Influencing the Product Roadmap

One of the fastest-growing social gaming giants doesn’t play around when it comes to developing future products.

San Francisco-based Zynga Inc. has stayed on top of a rapidly evolving market by conducting research that delivers such products as the Game of Thrones Slots Casino, one of the drivers of the publicly traded company’s (Nasdaq ZNGA) third quarter, the best in its 12-year history.

Sangita Sarkar, Zynga’s director of product marketing, recently participated in an AMA on influencing the product roadmap via Sharebird, a place to see how people at top companies do product marketing.

There is a vast breadth of research that can inform product decisions, Sarkar said, outlining a three-pronged process: category-segmentation, longitudinal and life-cycle studies.

“We conducted a category segmentation study to understand new potential types of gamers that may be interested in word games as well as their motivations for wanting to play. Longitudinal studies are valuable in understanding the qualitative types of behaviors and emotions over long periods of time. How does a certain type of boost or feature make our players feel or react over time? Life-cycle studies allowed us to understand where in the game experience our players were engaging and converting and where the drop-offs were occurring. The tangible output being specific improvements that we could pinpoint in the meta experience.”

Sarkar pointed out that Zynga’s size (about 1,800 employees) helps product marketing research efforts, but there are less extensive methods smaller companies can use. “Being at a larger company affords me the opportunity to take advantage of our highly skilled consumer insights team and methodologies,” she said. But for shorter, cost-effective gaming research, “PMMs can always conduct in-game surveys to glean awareness of a feature/campaign or sentiment around a feature.”

That research could be meaningless data if PMMs fail to get involved early in development and influence the overall vision for a product.

PMMs represent the consumer’s voice, so their involvement throughout product development is critical to success, Sarkar said. “Product marketers can make themselves an invaluable stakeholder to the process by: 1. Conducting and synthesizing early market research to identify the product's core target audience and user profiles and2. Becoming subject-matter experts on the industry landscape to identify a differentiated positioning from competitors. By doing so, PMMs can represent the consumer's needs and interests at the table and influence the overall vision for the product.’’

During the process, PMMs can prove their value by providing three A’s (analytics, attribution and awareness) of the consumer, Sarkar outlined.

  • Analytics. “Product managers are constantly looking at key metrics and data to inform roadmap and resource allocation decisions. I recommend creating and referencing a marketing dashboard to track not only core marketing KPIs (key performance indicators) but also products’ core metrics on a campaign level. Then, use those numbers and data to show effectiveness or learnings of your marketing strategy.”
  • Attribution. “I recently integrated Branch, a third-party vendor, to help with deep linking and attribution for Words with Friends’ Friendiversary campaign (via reengagement- focused email and social campaigns). Having a deeper level of attribution per channel was valuable to PMs to understand how better to support and resource ongoing initiatives based on where our high value reacts were coming from.”
  • Awareness. “Coming to the table with aggregated data on consumers’ top issues week after week should give your voice the heaviest weight in the room. No one can argue with the end user!”

That process helps establish the trust needed for the product marketing team to be able to work closely with the product team, Sarkar said.

“We sit together, work together, debate together and ultimately take shared ownership and accountability over each strategy,” she said. “As director, I am a stakeholder in the roadmap meeting to discuss prioritization of key feature development based on my perspective of the consumer needs.”

Meanwhile, each PMM is paired with a PM to own and deliver on a key feature that the teams have aligned on.

Recently, Zynga adapted a process to ensure that Marketing signs off on the product spec at each phase before the product gets the green light for the next phase.

It’s part of vital communication during the design process, Sarkar said.

“Throughout my career in gaming, I have seen silos of functions where product doesn't communicate with marketing or design doesn't communicate with engineering, leading to fragmented consumer experiences,” Sarkar said. Her career has included directing product marketing for Jam City’s Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery mobile game and Glu Mobile’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Tap Sports Baseball, Deer Hunter and Restaurant DASH: Gordon Ramsay.

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