folks to just work together and embrace the overlap.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  29:31

Collaborate, I keep saying it, Kacy. And if there are any new or aspiring product marketers listening to the podcast, what would your advice to them be? Because I'm sure a lot of them would have their sights on breaking into the upper bracket of product marketing roles, what would you say to help them get there?

Kacy Boone  30:07

The first thing I would say is, just say yes to opportunities. When I think about my career path, at the beginning I really didn't know what I was getting into with product marketing, but just saying yes to the opportunities as they move along. But also, there's a lot of micro opportunities that will pop up for you in your career. It could be a new product, where you're not really sure if it's gonna take off or not, but it's new and it's unknown. I think saying yes to all those opportunities is something that will allow you to learn, and learning is going to help you accelerate your career more than anything else.

I think also investing in your relationships. I mean, as you heard, when I was talking through my career path, I was referred pretty much everywhere. It's actually a really important part of how I think about my career and where I want to grow, it's really centered on relationships. We're all working together but we're all humans, and people want to work with other people that they enjoy working with. So investing in your relationships is supercritical.

I'd say also, pay attention to what excites you, there are a lot of different aspects of product marketing, you can be way more analytical and love working with data science, or you could love working with the creative team. If you pay attention to those things it might help you determine in the future what sort of companies or cultures or stages of companies might interest you. So just pay attention to what excites you most throughout the day when you're doing product marketing work.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  31:52

In the meantime, just be nice to people. It's nice to be nice. Last, but by no means least, because it's been an awesome conversation I've really enjoyed it. What do you think 2021 has in store for the product marketing community?

Kacy Boone  32:12

Yeah, this is a really good question. 2020 and 2021 are highly volatile years. That's if you just take a super step back into looking at what's going on with our economy, going on with politics, what's going on with health, it's very, very volatile.  

I think that is the core of what is in store for product marketing is the need to be agile and adapt to change very quickly. Unfortunately, we can't just settle in and expect things to stay the same for very long. I think in some ways up until 2020 that was where we were at, we were very comfortable.

I think in 2021, we just need to structure ourselves and be willing to adapt to change very quickly across the board, whatever that might mean for you. I'm sure it's very different for different organizations, but even look at us at InVision, we had a product that wasn't used very often and we really had to pivot and that product is growing tremendously.

So that willingness to change very quickly, to seize those opportunities has given us a lot of success. I think for the product marketing community, that will be true as well.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  33:31

Kacy, thank you so much for your time. It's been absolutely amazing. Have you enjoyed it?

Kacy Boone  33:35

Yes, super fun talking to you.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  33:39

Thanks for your time. Thank you.