User Stories in Agile Marketing

One of the most useful tools in Agile Development is the use of User Stories.  These stories, typically recorded on a large index card, take the format:

As a [role], I want to [task], so that I can [goal or benefit]

On the back side of the card, developers will usually list the acceptance criteria or test cases for the feature.  To see a good example of user stories in agile development, go here.

Are user stories relevant to the Agile Marketer? If so, how might they differ from user stories used by agile developers?

The Role of User Stories in Agile Marketing

User stories provide the agile marketer with insight into the personas associated with each of their target markets as well as focusing the marketer on the customer’s viewpoint and benefits.  Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

  • As a [role] – Roles correspond to Personas.  A Persona is typically a fictional character that is representative of a set of users who use a product or service in a particular way, and that play a particular role in the selection or use of that product or service.  The Persona is described in sufficient detail that product managers can make decisions regarding features or design elements of the product.  Marketers can use Personas to design web sites, write marketing collateral and generate content (blog posts, instructional videos, white papers, eBooks, etc) which meet the needs of these Personas.
  • I want to [task] – Focusing on what the customers want to accomplish, whether it’s solving a problem, alleviating a pain, scratching an itch, or aspiring to something better, reminds us of why the customers want our product.  For Content Marketers, focusing on tasks reminds us of how we can help our audience accomplish what they are looking to accomplish, and gives us an avenue to add value by providing relevant and helpful content.
  •  so that I can [goal or benefit] – The goal or benefit reminds us that all good marketing should answer a single question for the customer: What’s In It For Me (WIIFM).  Bad marketing focuses on the vendor’s products and features, rather than the benefits that accrue to the customer.

In my next blog post, I’ll describe how Agile Marketing user stories differ from Agile Development user stories, and share with you a couple of templates that I use to document Personas and User Stories.

What do you think?  Have you used user stories in your marketing?  How have you found them useful?

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Ingredients of a Good Demo

Steve Jobs demos Macbook Air
Photo courtesy of Tom Coates

David D’Souza of Moprise and I were down at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco last week, demoing Moprise’s latest application, Coaxion, for several hundred VCs, press and technology enthusiasts. Demoing the product over 100 times that day, I started to think about the ingredients of a good product demo. I also watched one of the masters, Steve Jobs, demo products over the years: ranging from his introduction of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 to his introduction of the iPad in 2010. Looking at Job’s demos, and thinking about the ones I’ve done over the years, it seems to me that there are seven key ingredients to a great demo:

  1. Start off with a “hook” – If you look at Steve Jobs introduction of the iPad 1, he describes it as “More intimate than a laptop, more capable than a smartphone”.  We started off our demo of Coaxion by describing it as “Flipboard for the Enterprise”. This, by the way, is what is known as a “high concept pitch“.  It’s like something you know (Flipboard), but different in a way that makes sense (for the enterprise, rather than for consumers).  Or it’s like one product that you know meets other product that you know.  This technique, borrowed from the movie industry, is very effective in communicating what your company does in a single sentence.
  2. Explain a problem and show how your product solves it, elegantly – after our “hook”, we described a scenario involving a salesman, who wanted access to all his documents on the iPad, offline or online, and we showed how easy and elegant it was to retrieve those documents and make them available offline.
  3. Put the product in a bigger context – Jobs is the master of this.  For example, when he introduced the iPhone, he didn’t just say, “hey look, here’s a nice feature and here’s another nice feature”.  What he said was “we’re re-inventing the phone” and then proceeded to demonstrate exactly what he meant by that phrase.
  4. Reinforce by repetition – in his introduction of the iPad, count how many times Steve Jobs said “It’s just that simple.”
  5. Leave out the jargon and the tech talk – watch this video if you’re ever tempted to use jargon in a demo.  It’s a spoof, and an accurate one.
  6. When something goes wrong (and it will), ignore it or make a joke – Coaxion was still unstable when we demoed it at TechCrunch, and almost every demo we would have a failure. Since I had told people up front that this was work in progress, I just joked that the failure showed that this was real software, and not a fake demo.  Watch Steve Jobs handle a loss of connectivity when he introduced the iPhone 4.
  7. Close with a call to action – this will vary depending on whether the demo is to a large audience from a stage, or a more intimate sales call.  In any case, don’t forget the purpose of the demo – you want to move people to action.  Don’t forget to be explicit about the action that they should take, whether it is to download the product or sign up to learn more.
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Marc BenioffYesterday I attended’s 2011 DreamForce in San Francisco, their annual event for customers, partners and press. If you’ve never attended DreamForce, I highly recommend doing so. It is marketing theater of the highest order, not only entertaining, but also full of lessons about how to do these kind of events. In Marc Benioff’s hands, Salesforce is much more than just a SAAS CRM and an internal Facebook-like app (Chatter), SalesForce is a platform, and the future of enterprise computing. If you watch closely, Benioff does three things very well at his event:

  • Paint an attractive vision. Whether he can pull it off or not is an open question, but there is no doubt that he paints a vision of the future of enterprise computing that is attractive to customers and to a lesser extent, partners and ISVs.
  • Effectively use customer testimonials. Burberry, Avon, Kelly Services, Facebook all talked about the exciting things that they were doing with Salesforce and the Force platform.  They were enthusiastic and convincing.  Particularly effective was a video that demonstrated how a small consulting firm had used Heroku to deploy a very scalable Facebook app for Warner Bros. Entertainment.
  • Entertain and enlighten. Any vendor can hire a big name musical act (Metallica this year at DreamForce). But Benioff also brings on stage well-known thought leaders, interviews them, and keeps people entertained as well as sends them off thinking. Last year he interviewed former President Bill Clinton, this year he interviewed Eric Schmidt of Sun Microsytems/Novell/Google. The questions were thoughtful, delivered well, and clearly established Benioff as someone who is comfortable discussing big issues with these thought leaders.

Although people loved DreamForce, there were at least a few rumblings and complaints among the partners and ISVs that I talked to.  The ISVs on stage with Benioff were not chosen because they were the biggest or the most innovative; they were all ISVs  either owned by SalesForce (Heroku), or where Benioff had made a personal investment (Seesmic, Kenandy). And clearly the man’s ego is as big as his stage presence: 30 minutes or so of the day two keynote was devoted to the Benioff Children’s Hospital.

What does all this have to do with Agile Marketing? It is a reminder that although Agile Marketing is both a philosophy and a methodology that aligns marketing with the business, results in accelerated and measured results, and helps an organization adapt to change, it’s not enough by itself to guarantee great marketing.  You also need a compelling vision and effective delivery. In my opinion, Marc Benioff and his team delivered on both counts this week in Moscone Center.

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Running Lean

I’ve just finished reading Running Lean by Ash Maurya.  It’s a fantastic book for startups, or for anyone creating a new product or service.  Ash combines some of the best material from Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany with the business model diagraming of Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, and he adds his own original material, improving on the concepts in both books.

In the appendix of his Four Steps book, Steve Blank provides a series of checklists and worksheets that an entrepreneur can use as he makes his way through the first two steps of customer discovery and customer validation.  Like Ash, I’ve tried using wikis, Google Docs and other methods to record data in these worksheets and share them with the other members of the team.  Inevitably, the worksheets are difficult to keep up to date, they take time to wade through, and they don’t provide a mechanism to measure progress through the phases. Ash provides not only a clearer, more concise guide to the same process as Blank’s  discovery and validation steps, but he also provides a tool, the Lean Canvas, to guide and communicate the learning.  In particular, I found his guide to interviewing customers very valuable , and his advice for validating the solution MVP before building the product equally helpful.

Ash has also made some modifications to Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas that I think make it more focused and more actionable.  He keeps the customer segments, value proposition, channels, revenue streams and cost structure blocks from O & P, and then adds four new blocks:

  • Problem – a concise statement of the problem to be solved and why it’s critical to the customer to solve the problem
  • Solution – a concise description of the solution to the problem and the key features that must be there to have a viable product
  • Key metrics – a list of the key metrics, like Dave McClure’s Startup Metrics for Pirates, that indicate progress
  • Unfair advantage – Something that can’t be easily bought or duplicated; your sustainable competitive advantage.  Too many startups don’t think about this and make sure that they build this into their product, service or business model.

The only improvement that I’d like to see in the book are more varied examples.  All of the examples are from his own businesses.  But that’s a small quibble.  The book is great.  I recommend it highly.

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Marketing Scrum

Photo courtesy of 10ch

In my agile marketing consulting practice, I often introduce the concept of marketing scrum to my clients. They seem to like the practice, and it keeps us on task and improves communication. Typically, we hold stand-up scrum meetings twice a week, rather than daily. As in agile development practice, we go around the room answering  three questions:

  • What did I do yesterday (or since the last scrum meeting)?
  • What am I going to do today?
  • What obstacles (if any) are preventing me from moving forward

In addition to those three questions, each person reports on the number of customer engagements they’ve participated in since the last scrum.  For the startups that I work with, we generally start with a goal of 10 quality customer engagements per week.  That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it can be surprisingly difficult for some startups.  The point of adding that fourth question, “How many customer engagements?”, is to keep the focus on “getting out of the building”, in Steve Blank’s phrase.  For a startup, customer engagement and feedback is the lifeblood of the business, and ensuring that each and every person understands its criticality is essential.

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