What's Working In Marketing™: Applying a Product Mindset to Marketing with Britt Skolovy, Chief Growth Officer at Kinzoo
What's Working in Marketing™ is a podcast where we uncover what’s working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world’s best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. Join us if you're ready to learn what's working when it comes to your marketing efforts.
On this episode, we spoke with Britt Skolovy who is the Chief Growth Officer at Kinzoo, a kid-tech startup empowering families to raise the next generation of digital citizens. Britt shares lessons learned from her unique experience in both product management and marketing, why focusing on the problem is better than focusing on the solution, and how the blurred lines between product and marketing can create positive friction that benefits marketers.
Here's a full transcript of my conversation with Britt:
Charlie Grinnell: On this episode, I'm joined by Britt Skolovy, Chief Growth Officer at Kinzoo. Thanks for taking the time to join me today, Britt.
Britt Skolovy: Thanks for having me, Charlie. So excited to be here.
Charlie Grinnell: This has been a long time coming and so I want to start at the beginning. That's what I usually do with guests on the show here is, I want to go back to you and I used to work together. When I first started working with you, I found that you had such a unique perspective because of your background in both product and marketing. And so I think a good place to start for our conversation would be if you could kind of dive into how you got your start in your career, the background of your journey so far and how you ended up at Kinzoo.
Britt Skolovy: Absolutely. So to start, my first professional gig was with a process team and a large telecom company. This role was a fantastic introduction to analyzing data with a ton of rigor, but also learning the practices of creative collaboration. When a project came my way, that included a technology component, I jumped at the opportunity to lead that initiative. And while I had no experience with software before that, I was really excited by the opportunity. We were tasked with building a customer relationship management tool to enable an experimental pilot initiative that set out to transform the call center experience. After working alongside a talented senior engineer to ship a product in a few weeks, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to go into product management.
Charlie Grinnell: That was the beginning?
Britt Skolovy: That was the beginning. Absolutely. So soon thereafter, I joined the TV product team where I focused on video on demand. I was responsible for a content merchandising portfolio, which covered a complex set of initiatives that involve different stakeholders, such as content marketing, technology strategy and customer support. Since then, I've held roles in eCommerce, across digital marketing, product management and delivery, working at retailers Kit and Ace and Aritzia where we got our shirt.
Charlie Grinnell: Back in the good old days.
Britt Skolovy: That's right.
Charlie Grinnell: Time flies when you're having fun.
Britt Skolovy: Totally. So these roles have been amazing because it's given me a well-rounded perspective on the overall customer life cycle, everything from discovery, to purchase, to support. Most recently, as you mentioned in the introduction, I joined a kid-tech startup called Kinzoo. I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to build something from the ground up, not only a product, but a community and a team. So currently I oversee product and marketing to deliver against Kinzoo's vision, to be the most trusted brand for incorporating technology into our children's lives. We're starting on this journey by bringing together kids, parents and loved ones on a single private platform to share experiences that otherwise wouldn't exist.
Charlie Grinnell: So you've done a lot. I feel like you've touched so many different areas of business and specifically marketing and product. I think what I want to dig deeper into is this conversation around product management, as well as product marketing. They're two separate things in there. They're not new, right?
Britt Skolovy: Right.
Charlie Grinnell: Those words, product management and product marketing have been thrown around for a handful of years, probably much longer, but at least on my radar for a handful of years. It feels like they've been blended together within the lines and the two kind of have become a little bit blurry. Do you agree with that or do you disagree with that and why do you think that is?
Britt Skolovy: Yeah, that's a great question. Before I state my answer on whether I agree or disagree with the blurred lines, I'll take a step back and discuss a bit more about why I think there's the blur, the blurry distinction.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Britt Skolovy: So both product management and product marketing are fundamentally challenging to define because they sit at the intersection of other functions. The product manager typically exists in the middle of user experience, technology and business. Whereas the product marketer can find themselves at the crossover of product sales and marketing. The collaborative nature of these roles can lead to a lack of clarity about desired outcome. So in other words, it can be hard to answer the question, what is it that you actually do? My very office space for reference there. So even with limited knowledge of the day-to-day responsibilities of some of our colleagues, in other more defined roles, we can still understand what they're responsible for delivering.
Britt Skolovy: So for example, we know that finance manages money. We know engineers build the product, sales brand business, support keeps customers happy, but product marketing and product management are a bit harder to pin down.
Charlie Grinnell: Absolutely.
Britt Skolovy: So all that said, I actually believe that the blurry lines between product marketing and product management is a really good thing. It to me has started a critical conversation. For far too long, product marketing has been a misunderstood or under-utilized function. So many companies would define product management and product marketing in terms of complimentary opposites. You've probably encountered at least one of these definitions. I know I had before I really started to unpack the two roles. So you might hear things like product management puts the right product on the shelves and product marketing moves the product off the shelves or product management is inbound and product marketing is outbound.
Britt Skolovy: Before I go even further into that, I may as well pause here to give a definition of product marketing and really there's no one perfect definition, rather than making it my own, I'll reference a couple from other really smart people. So one I just read in a blog post from the Product Marketing Alliance says that product marketing can be summed up as the driving force behind getting products to market and keeping them there. Another definition that comes from April Dunford, who I'll talk more about later, because she's such an inspiration. She says that product marketers are able to deeply understand and therefore articulate what is different and better and remarkable about your offering for your target people.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Britt Skolovy: So as a result, product marketers do have a big role to play in figuring out what to build, who it's for, who it's not for, what it's called, how to bring it to market and more. And while the main job of a product manager is to deliver a product, the process that they build to accomplish this is arguably much more important. If it's a good process, it will be intertwined with product marketing right from the beginning. In summary together, these two roles should represent a comprehensive collaborative function in a company that oversees success over the entire life cycle of the product.
Charlie Grinnell: Some people would find the blurriness as an issue, but it's fascinating that you find it as the core piece of it and a necessary friction. Can you expand a little bit further on that? Do you agree with that and if so, why?
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. I think sometimes with friction comes the best discovery. So in the last couple of years, we've seen at product management conferences, for instance, more product marketers come to the table and lead talks or conversations on the value of product marketing and what it brings to the table. Product management can truly be a role that's a bit overloaded, I would say, where you're taking on so many different and diverse responsibilities and by really kind of carving out those unique skill sets, I think you can become kind of much stronger as a team. So the best kind of product management and product marketing duos is I've really seen, see each other as partners. They see each other as critical to the company and one another's success. I think that, that's a model that we'll see expand throughout kind of more companies and be an ongoing talking point in the months and years to come.
Charlie Grinnell: For sure. And you kind of alluded to a little bit of my next question here, of this idea of you said kind of the best pairs of product managers and product marketers. As I said in the intro, you've worked extensively on both the marketing and the product sides and kind of going back to the title of this episode, applying a product mindset to marketing. Can you explain a little bit the skills that you've developed in product marketing or product management that have kind of gone back and forth across the fence to help you create better products or campaigns or whatever it is?
Britt Skolovy: That's a great question. I love this one. So many people become product managers accidentally by doing the job before recognizing the responsibilities as a unique job function. I teach a course on product management and actually just last night, we were talking about how every product manager is a little bit of a snowflake, kind of unique in how they discovered the discipline and moved into the role. And while I had actually a fairly intentional move into product management, as I shared in my introduction, my exposure to product marketing was much more organic. I found myself diving into areas that felt outside of the direct realm of product management specifically during my time in eCommerce.
Britt Skolovy: So for instance, I was working on a digital initiative to improve the online shopping experience for outerwear, and it really could be any product category, but in this case it was outerwear. And while our team had a solid understanding of the opportunities within the digital product experience, we had a lot of unanswered questions about our customer and our market. For example, we were asking ourselves things such as, what's our core value proposition? Does this vary between customer segments? How does our positioning compare to our competitors? Do we want to maximize sales in a specific market? How do we effectively bring a new experience to a market and to our customers? These may or may not be easy questions to answer, especially on a deadline.
Charlie Grinnell: Definitely not.
Britt Skolovy: But what we found was those answers were critical to defining the desired customer experience and ensuring the product delivered on those bigger overarching business goals.
Charlie Grinnell: So, that's really interesting. You got into it by kind of doing essentially. Yes, it was the accident aspect of it, but applying a specific example to it, is fascinating. Because I feel like some people would always ask, "How did you get into it?" The fact that you were able to be like, "Oh yeah, it was this thing. We were working on this thing." I'm like, that's when I decided to like intentionally go into it. I feel like is rare.
Britt Skolovy: I guess, again, at the time, I don't even believe I recognize that as product marketing, it just felt like a gap. It felt like a blocker for us to pursue the next steps in the product development life cycle. It felt like time for pause. It felt like time to ask those questions. Once we started to get answers to them, you saw all of the different parties who are working on the product, be it copy or the designers or the developers or the brand managers really rally behind what we were doing and it felt like we were working from more of a shared place. For me, this highlighted that most products we love don't just fill a functional need. So they're not just servicing us in terms of a problem and outcome, but they resonate emotionally.
Britt Skolovy: We might describe an affinity for the brand based on feelings of excitement or confidence, or we feel understood as what the company really gets us or what we were looking for. In my experience, this great storytelling requires a few key elements. One being market research, another being a deep understanding of the potential customer and then actionable positioning. I believe having this foundation as a company is just really critical to creating the connection between product and marketing.
Charlie Grinnell: For sure. I couldn't agree more. I think someone who you already referenced April Dunford, and I read her book obviously awesome on a recommendation from you. I think that one of the biggest things, as someone with my background, my background is marketing and I don't have the product background necessarily, but I think in working with you in previous roles, as well as listening to... I listened to April's book and then I read it, is this idea of applying those product traits or skills to marketing how valuable that could be for marketers.
Charlie Grinnell: It was really around reframing things. It wasn't necessarily what I was doing that was fundamentally wrong in terms of being solution oriented, which kind of dovetails well into our next question. It was more just kind of framing up the problem. You've said this to me in the past before that the best product people are obsessed with the problem they're trying to solve, not the solution. That was a big unlock for me, when you said that to me. I can't even remember when you said that to me. You must have said it a couple... Within the last, since we've known each other. That was a big unlock. And so when you say like the best product people are obsessed with the problem they're trying to solve, not the solution, what do you mean by that and how does that apply to marketing?
Britt Skolovy: I'm really glad that resonated with you and I can't take credit for that statement fully. I mean, that is truly, I think, a mindset that a lot of product managers have and kind of a rallying point that we all bond behind. It's certainly easier said than done. So talk a bit more about what that means to me. So product management really lies in this challenging space between data and instincts. So even if we have solid insights and a good idea, we've recognized that it's really difficult to arrive at the perfect solution to a problem with a single at bat, if we want to use a baseball analogy.
Britt Skolovy: So we typically need to take many swings before we hit a home run, if we even hit that home run at all. As a result, we strive to learn, we really embrace that learning element with each iteration and we leave room for that patient experimentation. Jeff Bezos actually speaks to this quite often. He's a good example and I'll reference something he said in the Amazon letter to shareholders back in 2008. He said, "A longterm orientation interacts well with customer obsession. If we can identify customer need and we can further develop conviction that the need is meaningful and durable, our approach permits us to work patiently for multiple years to deliver a solution." So I really love that statement because for Jeff Bezos, you can see that to compliment that love he has of the problem space and that deep corporate culture that Amazon has around customer obsession, you also need to have a longterm vision. You need to know where you're going.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Britt Skolovy: So Jeff Bezos knew from the very beginning that he wanted Amazon to be an everything store, but as we all know, Amazon didn't start there. It started with something much smaller, which was books. I think reflecting on marketing versus product, marketers are often very strong on vision because they protect the brand and they bring a brand to life. It's so challenging to not jump to a creative solution, especially if you know where you want to go, but marketers can similarly embrace the problem space. So how this might feel is you may have an instinct and you really wish to pursue a path. You can see where you want to go, but the next op in that path is where you bring in data in the form of validation.
Britt Skolovy: So you try to quantify, is this instinct based on some degree of fact? Can I sell this to other people and get them excited about it as well? Then try it out, then listen to your customers and measure the outcome. So that mix of qualitative and quantitative data, iterate upon it and repeat, and just repeat that cycle over and over again until you kind of have compounding wins and learnings.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And I think one of the things that has been a way of... That I've kind of internalized and reframed in building our company or working with our clients is I've found that when I worked in marketing on the brand side, I was trained in business, like "Business 101" to be solution-oriented, right? If you have a challenge come to the table with a solution. I'm using air quotes here. "That's what a good employee does."
Britt Skolovy: Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: I think what's super interesting and why there was an unlock in my brain when you said, "Be obsessed with the problem, not the solution." Is because it actually forced me to ask harder questions to get more clear on what the problem actually is, instead of just assuming, "Yeah. I know what the problem is, but here's the solution." I think that digging into the challenges or the pain points or whatever word you want to kind of label the things that you're trying to solve for, is something that I feel like marketers don't necessarily do enough of. That's why I wanted to have you on here to talk about that. Because, I think that it's similar. We can still get to a similar solution or the same solution in some cases, but it's about going through it in a way where you are deeply understanding your customers and putting in that kind of structured framework, so to speak, to understand deeply what they're struggling with and how you can build something that will actually solve for their issue, which I think in the long-term translates hopefully into business success.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah, absolutely. Couldn't agree more. You said that you said that really, really well. I do think it's a bit of a... It's a journey. It's a mental practice. Just like it's a bit of a mental practice to come to the table with ideas, right? That is a valuable skillset. No doubt, but it is also a great practice to come to the table with a super clear understanding of the problem, what you're trying to solve for and how you can truly help your customers.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. It's hard, because it is like unlearning a habit. That's I think the thing that I've really, really thought about in taking that advice or framing things up in that way, it is a different way of thinking. There were so many times where someone says, they say, "Jump." And you go, "How high?" And it's like, "Okay, but why are we jumping?" And so, some people are probably cringing right now being like, "Don't ask that. You're going to get in trouble." But at the same time, you should actually... If you're not clear on why you're jumping, you probably should be clear on why you're jumping so that you can have an effective jump to know how high you need to jump to accomplish said thing.
Britt Skolovy: That's right.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. That's super interesting. In addition to falling in love with the problem, which we just kind of covered, are there any other elements of product thinking that you think could give a competitive advantage to marketers with marketing being so noisy and competitive? Is there anything there that you think that sticks out, that could give a competitive advantage to a marketer?
Britt Skolovy: It's a great question. One element of product thinking that can definitely be a competitive venture for marketers is embracing constraints to really figure out where you can get the most mileage out of your efforts. You touched on this a little bit earlier, but at times marketers can be hyper-focused on a given campaign. Again, this is not a criticism, it's really admirable to strive for the best possible activation and to be so into both the big picture and the details of how you accomplish that. But not all opportunities are worth the same level of investment, be it money, time or effort. One of the most challenging things about being a product manager is we know we can't possibly deliver everything our customers ask for, or at least not right away.
Charlie Grinnell: So you're the realist?
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. It's tough. One of the expressions, another kind of reference statement is a big part of your job is to say no and I don't think anyone likes that. We all want to say yes more than we say no, but there is really good value in saying no. This is even more so actually in a startup environment. You could always have more money to invest in the product, your team is juggling a variety of responsibilities. There's never enough time. To be able to effectively assess your options and ruthlessly prioritize, you do need to have a holistic of what you're working with.
Britt Skolovy: So for me, this includes monitoring competitive intelligence, interpreting quantitative data and engaging with customers, which I'd love to talk more about a bit later. But in general, there's just this immense value in pausing to prioritize and where possible experimenting with many small bets to maximize your learning. As we just discussed iteration with the goal of learning is another key component of product.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. It's one of the things that comes to mind. I agree with everything that you said. One of the things that comes to mind for me is this idea of creativity actually needing constraints and that I find it very, very difficult when I don't have... So my background, sorry, I'll back up a sec here. So I used to work in the creative side of things doing photo and video, more so video. When I didn't have a clear objective of what I needed to do, I found that very, very difficult because it was kind of like open white space and I've found that the most creative things actually need the constraints to provide the context, because that's what makes it creative. So as an audience, once you know what the limitation is, and then someone does something amazingly creative, you need to understand those limitations for it to be perceived as creative.
Charlie Grinnell: Now I feel like a bunch of creatives out there would probably disagree with me. But if we're kind of sticking in here with creative, for the sake of marketing, which if you work in a marketing department, I kind of coined it as art for the sake of commerce, commerce being the key word, this creative side of things. I'm not saying don't be creative, but I'm thinking like some of the best work comes from, "Here's our sandbox, what can you do inside of it?" That's actually going to get more recognition or have more impact and be valued as more creative than if it's like, "You can literally do whatever you want."
Britt Skolovy: Right. Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: I don't know if you agree or disagree with that, but I felt like that needed to be put out there.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. I've personally never worked on the creative side. So, I find it really difficult to imagine what that role of world looks like, but I have immense respect for creative individuals. I have a small creative side. I like to paint. I like to do photography, but I've never pursued it in anything more than a casual way. When I had my first role in digital marketing, I remember this being something that I was really concerned with. Because I so deeply wanted to partner with the creative team and really add value for them without overstepping, without them feeling like I was stifling or setting too prescriptive of a direction. Yeah, I was quite so conscious in that first role of figuring out how could I add value.
Britt Skolovy: When I started focusing more on sharing data points with the team and campaigns that had really worked for us in the past and problems that we were facing and objectives that I was after, at first I was concerned that, that's what I'd be overstepping, that it would not be seen as value add. Fortunately I think I was working with an incredible group and they really kind of echoed this back to me saying, "Oh, the constraints are great, giving us a bit of the sandbox. We now have a better view of what we're after." And you could see them start to create just this incredible work. So that was really thrilling for me to be able to find a way to partner with a group of people that may think quite differently from me, but where we can really play off each other's strengths.
Charlie Grinnell: Well, yeah. I mean, it's all about striking that balance, right? That balance between art and science, within marketing, you need both, right? You have to pull in both sides to be able to create something that's going to be meaningful, impactful and give you the opportunity to influence someone to take an action. That makes sense for your business yada yada yada.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: I want to kind of talk about something that... I want to talk about what you're excited about. And so, I always find it interesting when I talk to smart people. I consider myself someone who is well-read. I'm constantly listening to podcasts, reading, watching videos, doing all that stuff. I have my own things that I get excited about, but I always get so curious when having people on here to ask them, what area in product or marketing sticks out to you that excites you the most?
Britt Skolovy: There's lots of areas that I said what I feel, I feel this could be a podcast in and of itself.
Charlie Grinnell: I know that's a big question, yeah.
Britt Skolovy: Maybe that's a concept for the future. One thing, if it wasn't obvious already from our conversation, I'm really excited by the increased attention to product marketing. It feels like this role is gaining momentum and respect. But as we discussed earlier, many companies still fail to bring product marketers in with the right skillset at the right time and they ended up paying for it in one way or another, sometimes with completely failed product launches. So, because product marketing is a relatively new role, I think many companies don't know what it is or how it's different from marketing or growth marketing or digital marketing or brand marketing or product management, which is fair. I mean, even I learned about those differentiations over years of working in the various roles and having exposure to other people, in those capacities.
Britt Skolovy: The product marketing gap can be even bigger at an early stage company or startup because most companies aren't hiring product marketing managers until they've reached some degree of scale. I don't know by precision what this exactly is, but let's say over 50. Marty Cagan, I hope I said his last name right, is a thought leader that I really, really admire on the product management side. He's from the Silicon Valley group, he's written so much incredible content and he has a great blog post on this topic specifically of the product marketing versus product management distinction.
Britt Skolovy: He argues that companies are sacrificing more than they realize. If no one at your company is performing the tasks of a product marketer, then you do run the risk of creating products that customers don't want or struggle to use. In his article, he says, ultimately that inflection point is usually reached because some person or a small team be it either product management or marketing itself becomes so overloaded that they can't scale. So the product marketer is then hired to help steer the ship and take some of the load off. Not necessarily it'd be a unique, distinct strategic function, but just taking the load off of a marketer or a product manager.
Charlie Grinnell: So like filling the gap?
Britt Skolovy: Really, yeah. Exactly.
Charlie Grinnell: Interesting. Okay.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. To add to this, I think sometimes there's this assumption that startups should have minimal gaps between the customers and the product based on this idea that there's inherent cohesion in small teams. So while there may be some truth to that, I definitely think it's easier to stay connected and aligned when there's 20 of you in comparison to 20,000.
Charlie Grinnell: Totally.
Britt Skolovy: The stakes are just that much higher in the race towards product market fit as an early stage company.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Britt Skolovy: So for some of the entrepreneurs who might be listening to the podcast, this has been something that I've been thinking a lot about, and I find it really fascinating. So to kind of tie it all back together, and I'm still forming my thoughts on this and I think many people are. But if we revisit the primary goal of the product marketer, that being to deliver the right product to the target customer at the right time to ensure adoption, this focus maps almost directly to the value hypothesis created for, required for product market fit. So just to dig into what is a value hypothesis, I didn't come up with this one, either. So I just had too many smart people today, the smarter people.
Charlie Grinnell: No, it's good.
Britt Skolovy: Andy Rachleff, he is the CEO of Wealth Front and he says a value hypothesis is this attempt to articulate the key assumption that underlies why a customer is likely to use your product. So this articulation of value to the customer is so critical to nail early on, and we need to revisit it often what. What it is and Q1 might be different than Q2 to Q3, two years from now. If you do this really well, you articulate that value to the right customer. Customers actually start selling your product for you. Fundamentally, I think that's the space that we all want to be in, is to have a product or a business that our customers share and sell for us and really spread the growth.
Charlie Grinnell: That's ultimate marketing or word of mouth business growth, word of mouth marketing, that is the Holy grail.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah, exactly.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Britt Skolovy: So I'm really excited to see more of this role and the responsibilities and the product marketing thinking kind of coming come to light and be more widely discussed.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I think it's interesting what you kind of said about touching on all the different titles, right? Whether it's marketing, growth marketing, digital marketing, brand marketing, product management, there's so many things that have been thrown out there, what in terms of titles and the label, do you think that, that has contributed to some of the blurriness and the confusion? Just around that idea of product marketing or product management?
Britt Skolovy: Yeah, potentially. I mean, the product marketing rule in of itself is a combination of two other things. Product plus marketing. And there was some accuracy in that I believe, it functions across both. So as we talked about earlier, this role or the responsibilities of this role has a really critical input to both product managers and marketing managers, but I think they're... I've even heard some interest in, should this role be rebranded? Is there a better name for it? Should it fit into a different department? There's a lot of discussion around what department do product marketers sit in? Should they sit in product management? Should they actually sit in a separate revenue department? Should they sit in a growth department because fundamentally they're trying to help the business find product market fit and scale and new markets and new market opportunities.
Britt Skolovy: So it'll be interesting to see if the title or the words and the titles change over time. In general, I tend to not be someone that overly fusses about titles and I get more excited about the concepts behind the roles and how do you apply those to various disciplines, regardless of what background you're from. So even as we just discussed this idea of the problem space, that's definitely important in product management, but it's not something that you can benefit from, in other roles. I'm sure there's a lot in other roles that I could benefit from learning, as well.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. I think, just trying to frame that up for people who are listening, right? I think that I'm not precious with titles either, but at the same time, labels and structures are how most organizations function. And so yeah, it's one of those things where it's like, "I don't care about, but I care about it a little bit." It's like personally, I don't care about it, but functionally for the business, it matters.
Britt Skolovy: Absolutely.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. So interesting. I want to switch gears a little bit here and I want to talk about data and insights, my favorite.
Britt Skolovy: Yes.
Charlie Grinnell: Not my favorite. I used to be a filmmaker back in the day. So I used to have the creative aspects, I guess maybe, but I want to talk about how data and insights play into your approach. As someone who's responsible for growth, i.e both product and marketing, how you use data and insights in the past to understand customers or users and taking it a step further to build better products, services or experiences.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. So on the subject, I always start with a passion for a shared sense of data literacy within a team or company. So if you happen to come from a background of product management or digital marketing odds are you have a pretty ingrained habit of looking at metrics on a daily basis and using those to guide your decisions. But a big part of your job in either of those areas is selling stakeholders or your very own team on opportunities worth pursuing. It's just so much easier to get buy in and solicit a variety of ideas, when the numbers you're speaking about are not totally foreign or brand new to other individuals. The social services take a lot of the emotion out of decision making when we have a common ground.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I couldn't agree more. I think about this idea of democratizing access or making data or insights more approachable-
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. Exactly.
Charlie Grinnell: And I feel like that's something that a lot of businesses need. I mean, whether it's me in my previous experience, working with other people or working with our clients today, it's data and insights. I feel like data and analytics is such a buzz word that's been thrown around, but at the same time, it's kind of gained this momentum, but I also feel like there is still a lot of intimidation around it, because I feel like some people... I was kind of the same before I got close to it. I was like, "Oh, I wasn't good at math in high school." Or like, "I don't kind of stay away." But at the same time, I was like, "Oh, this idea of data storytelling and understanding the story behind the numbers and the insights behind the numbers that can then be taken and applied and packaged up, is really, really not only interesting, but also super valuable.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. I love that. I mean, it's so powerful and it can certainly be incredibly overwhelming. I think that's the role of anyone who is familiar with data and comfortable with it, is spread that knowledge. Don't make it something that's locked away and that only you understand, and you get frustrated if other people don't don't get it. It's part of your job to share that access in a way that's digestible and familiar-
Charlie Grinnell: That's a separate skill, I feel like, right there.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. You can for sure.
Charlie Grinnell: Data translator.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. Well, there you go. There's a new job title for you.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Exactly.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. One thing I found really to be very fortunate in my career at many of the previous companies I've worked at, there's been a practice of this cross-functional daily metric stand up where you've received highlights from each area. What's great about this is it really forces each team lead to keep it snappy by bubbling up those metrics that matter. So when we work together, for example, well, I didn't run social media and that's your area of expertise. I probably could have rattled off your week over week growth and engagement or followers and recalled your top performing posts. I'm sure you could have done the same for the areas that I was working in around eCommerce channel mix or conversion rate I'm on the website.
Britt Skolovy: It may be tempting to argue that this doesn't matter in context of the job of product manager, why bother yourself with more metrics outside of your immediate domain? But I would argue it is really important. Social media gives you insight into customer preferences that can be leveraged in product decisions. If you, as the social media manager entice customers to shop, then they come to retail stores or they come to the website when the product and that's where product management now comes in and has to ensure that they properly drive that traffic and do meaningful locations and convert it to purchases and keep happy customers.
Britt Skolovy: So what's really cool about this idea that you said about kind of democratizing data and having a shared understanding is when you and I worked together, we were able to help each other maximize performance of our respective areas by having that shared sense of data and insight. So even if it was outside of my immediate scope, we could have a conversation and I could give you an idea or a problem that I was seeing on the website and we could run with that. I think that's really cool.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Well, one of the things that just came to mind, as you were saying that was this idea of... Well not idea, it's more... Okay. I think about the analogy that I would use is your peripheral vision, right? So yes, me in social, I am focused on social. That doesn't mean that I'm complete, I still have things in my periphery that I can look at and understand i.e eCommerce channel mix, conversion, whatever the thing is. Then to take that a step further, it's like one just don't ignore it because you have peripheral vision for a reason. Then two is all of those things that we're just talking about are our little signals that add up to give you a more complete picture of what's happening, which inform you to hopefully be able to make a better decision for your area of the business, whether it's social, eComm, marketing as a whole, whatever it is.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: And so it may seem kind of foreign because it's like, if I'm a social media manager or if I'm an eCommerce marketing manager, you might be being like, "Well yeah, I have enough to worry about in my own area." Sure. I don't disagree with that, but at the same time, there are things that can be learned through that kind of peripheral vision, so to speak.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. And to tie this back to the question that you asked at the beginning where you said, how do you use data and insights to build better products or experiences? So, as we touched on earlier, focusing on those data and insights really helps us remain in the problem space. I've called my self a few times recently discussing details of a bug or a feature, without providing relative context of the team. So I was getting caught up in a solution and really going down that road and realizing I just completely skipped my role in providing that relevant context. By relevant context, I mean, questions like, how often is this happening? And when is this happening? And is this more impactful to a specific customer segment? And why does it matter to our customer or to our business? Why have we chosen to prioritize this, now? The job of a leader is not to dictate what products or experiences are to be built, but really rather to help prioritize guide and give feedback, own the process based on the data and insights.
Charlie Grinnell: Really, really interesting. So it's almost kind of like you using data to help establish, where my mind initially went was Ray Dalio's Principles and it's like using data and insights to establish a set of principles in which you then use to help make decisions around products, experiences, services, that sort of thing.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. Exactly.
Charlie Grinnell: Okay. I have a follow up question to that.
Britt Skolovy: Okay.
Charlie Grinnell: So, as we've been talking about, there's no shortage of data available to marketers, how do you approach choosing which things to pay attention to and which to ignore? Right? There's been a ton of conversation around vanity metrics within marketing. This kind of ties nicely into the name of the podcast Measure What Matters, but how do you pay attention or focus your attention on what to look at and what to kind of ignore.
Britt Skolovy: I'm going to take I think, slightly different approach in my answer, which is to say that regardless of the size of your company, you simply cannot ignore your customers. Typically, when we talk about data, we think solely about quantitative numbers, hard numbers. We really can't forget that behind that data are real people. So falling in love with the problem means you have to relish in rather than ignore the sticky points in your data and obsess over customers who care enough to give you feedback, even if that feedback is this negative.
Charlie Grinnell: Totally.
Britt Skolovy: Again, this is... I find myself getting sometimes oddly excited about problems, I see in the data when I... It's this mix of anxiety and you see something that isn't maybe moving in the right direction. But there's some excitement in that because, okay, great. I'm seeing it now. I see customers behind that data or potentially having that friction or challenge and I can help them, or I may at least starting to move towards helping them. But it's worth noting that this customer obsession can go sideways if we focus all of our energy on serving unique problems for a specific customer. So maybe it's a big client and it becomes just only about them or we become so overwhelmed by the variety of feedback that we default back to going with our gut. This is especially tricky in a startup where you have a limited information to work with.
Charlie Grinnell: For sure.
Britt Skolovy: So in either case, I try to refer back to the vision and our key performance indicators for guidance. The devil is often in the details, but it's so easy to get lost there.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Britt Skolovy: So you need to strike that difficult balance and paying attention to feedback without losing sight of the big picture objectives.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, that makes sense. I think the thing that I would add also is when you're looking at data is number one, I really... When I say data, in my head, I just think behavior. This is probably going to be a really bad example or analogy is like, "I think of almost the data points as checkpoints." So I think about a ski racer going down a slope and every time they pass a gate, right? That's a checkpoint. And so that's kind of how I think about data is I'm like, "Okay, they did that. Just because this is a quantitative thing." There is a qualitative behavior that we're interpreting in a quantitative number and that quantitative number does have a qualitative meaning and then yeah, what is that qualitative meaning that we can understand our customer behavior?
Charlie Grinnell: So I think that's a really good thing that you said, is framing that up as yeah, we all say day-to-day-to-day and I think more people go math. Whereas to me data is actually just like behavior of humans. Yes, it's taking place on a digital device, but it's really the language behind behavior.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. I think you have an infographic in that one.
Charlie Grinnell: Just don't look at my handwriting because it was so bad. If I had to draw that, that would not be good.
Britt Skolovy: That's great.
Charlie Grinnell: But yeah, that's interesting there. So that's the first piece, that when I thought about after kind of listening to you, you talk about that. Then the second thing was as people in marketing, we have so much access to data and I feel like a few years ago was when this phrase, big data really kind of came onto the block and the size of data is incredible. It's never been better to be a marketer from a data perspective. I'll take that a step further to what I just said.
Charlie Grinnell: It's never been better for marketers to understand behavior because that data is associated with behaviors. But with having access to that much data, yes it's great because you can zoom into things and zoom out of things. But I think what you said about it can be... You kind of have to check yourself because it can trick you if you go down too far and kind of remaining that high level and looking for trends, looking for anomalies, looking for things over a period of time. I find that's something that we've had to work with our team and with various customers and that sort of thing. So-
Britt Skolovy: Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: Do you agree or disagree with that?
Britt Skolovy: 100% agree. Yeah, exactly. It's that fine balance between listening to the customers, listen to that individualized one-on-one feedback, being responsive to it. I think all the companies that we admire, you see the CEO responding to messages on Twitter or responding on LinkedIn or sending an email back or picking up the phone. Those are high touch activities and are absolutely critical and you can't neglect them. But you also have to find a way to work that feedback into a bigger picture perspective of what you're trying to accomplish and what's going on in the larger market. So how do you make decisions on what to action and what to ignore.
Charlie Grinnell: Absolutely. And so speaking of brands, this works perfectly into the kind of next question that I had here. We've seen both some good things and some not so good things from brands during this time. Is there anything that has stood out to you for a brand in terms of marketing?
Britt Skolovy: Oh, this is a great one. We could talk about this all day. Yeah. So I mean, it's incredibly difficult time. As we all know, the news cycle has been so overwhelming and it is always difficult to cut through the noise, but it doesn't feel like ever more so than now. On one of your previous episodes, I heard Andrew Delaney from HubSpot, he said that the immediate change for his team and company was to cut back in the short-term to avoid coming across as insensitive and causing longterm damage to the brand. I thought that was an incredibly smart way to prioritize in a crisis.
Charlie Grinnell: Andrew is a smart guy.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. This was a first for me to kind of go through something like this as I'm sure it is for many marketers in the world. Our company does something similar. We took a moment to pause. We discussed all the potential ways in which COVID-19 might impact our world and the world for our potential customers. This is not just a business exercise, but it's an exercise in empathy. People are facing major life changing situations including job loss, isolation, illness, death.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Britt Skolovy: And these challenges are not about to go away anytime soon. I think the brands that have stood out in this time have found a way to be helpful or relatable. They've been able to offer something truly meaningful to people in a way that felt authentic. I've also seen brands, I'm curious if you've seen this one as well, but brands experiment with new emotions that maybe were not so prevalent previously, but now really unify us. So one example is Tangerine recently put out an ad and I believe the tagline is, Again, that's the campaign. It's these really simple scenes of life as we knew it before, COVID-19. So people just going about their day and it's covered by statements such as, "Take the bus again, lose our voices again, double dip again." It taps right into those feelings of longing and kind of hope that we have, they tie it back to their company. I was wondering as I was watching, "How are they going to tie this back?"
Charlie Grinnell: Where are they going with this?
Britt Skolovy: Well, and you didn't even know who it was from at first-
Charlie Grinnell: Interesting.
Britt Skolovy: They tied back to their business by saying, "We will help you save, so you can do it all again."
Charlie Grinnell: Tangerine is a financial institution just to clarify that. Yeah?
Britt Skolovy: Right. Yes, exactly.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, cool.
Britt Skolovy: So this really spoke to me, because most financial institutions have been... Before this major change in our world, were typically speaking about longterm savings, major life events like college or retirement. But Tangerine was able to find this larger shared emotion, recognizing people might not have a ton of extra income currently and they were able to position themselves as a company that cares to help people save even small amounts for these previously mundane, yet we all know, truly meaningful events, that we have in our lives.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Britt Skolovy: So I just thought that was a kind of a great example of something that stood out and maybe was something that they never would have done before and a new emotion that they were able to tap into.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, absolutely. I think that is a really good example. It's been fascinating to see how different brands have brought certain things to life or not, right? Some have gone quiet and every brand has different things that are behind the scenes that we can't necessarily see. But yeah, that was one that I think is super interesting and inspiring.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. Another inspiring trend I guess you could say I've seen is the increased transparency from leadership.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Britt Skolovy: This behavior that was previously behind the scenes within companies has now become as important as their public facing personas. So I'm sure you've seen the list of brands that have been circulating that deserve our loyalty in the months to come based on how they treated their employees or the service that they've given back to their communities. We've seen even just more storytelling. So one example from Stewart Butterfield, the CEO of Slack, he posted this amazing Twitter thread in March about his company has transitioned to work from home. The rapid growth of Slack as many companies did the same.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Can I just say like, this was a gangster display of just... Here's an unfiltered view into what real leaders do. Yeah. I remember, I think I got onto Twitter like halfway through as he was still uploading stuff and I was like, "What is happening?" And I couldn't believe the level of detail. It was amazing.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. I mean, it was strategic. It was empathetic. It was candid. I think as followers of his on Twitter or as believers in the company that is Slack, we've really got a glimpse into the values and cultures, culture behind the scenes, which I think has this amazing impact of driving even more brand loyalty. Though I do truly just think he was being authentic and sharing his experiences and allowing us to all kind of lean in and learn from what he was going through.
Charlie Grinnell: Which again is a skill, that's not easy to do. I feel like that doesn't come naturally to people, right? Especially in a business context where it's like, "Oh, we have to be strategic and confidential and these types of things." So it's interesting to see how that's kind of shifted or pivoted to default transparency, boom, here's what we're doing. Here's why.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. I think it's more than just transparency. It's only effective if you've had these deeply rooted company values or core values that you can lean on. I think that is a root of authenticity, right? It's they're not manufactured. It's not just for show, it's based on something longer term. So another example we saw recently came from Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb. On the day the company laid off 25% of the workforce they published online for all of us to read and follow along, the principles behind their reduction decisions or comp packages, the transition planning. And obviously it was incredibly difficult time for the company, but they were able to showcase that they were tying decisions back to the original mission of the company and I think regardless of your personal beliefs towards Airbnb, whether you think they're good for the world or not, they have handled the adversity well for a company that's just been truly in the center of the impact.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. II think this is thought leadership at its finest. I guess what I mean by that is, this word thought leadership has kind of been thrown around and, "Oh, I'm writing a thought leadership article, I'm writing..." That sort of thing. What does it actually will look like? I think this is what it looks like, right? It's an unfiltered look into how these leaders are dealing with unprecedented challenges that there's no way they could have really prepared for, they're doing so in real time taking into consideration so many different factors. One of the things that just came up in my mind, which I thought was actually a really good strategy was, it reminded me of the movie 8 Mile, Eminem. In that, I know I'm going to go, this is... I promise I'll bring this back.
Britt Skolovy: Okay. I'm waiting.
Charlie Grinnell: What I mean here is in the last rap battle, Eminem is rapping against this guy and he has to go first. Part of it is, him going first. What he does is he actually makes fun of himself the whole time so that by the time it's the other guy's turn to rap and kind of make fun of him, he has no ammunition because Eminem has already said everything about himself and he's kind of already made the jokes. I think this is why relating that back to this thought leadership stuff and this transparency and leading into the values and publicizing it and that sort of thing is with Stewart's tweet storm or Brian's announcement, you were able to understand the thought process and the information they had available at the time, which led to their decisions. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Whereas previously it might be a press release from a comms person that comes out and it's like, "We're doing this." Blah blah blah blah. It's kind of this manufactured thing. Whereas being able to kind of explain the why behind the decision and not necessarily just communicating that why to the internal employees, communicating that why publicly leaves a lot of... Answers a lot of the questions. So people are like, "Oh, okay. Well, with all of that considered that actually makes sense."
Charlie Grinnell: Now sometimes that happens where some people are still like, "Nah, that doesn't make sense to me, but it is what it is." But I think it's almost like they're able to kind of cover their butt by "8 Miling" themselves. I'm using air quotes here, to kind of put it in that way. And so I think this is a trend that's going to probably continue. Because, I think that this is now going to become the expectation. What do you think about that?
Britt Skolovy: Yeah, I mean, I hope so. I think that it's great to... We've all known for a long time how much an internal company is culture or values where they operate matters to the longterm success of a company don't matter as to how happy their customers are, if their employees are happy. Now more than ever, I think you're seeing those companies shine. Right? Again, even in really challenging times where maybe the numbers on the surface don't look positive, right? Layoffs or revenue. But I think there's something to be said for if people leave that company and still refer that company and still think back wisely of their time there or fondly of their time there and still want to use the products, don't want to refer the products. I mean, that's immensely powerful and I think it's better for the world to have a more transparent and deeper connection between what goes on behind the scenes and behind closed doors to what actually is shown to the public.
Charlie Grinnell: I couldn't agree more. One of the things I want to switch gears here a little bit is I said earlier that I considered myself fairly well-read and well listened and then that sort of things. I spent a ton of time reading and watching videos and listening to things. With product and marketing changing at such a rapid pace, how do you stay up to date? Who are you following? What are you reading? What are you listening to? I'd love to... Give me your secrets. Give me who you listen to.
Britt Skolovy: Okay. Yeah, I mean on the daily I do kind of the major catch up, so medium, Twitter, various blogs I bookmarked. I'm a bit of a news junkie as well, I have a ton of appreciation for really well-researched and thoughtful writing and I never miss an episode Pivot the podcast. I think we both have that in common.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Love the jungle cat and the dawg, so good.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. But beyond the daily digest, I mean I think it's really important to have a couple of key resources to refer back to again and again. I find myself doing that. So yes, I have the daily things that are read, but if I was to what kind of recommend things to others, it would be to find those strategic frameworks that you can experiment with, over time. Because it certainly takes a while to absorb big ideas and put them into practice. A couple that I'll mention, I couldn't speak about product marketing without mentioning April Dunford. You talked about her earlier. Her book, obviously awesome, came out a year ago, but it's worth several rereads. She's an excellent storyteller and she has compelling cases of transforming products simply by changes in the context and she lays out a concise and practical framework for building positioning.
Charlie Grinnell: She's brilliant. April, if you're listening, I want to get you on the podcast. Yeah. Her book fundamentally changed the way that I approach positioning and marketing. So I couldn't agree more.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah, it's fantastic. And I also love from a product management perspective, the product leadership and strategy content that comes from Gibson Biddle, who's the former VP of Product for Netflix. I've been fortunate to have seen him speak at a variety of conferences. If you get the chance to see him speak, definitely don't miss it. But he has several essays on his website that include a 12 part series on product strategy. So I've been working my way through those and every time I find a new aha moment, Each iteration, each read and application.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Interesting essays. Yeah, that's a new one. I haven't really... I'll read the longer blog posts and that sort of thing, but essays is a new format that I haven't really delved into.
Britt Skolovy: Yeah. Well, they're super consumable, so don't let that put you off.
Charlie Grinnell: Okay.
Britt Skolovy: I'm sure you can handle it, Charlie. I think you can-
Charlie Grinnell: That's the bad student in me. The crappy high school student being like, "Ooh, reading." But I mean, I guess that's the thing, right? It's so funny, that word essay. The hair on my neck stood up being like, "You don't like essays." Whereas at the same time like I will crush newspapers and blogs and that sort of thing.
Britt Skolovy: Exactly.
Charlie Grinnell: So it's so funny how framing it in that way-
Britt Skolovy: Yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: Okay. As we start to wind this down a little bit, do you have any advice that marketers should be just keeping top of mind? I think we've obviously covered a lot here in this conversation, but what's the one thing that you think marketers should be taking away and keeping top of mind?
Britt Skolovy: I think you always want to ensure that you have clear business goals and tie those goals back or have the ability to tie them back to a solid strategic foundation. And if you don't have what you need to be successful, as we mentioned earlier or discussed, it's okay to stop and ask those hard questions. It can feel challenging, I think sometimes it can feel like well, are you pushing back? Are you making objections for objections' sake? But you will empower so many others around you once you're all working from the same playbook. Have clear business schools and have a solid strategic foundation and enroll anyone you need to get you there.
Charlie Grinnell: That makes a ton of sense to me. Where's the best place for people to find you online?
Britt Skolovy: Well, you can reach me on LinkedIn anytime. I'm also in a bunch of Slack communities for product management and product marketing. I do really love Slack because it has allowed me to connect with people far beyond my immediate network. I had two phone calls this morning that started off with Slack conversations. It's allowed me to build relationships where we can just bounce ideas off each other anytime, so feel free to say hello to me on LinkedIn and then we can take the conversation from there.
Charlie Grinnell: That sounds great. Well, Britt, thank you so much for taking the time. I always learn something when I speak with you about this sort of thing and today was no different, so thank you very much and I'm excited to watch what you guys continue to build over at Kinzoo.
Britt Skolovy: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Charlie.
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