Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
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David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast on WMR. This is your host, David Vogelpohl. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week on Press This. As a reminder, you can follow me on Twitter @wpdavidv, and you can subscribe to Press This on Red Circle, iTunes, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at wmr.fm. But for today what we’re going to talk about is product lead content strategies for WordPress product companies. And joining us for that conversation as someone who knows a little bit about that like to welcome to press this. Alex had nice scale Matt. Alex, welcome to Press This.
Alex Panagis: Hey David. Great to be here.
DV: Excellent. Really excited to have you here. I know I didn’t really tell you this kind of coming into the episode may have surprised you at that point. But product led content strategies is a hot topic for WP Engine these days. And I think a lot of other kind of WordPress product companies but for those listening, what Alex is going to talk about are his thoughts around how product teams not only shouldn’t be involved in content strategy, but should really pay and play a big part in leading it. Alex is going to talk about how most product works Product Marketing words, approach content creation, why product teams should really be playing a leadership role and ways product can lead content initiatives without bending their roadmap. Now lots of trick Alex, I’m really curious about your tips on that one. But we’ll kick it off with the first question I asked every guest. Alex, could you briefly tell me your WordPress origin story? When was the first time you used WordPress?
AP: My journey with WordPress started back in 2011. So quite a while ago, but not not as long ago as for most people. For me, it was when I launched my first website, which was all about photography, videography and technology, which at the time was sort of my thing, my hobby and what I was really passionate about. And within a relatively short period of time I grew that informational content site and I had the opportunity to work with some amazing companies like Think Tank photo, which are renowned for their high quality camera backs. And then from there, I guess you could say the rest is history. I went from figuring out how to build or more so at the time throwing together my first site with some help to watching WordPress grow to being the leading CMS in the world, but also both in my view, as well as by statistic.
DV: That’s really interesting. So you started your WordPress journey, kind of building the site around your interest at the time photography and videography. Did you know that Matt Mullenweg was photo Matt, did you know about his photography, persona, I guess or side?
AP: I’m disappointed to say that I actually didn’t. And it wasn’t until a few years or maybe a year after I had built that site that I got more involved in the WordPress community which, as many will agree is one of the one of if not probably the best part of the WordPress industry is the community behind it. I did the first year or so that I used it I moreso just saw it as this brilliant piece of software that allowed me to do something that I couldn’t before with previous solutions. And then as I got involved in it, I was like oh, there’s this you know, obviously then it came into my knowledge who Matt was and oh, he’s also behind automatic and all these other companies.
DV: Interesting. Interesting. Well, 2011 of course was an exciting year to join just like basically around a year after custom post types and meta fields were added. It’s like kind of in my view the start of WordPress. As a true seeing this. But it was I’m sure there was a real exciting time to start getting involved and to see it grow over time. Now, I was wondering if we could shift gears a little bit. Can you tell me a little bit about what scale math is and we all do?
AP: Yeah, so from first using WordPress in 2011 around five years ago, I first started working in the industry with our first company that we had partnered with, which is still what we do to this day, but at that time, it happened to be a company in the WordPress space. And now although a lot of our work isn’t necessarily just in the WordPress space anymore, we continue to work with a number of WordPress businesses on growth. So, of course we continue to use and love it as a solution for our own sites. And again, as I mentioned earlier, I have a soft spot for the community alone. And as we said before we hit record I attended or had the pleasure to attend WordCamp Europe as well. So yeah, I’m actively still trying to be involved in the WordPress space as a community but also moreso still work with companies, whether they’re not directly in the space that obviously in some ways, because it occupies such a large part of you know, the online industry, they still touch the WordPress community in some way.
DV: Okay, and you’re this is a consulting service for product based businesses are helping you understand like the core mission of scale, man.
AP: Yeah, so the short is we partner with industry leading companies to help them grow. That’s the sort of, you know, one word or one sentence answer but then beyond that, we go a bit further as well. So it’s not just on growth, although that’s really what kind of hooks people in it’s also then you know, what goes on beyond that. So the operations of doing that. So largely like how to get product teams to work with content teams, for example, is one of the things and then also of course, customer experience, onboarding, all these types of things. Because in our mind, they ultimately fall into the category of growth or work that goes towards growth and most categorize it as that. But really, it’s so much more because without the rest, ultimately, it’s very difficult to do wholeheartedly drive growth for a product or service company for that matter if you’re not also doing the rest really well.
DV: So that makes sense. I’m on your website. Now I can see some of your customers or people you’ve had on the show like Vito for Mandarin and Vova from Freemius. I’m wondering if you accept customers though from principles that first names don’t start with the that maybe will ask you that question. Interview yeah, those are some awesome new customers that you have there. That’s great to see. So now kind of on the topic, you know, that we wanted to focus on here today. I’m just curious, like, in your view, how do you think most orgs approach product content and what are maybe with some of the challenges with a common approaches to creating content around products?
AP: Yeah, I’d actually lean towards saying that most organizations, at least that we see don’t actually approach content with the view that it should be led by product. Even at larger companies. It tends to be the case that as you grow, the more disconnected you become with the overall approach and the link between product and growth strategy or the people that are involved in actually executing that strategy. And something that in our view ultimately shouldn’t be the case because when growth both near term and long term aren’t aligned with where a product is headed. You often see companies waste a lot of resources. Focusing on things that have little impact on the business. But it takes way too long for that feedback loop to close and for people to realize that that’s the case. And then once it does, it’s always about finding who the person is to blame instead of realizing that it’s not one person to blame. It’s the fact that the people in the organization weren’t working together. So simple examples of this range from the most basic form of it is really just writing content about topics that aren’t even remotely related to the product you’re building or not understanding what the important part of the product is. So let’s say at WP engine, a perfect example right now is you’re you’re doing a push on headless WordPress. So ultimately, that’s something that the marketing team, I assume is aware of based on the recent acquisitions that you’ve made and everything. But if they aren’t, then it’s something that they should be so that they can also focus their efforts on driving growth organically on that side. And then it also ranges from things like not even aligning on the products business model. So let’s say you have a b2b business model, but also a b2c model for a product. If you don’t actually align with you know, if it’s in the case where we’re working directly with the founder, or if it’s, you know, in house people that are working with a CMO, for example, it’s not aligning on what the core goal is because even if you have two business models, depending on the resources you have allocated, you really can only focus on doing one at a time and then doing it in cycles is normally how we’d approach it because otherwise, you don’t know whether the efforts that you’re investing are supposed to drive impact on the b2c model. side of the business or on the b2b model side of the business which ultimately becomes a whole different argument which is again, more so on the product side to decide which is what shouldn’t be leading what should be the priority, which is where the where the whole confusion stems from. So I feel like the product teams which don’t have it all figured out, often tried to, you know, blame or not blame but more so just rely on marketing and say, Oh, that that’s something that they should have been focusing on, even when they at the time, didn’t know that it’s something that they were focusing on. So those are kind of some some of the more common examples.
DV: So it sounds like just summarize that the most or approach content creation through the winds or the leadership of the content team, which are fundamentally disconnected from what is being built, why it’s being built. And maybe even a guessing certainly kind of growing personal experience the use cases of people that are then going to go use it. And so it seems like what you’re kind of proposing here is that if those involved in the building and solving for the puzzles or jobs to be done if you will, for the products are involved more intimately than the content ultimately produced is better. And so I kind of want to dive into some of the whys behind that, and even your thoughts on how to approach it, but we’re gonna take our first break and we’ll be right back. Time to plug into a commercial break. Stay tuned. For more pressing this in just a moment. Everyone welcome back to press this WordPress community podcast on W EMR. We’re in the middle of our interview around product lead content strategies with Alex tinnitus. Alex right before the break you were talking a little bit about the kind of common approach Mr. X take around kind of the content team weighting, of course with the content strategy. But when it came to products, you felt that the product team really should be more leadership focused there. Now, you said something early on where you’re like even big companies approach it that way. Like my instinct would say big companies would be more likely to approach it that way, because they have more resources and people did. Did you mean to sound surprised when you made that reference? Or was I reading too much into it? Or do you think that smaller companies somehow are less inclined to leverage their engineers and product people to participate in content?
AP: Well, yeah, no, definitely. So I mean, my surprise is more so from the expectation that, like companies that are bigger have been going for longer and should have figured it out by that point. But yeah, you’re definitely right. The inclination is, it actually tends to be more so the case the bigger you get, because the more disconnected people are and the less people are working one on one, which ultimately is probably where the problem stems for for most organizations. So yeah, the surprise there is, yeah.
DV: Yeah, that’s a it’s a good point. It’s certainly as people specialize and things like content creation, you start to see this division of labor. But you also see the division of, you know, being close to the use case, being close to the customer being close to the product. And you start to create these, you know, additional distance between those two. So if the common way that people kind of fall into is it’s a content team driven approach, and I can obviously see a lot of key benefits in that too. But why do you think product orgs in particular, should have a Senate Senator seat in terms of the content strategy, like what is that benefit in doing that? You kind of touched on it earlier, but I’m just curious in particular with product doors what is the value see there?
AP: Definitely. So I mean, we generally see a tight association between how closely product and marketing work hand in hand and the ROI driven from money invested in general in growth. And we won’t get into tracking and attribution for content or for marketing in general, because that’s a whole other course or maybe even PhD realistically, because it’s not as straightforward but it’s realistically centered around the idea that when you have marketing teams, be it content, social, you know, everything in between paid as well, speaking the same language as customers that are leaving product feedback that makes its way to product managers, and aligning on the way that you talk about how those customers are solving problems using the solutions that you’ve built. The more aligned you are ultimately with the people that you’re aiming to target with the work that you’re doing. So you have a person in mind with with everything that you’re doing, and you know what the objective is of, let’s say if it’s a blog post of that blog post if it’s a resource and have that resource, so it just aligns with the end goal.
DV: So when you say product lead really it sounds like what you’re describing is like setting the tone, setting the language identifying the problems identifying describing how to the problems are solved with the product, but it didn’t sound like what you were saying was like the product leader is going to sit down with the content roadmap every week and help to use what’s in there. Feels like maybe when you say lead, it’s maybe more trail braking than like bringing along the I don’t know the caravan and making sure the caravan gets a twist ago. It’s more like defining the path. Is that a fair assessment and how you’re describing it?
AP: Yeah, I think there’s there’s an extent to which it doesn’t work because it also depends on the company and the product itself, but having everybody on the marketing team follow the roadmap, conversations and meetings every week or every day they stand up. That would be a nightmare. I think that for us. That’s not something that we’d encourage organizations to because it becomes more complicated and you have information overload. And then you have people thinking that oh, I heard you mentioned this. On the last meeting. I felt that’s what we were talking about. And then then that leads to confusion. So it’s not so much throwing everybody in into the deep end in terms of getting them all the information that the product team is working with. But there just has to be a people willing to work together. So without collaboration it realistically. The one thing you guarantee is that it’s going to be an uphill battle. So the worst of the worst we’ve seen is company Slack channels, isolating team members entirely so they have no contact with each other at all, so that everybody on marketing teams wasn’t even able to realistically reach out to a person who built a feature to ask a question about it. For example, if they had they were working on a piece of content about how that works. And then you know, for example, right before a feature launch or anything coming up. There’s just a small note posted to the people who are responsible for the people on the growth team that are ultimately responsible for making sure it lands the right way. And that usually happened on the day or just the day before and in those cases. So that of course that is ultimately a recipe, I would say for disaster because it’s never going to work nearly as well. And it’s not going to be a great experience for the people working on the teams nor motivating as when you get a team that is working closely with each other and aligned and working towards the same mission.
DV: Yeah, I can think of various initiatives and products and content strategies. We have a WP Engine and those close knit groups are definitely the best performing and so that definitely hits home to me. I’m just curious if you’ve run across this and if you’re unfamiliar, feel free to add it say so that you feel like writing and participating in content from like the product or even the engineers working on stuff you find that helps them make better products and maybe make better features like just having to explain it somehow translate into better products.
AP: Yeah, so we try to encourage all the companies we work with to have a very much a written work culture. So as opposed to having meetings, you know, throughout the day to encourage them to write because in general, that makes everything much more thoughtful. So when you have people in a meeting, you normally have somebody explaining something in five minutes, or in 10 minutes and then you have everybody you know 10 People in the meeting saying like oh, yeah, that’s great. Makes a lot of sense in my head. And that’s because they’re led to and they’re motivated by the fact that they’re on a call. But ultimately, when if they were reading a written explanation with screenshots of how something could or currently does work, then they’d have more time to think and sit back about whether that actually makes sense. So I think it helps people form better opinions. So I think writing whether it’s internally or or also publicly, I think having people that are on the product side also spend their time do public facing actual growth work tends to take away from the work they do on the product side, but internally I definitely think that there should be a lot more emphasis in general across the board on writing, as opposed to having things in meeting because in meetings because when you do that, yes, I think people think what they’re saying through a lot more and everything tends to be more thoughtful.
DV: Yeah, that bright idea doesn’t always seem as bright when you write it out and into fish. It’s, it’s a really interesting and salient point. Okay, so with product, lead or release, I guess, trail broken content strategies. When, like one of the benefits I can imagine, of course is having you know, better content about the products and more accurately describes them. I can see that translating into people getting more excited about the products and potentially buying the products more often or using them more often. What are the like is that the totality of the growth opportunities and product versus content strategies? Like how do you think about like, why would this help an organization grow?
AP: Yeah, I think beyond just that, beyond it, you know, coming across better to customers in individual pieces of content or individual work that’s done. It also makes the company and I say this as a user, but also it’s from what we’ve heard from users that the companies that we’ve worked with, is that it makes the company look more put together in the simplest way. Because when you don’t have that you have the feeling that content and all the work that certain teams are doing is just not aligned with what features the product is pushing. So then that just leads to confusion that customer side if you have for example, on the content side, people writing one thing about okay, I mean, this is, let’s say not not the best example, but it comes to mind given the context of the conversation with WP Engine, which is let’s say WP Engine is doing something on the product side with regards to performance. Let’s say you then don’t align with the content team. And they write something that in some ways actually contradicts what the product is doing in terms of performance. So you’re having support teams, advise people and you’re having the product, encourage people nudge them towards optimizing for performance in a specific way. I want to think of a specific example. But then in a piece of content, you’re actually having the content team, which is working so isolated from the support and the product teams, that you actually don’t even have them aware of that, that they’re they’re contradicting what’s written there. So that just leads to a lack of cohesion, I think for customers, because then what’s what happens then if a customer comes across you through that piece of work, and then they get into the product and they come across it and they think Oh, I thought I was explained differently when I was originally signing up. Or when I originally read about WP Engine. I didn’t know that this was how it’s going to be for example.
DV: So you have this notion of like expectation settings which if you get it wrong because of bad experience caused cancellations, of course, cancel prevention is growth of course, particularly with recurring revenue products. And so it’s it’s not just convincing people to buy it for the first time but it’s also playing this role in enablement, and getting started and continuing to find success. And so by having a strong kind of inaccurate product representation in that content, you can drive value beyond just converting on our website, and that makes total sense and I’m thinking of a project right now. That like would fit rare very well and the conversation you’re just kind of fun suffocating we would have. So now I want to kind of dive into a little bit around how we do all this without, you know, ripping up our roadmap. But we’re gonna take our last break. We’ll be right back.
DV: Everyone welcome back to press this WordPress community podcast and WMR. This is your host, David Vogelpohl. I’m interviewing Alex Panagis about product lead content about product lead content strategies for WordPress product companies. Alex right before the break you were talking about you know the different growth opportunities and having a product lead content strategy, you know, kind of played a little bit on my my suggestion that it’s good for maybe converting new customers but then you pointed out, it’s really helpful for things like setting the proper expectations and enablement, which can have additional growth benefits, which I thought was a really great way to look at it. But of course, every time you talk to a product person or an engineer about participating in content, the question inevitably comes up, like what about the roadmap is actually talking about this tension of the value of product and engineering like content and, and the pressure on the roadmap with Ian Paulsen of delicious braids. He recently joined WP engine because of the acquisition. I was actually doing that this morning, Alex so I was like, Oh, but I get some tips and this interview with Alex that you’re bringing back to you. But like what are your thoughts like how can product works, manage content and workstreams without you know, torching big chunks of the roadmap?
AP: I think, I think when done when executed, right. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. If not, it can be the opposite. So one example and correct me if I’m wrong, if I’m not answering this the way you initially had it in mind in terms of torching chunks of the roadmap. But the other way we’ve seen like one example is actually gauging the potential for a certain feature with content. So let’s say you run a very active Facebook community surrounding a product. But you can let the informational content let’s bring it back to an example. So let’s say informational content about how to achieve x doesn’t necessarily have to feature the solution, but can still have a place on on a company site. So in that case, if you have an active community to push this to, it can be very interesting to actually put together this informational piece that as of present doesn’t feature your product as the solution because it doesn’t have that feature. Push it to the community see what the response is. And then you generally know if you get 1020 comments saying, Oh, this is really great. I appreciate you putting together this guide, in theory would be great if your product could automate this or you know, do this out of the box, because it seems like that should be doable. And then you know, you can feed that back to the product team and say, Look, they’re actually very interested in being able to do this with our product. Is this something that we can build? Because it looks like we validated the demand for it. So that I think is how I would have it feed back into the roadmap. And I will try to keep with regards to torching big chunks of the roadmap. I would say that the content team shouldn’t be that involved in informing the roadmap. They should generally work with a handful of people on a bigger organization only. So it doesn’t come to the point where they’re even giving instructions to specific people about specific features because otherwise it does create more mess than then it actually improves the overall work.
DV: In terms of like the product engineering teams right now like the interference of working on content I first off I love the idea of doing like a how to guide that if your product did it with saw that that’s very clever. Is it that when you’re having new features available, or do you can use cases you’re solving for like the product and maybe the engineers would kind of work on the story behind that and then like pass it off. Is that a way to to kind of reduce the impact to the engineering roadmap is to your point like Don’t be involved with every lick of content, but really kind of be directional?
AP: Yeah, definitely. So I mean, ultimately you want the service becomes more difficult as products become more technical. So with WP Engine, there’s a range because of the ICP you target the ideal customer profile that you’re ultimately targeting. It differs but with more technical products. If you only have a technical audience, you do want the people on the content team are on the growth team in general to be able to speak with experience and expertise on the vertical that your product operating. So if you need them to lean on somebody on the product side for everything from an explanation of how a feature works. In general that tends to be bad because it means that they don’t they ultimately don’t have the understanding of their product and without the true understanding of the product. It’s very difficult to do growth work because then it tends to interfere with the product people and then being able to focus on what is their actual full time job is of course they also have a whole other set of responsibilities to fulfill. So I think that comes down to that comes down to the people you have on your team being a really good fit for the product as well. Which is difficult to vet for. But if specifically within the WordPress space, it’s about hiring people that have used the product so if you’re if you’re a relatively small product company, and you’re hiring, we met with a couple of people at WordCamp Europe that actually said they hired a significant number of people from their customer base, as opposed to going out and looking for recruiters that hire people that have used their product, know how it works inside out. And that significantly cut down the time of onboarding them because it wasn’t about, okay, you have a general understanding of you know, you have a technical background, but you’ve never heard of our product or understand how it works. They have had actually used it because they were previously customers.
DV: Yeah, that’s really interesting because in WordPress in particular is an opportunity because it’s such a dominant CMS that it’s so easy to find people with a background. My last two senior manager hires actually were customers of WP Engine. So I modified my team is the growth team Alex it you know that that that a built that that history and having you know what I would the way I put it is have you built WordPress sites for money, you know that that’s experience that is difficult to replicate through learning and to your point, particularly on smaller orders that might not have extensive pmk support. It’s it’s often critical for this content creators to have that domain directly domain experience. And I definitely could see that being a big pillar of what you focus on. Well, this was incredible. Alex, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your thoughts here.
AP: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
DV: Fantastic if you’d like to learn more about what Alex is up to please visit scalemath.com. Thanks everyone for listening to Press This, the WordPress community podcast on WMR. Again, this has been your host David Vogelpohl. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week on Press This.