On Product Marketing at Uber

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Founded in 2009 and officially launched in 2011, Uber Technologies Inc. revolutionized the direct transportation market. Since its start, the American multinational company has introduced new services in addition to its ridesharing service, including food delivery and a micromobility system with electric bikes and scooters.

Laura Jones is head of product marketing at Uber and recently participated in an AMA on influencing the product roadmap via Sharebird, a place to see how people at top companies do product marketing. In the AMA, Jones offered insights into how product marketing works at Uber, along with tips and advice for other professionals in the field.

Managing the Function

Jones maps Uber’s PMM team to the product management team, embedding one PMM into each program team. This effectively positions each PMM to serve as the cross-functional (XFN) lead for that program area.

“Each PMM works with their PM and XFN team to establish team OKRs at the start of the quarter, and the PMM takes on full or shared ownership over a subset of the OKRs,” Jones said, adding that PMMs typically take full ownership of adoption/growth OKRs and shared ownership over launch OKRs.

PMMs set their daily priorities so that they align with these OKRs, and Jones’s role is to empower and unblock their paths while at the same time working with them to develop their craft as a product marketer.

“For direct reports, I meet weekly for a one-on-one and use a structured template to make sure we maximize our time together,” she said. “I also like to do regular skip levels with all team members to review progress vis a vis goals.”

Jones also uses the meeting time to discuss personal development plans and ensure that her team members’ work is moving them toward their long-term goals.

Collaborating with Product Management

Jones noted that, when PMMs are establishing a relationship with PM, it’s important to be aligned in terms of expectations. PMMs need to take the time to understand PMs’ needs and pain points. At the same time, PMMs should share their vision for how their role can add value to the overall team. Once these steps are accomplished, follow up the conversations with a set of goals that reflect the key points of the conversation and then loop back with product management for buy in.

“Once you have established those goals, they can help in your day-to-day prioritization of work and enable you to prove impact against those benchmarks over time,” she said.

Product marketing managers who are trying to work their way into product management’s initial design process can make headway by bringing the team together for a design sprint—a tool that companies like Google, Facebook, AirBnB and Uber use for product design.

“Sprints are one of the most effective ways to quickly align a team around key insights and develop a customer-centric product solution,” she said. “Having PMMs participate in or even lead these springs is a great way to make sure all functions have a voice in shaping the product.”

Jones recommended Jake Knapp’s book, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, as a good resource for learning how to lead or participate effectively in a sprint.

Influencing the Roadmap

Jones pointed to customer insights as the most powerful tool for PMMs to influence the product roadmap. Clearly demonstrating customer pain points will inspire empathy which, in turn, tees up the opportunity to be part of the discussion about how those needs might be met through product solutions.

“From a timeline standpoint, I find aligning on prioritization to be the most effective lever,” Jones said. “One way to approach this is to look at the roadmap, estimate the business impact of all key initiatives, and assess whether delivery dates should be re-stacked to address the most impactful projects soonest.”

To establish customer segments, Jones said it’s critical to get cross-organizational alignment so that all functions are working from the same definitions. How those segments are defined can vary depending on how you plan to use them, she said. 

“I recommend investing heavily in the upfront phase of gathering requirements from all internal customers, establishing a shared understanding of how your segmentation will be used, and getting buy-in on the methodology,” she said.

From there, it’s important to gather research on the needs of those segments, and that can take various forms depending on the question you’re trying to answer. Jones always starts with learning objectives and then tailors her approach accordingly.

“Once you have findings, you can leverage those insights to influence the product roadmap by sharing those insights with the cross-functional product team and asking ‘how might we’ begin to address these needs. Rather than just handing off a report, I like to unpack insights in the context of a design sprint or through interactive workshops where a cross-functional group can seek to understand and design around key user needs,” she said.

Developing Your Go-to-Market Strategy<

When attempting to identify and prioritize the channels for a launch campaign, Jones said she starts by developing a go-to-market strategy that identifies the business objective of the launch campaign and articulates the in-focus audience.

“Once I know what I need to accomplish and who I’m talking to, then I can think about the best channels to land that message,” she said. “The channels should be tailored to the behavior of your users so that you can meet them in the right place, at the right moment, with the right message.”

Once you have a proposed strategy, it’s then helpful to test it with channel owners to ensure they’re aligned. This is also an opportunity to gain any additional insights these owners may  have to offer around how to most effectively leverage their channel.

Progressing in Your Career

The transition to leading a product marketing team depends largely on finding the right opportunity—and comes after you’ve established deep expertise and credibility in the field. That transition may happen in your current organization if there are internal shifts or scope expansions that lead to open leadership roles. It also may require you to look to another company.

“Oftentimes, earlier stage companies that are looking to hire their first PMM may provide a great on-ramp to functional leadership,” Jones said. “If you can come in, define the function, prove its value and make the case for growing the team, you will have earned the leadership role as the team expands.”

Pragmatic Institute

Pragmatic Institute

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