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How Content Marketing Builds Community For New Customer Relationships

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What is content marketing? Is it content creation or marketing? Well — it’s both. Content marketing encompasses the creation, editing, and distribution of content to help a specific target customer along in their journey toward a business. It’s marketing that simply looks like content. And that’s why it’s a secret weapon every marketer must have.

In an increasingly savvy world where most people don’t like being sold to and can see an advertisement coming from a mile away, content marketing is more important than ever. Content marketing allows marketers to couch their message in meaningful contexts — in short, to give before they get.

Marketing isn’t about selling — it’s about the relationship you create with your target customer. Like in any good relationship, marketers need to first forge a connection, and they do this through creating and distributing content that potential customers want to consume, use, and/or share. The idea is that the consumption of content signals an interest that marketers can develop into more meaningful interactions — including sales and increased brand loyalty. It’s like giving someone a single chocolate to make them want the whole box.

Content marketing can look like a blog with tips, content hubs with engaging and useful content, white papers, calculators (e.g., car payment or calorie-counting calculators), podcasts, videos, a Facebook Live Q&A, or even a mobile app.

Content Marketing in Action

L’Oréal uses high-quality content and partnerships with beauty influencers to address the needs of its audience at Makeup.com. The site covers beauty trends, features makeup tutorials, and offers expert advice without ever blatantly asking the audience to buy anything.

The grooming-product company Dollar Shave Club takes a similar approach with its online publication MEL Magazine. The site targets DSC’s male customers and features articles that keep with the brand’s humorous tone, with headlines like “Our Google Searches Reveal We’re All Insecure Weirdos About Sex, Bodies.”

Content marketing is not just for business-to-consumer (B2C) initiatives. It’s very effective for business-to-business (B2B) marketing, too. For example, Square, a credit card reader for small businesses, has a website called SquareUp with valuable resources for small- to medium-sized businesses. Content pieces include research on how to set prices and how to engage Generation Z.

But content hubs are not the only way to do content marketing. Interactive content can help educate and establish expertise. Like Goldman Sachs’ dynamic visual exposition of blockchain technology.

Images can get your audience talking and feel a part of the conversation. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art does a great job of this through Snapchat, through which you’ll see photos of famous artworks in the museum’s collection with pop-culture-referencing captions. For example, a photo of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Shade was captioned, “All the single ladies,” a reference to the popular Beyoncé song.

Even music can create a connection you can leverage, like when Hamburger Helper released Watch the Stove, a five-track hip-hop mixtape on Soundcloud. The songs have solid beats and catchy hooks with lyrics that incorporate the brand. The songs were played over 4 million times and resulted in over 400 million social impressions. Yep — you read that right. This type of engagement happens when your audience doesn’t feel like it’s being sold to, but rather feels a part of a community. In this case, the people who get the hip-hop references feel spoken to. Is there anything more powerful than that?

Finally, what all these examples have in common is that:

  1. They created content audiences want.
  2. They publish new content regularly.
  3. The content is authentic to their brand and related to their marketing objectives.

Content Marketing at General Assembly

Learn how to do the same for your company or cause. At General Assembly, we cover content marketing as part of our 1-week or evening Digital Marketing course. Students conduct content audits for their clients, map content ideas to their customers’ journeys, and practice repurposing and curating content. The compelling subject matter sparks conversation and creativity.

Digital marketing skills not only help you achieve your objectives — from raising the profile of your company or cause to acquiring customers — but also help you become a more discerning customer. GA’s focus on active learning provides students with the experience they need to put their skills to work.

Meet Our Expert

Alicia Morga is a serial entrepreneur and digital marketing expert who has helped clients like Best Buy and Ford acquire customers. She teaches General Assembly’s 10-week Digital Marketing course in San Francisco. She holds a J.D. from Stanford Law School and a B.A. from Stanford University.

“In an increasingly savvy world where most people don’t like being sold to and can see an advertisement coming from a mile away, content marketing is more important than ever.”

Alicia Morga, Digital Marketing Instructor, General Assembly San Francisco

Branding: 6 Ways to Classify Your Image to Build Authentic Connection

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When Instagram updated its logo in 2016, did you notice? Did it change the way you thought of the app? If so, you wouldn’t be alone — the company’s transition from a tiny toy camera to a bold, gradient icon generated heated debates from social media all the way to Forbes.

The reactions surprised Instagram’s team. The company had just spent the first quarter of 2016 rolling out a controversial new feed algorithm, something that actually changed the way the app functioned, and it caused some minor outcry, but nothing that threatened to permanently affect the app’s user base. But when the new logo went live that May, the pitchforks came out. Users took to Twitter to express their feelings of abandonment, leading some to question whether they actually enjoyed using the product at all.

Instagram New Logo

Brands as Consumer Connections

A brand is much more than a name and a logo — it’s the emotional and cognitive connection a company or product has with the rest of the world. As Entrepreneur writer John Williams says, “Your brand is your promise to your customer.”

Before May of 2016, Instagram’s promise to its users was surprisingly tied to that little toy camera: The app took simple photos with classic filters, appealing to users who were nostalgic for a more analog time (whether they lived through it or not). Its new logo, on the other hand, seemed like a reversal of what made Instagram cool to begin with. It was an attempt to be modern, hip, and current — the exact opposite of the long-extinct cameras it emulated. It raised the question: How did Instagram picture itself, and why did that differ so greatly from how the rest of us did?

6 Ways to Classify a Brand

Jean-Noël Kapferer, brand expert and author of the book Strategic Brand Management, poses a simple question to steer this conversation: “If your brand was a person, who would you compare them with?”

Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism highlights six categories that work equally well for classifying a brand, as well as a person:

  1. Physique: What does the brand look like? Is it strong and bulky, or maybe sleek and agile?
  2. Personality: What attitudes and characteristics does your brand have? Does it have a sense of humor, or can you count on it to always respond seriously?
  3. Relationship: How does your brand mingle among consumers, and other brands? Would it win homecoming king, or is it a dark horse in terms of popularity?
  4. Culture: What core beliefs comprise your brand? Does it believe in giving back to certain communities or causes? Are there cultural touch points strongly tied to its identity, like specific types of music or fashion?
  5. Reflection: How would the people who know your brand describe it? Is it trustworthy and honest, or maybe vapid and superficial?
  6. Self-image: What does your brand see when it looks in the mirror? And, most importantly, is it the same thing the rest of us see?

If we were to apply this treatment to Instagram, what kind of person would it produce? Before May of 2016, you might have come up with something like a twee hipster nerd — at least, that’s the way it was personified in this 2013 video by Cracked.

Finding Brand Authenticity

What Instagram failed to recognize was that, while it had every right to change the appearance of its brand, its perception had already been determined and heavily rooted by the public. The new logo felt incongruent with the current perception, making it feel forced and fake. It’s reminiscent of Garth Brooks’ attempt to create an alternate rocker persona, “Chris Gaines,” in the late ’90s. His brooding, soul-patched, fictional counterpart was such a departure from Brooks’ rugged cowboy look that his fans were embarrassed — even if the same style worked perfectly for a musician like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. In both cases, it came down to what fans had come to expect.

Consumers are gifted at smelling inauthenticity. As a result, when a brand decides it’s time to pivot, that movement must come from a genuine place, answering to an equally genuine opportunity. These opportunities can’t be invented, only discovered. There are a number of tools available for this. For instance, a user experience (UX) researcher might perform a competitive analysis to find gaps in competing products that they can fill. This exactly what Old Spice did in 2010, and the results produced one of the most memorable ad campaigns of the decade.

At the time, Old Spice was struggling to keep its head above water in the competitive field of men’s deodorant and body wash. Axe Body Spray had completely captured the 18-24-year-old market with trendy, youthful packaging and a series of raunchy commercials that suggested women would be magnetically drawn to anyone wearing its scent. Old Spice, once the gold standard of male grooming, had become the brand associated with your grandfather. Even the introduction of more youthful scents and washes did little to move it into the present. That is, until the now-infamous “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad campaign created by the Portland-based agency Wieden+Kennedy.

As it turns out, Axe was ignoring a very large portion of its market: women. Old Spice found that in many households, women were the true power-brokers of what men smelled like. While Axe held a youthful image that managed to be masculine without reminding consumers of their older family members, the brand also embodied the aspects of masculinity most problematic to their female demographic. To these consumers, a deodorant that promised to send dozens of scantily clad models after your husband couldn’t be further from a value proposition.

Old Spice managed to capture the positive perceptions of masculinity held by both men and women, all thanks to one man: Isaiah Mustafa. The handsome, muscular actor spends the entire 30-second spot speaking directly to women, while exemplifying the strong confidence that young male viewers aspired to. If Axe made Old Spice look like an old man, the new Old Spice made Axe look like an immature little boy. What follows is one of the most interesting branding faceoffs of the decade — one that competed not just for deodorant sales, but for which of two distinct ideals would become the modern definition of masculinity.

Branding at General Assembly

Branding isn’t a science; it’s an art that requires both a wide collection of tools and a discerning perspective to effectively steer. At General Assembly, in our part-time Digital Marketing course and full-time User Experience Design Immersive program, we explore these nuances using case studies and skills like user research, competitive analysis, and visual design. You can also learn branding fundamentals through short-form, expert-led workshops and events across our global campuses. We believe in a holistic approach to our work, inviting students to collaborate with seasoned designers and marketers to better understand their role in the success of their clients. We look at the stumbling blocks other companies have faced in order to better avoid them, as well as the successes that fuel the kind of work we love to do.

Meet Our Expert

Nick Anderson is a Denver-based developer, designer, and writer. He’s created digital solutions for Bacardi, Angry Birds, and dozens of other brands in more than eight years of working for various agencies and startups. Currently, he teaches the full-time Web Development Immersive at General Assembly’s Denver campus. His go-to karaoke song is “I Wish” by Skee-lo.

“Digital technology makes it easy for people with ideas to establish themselves or their business as a brand. There’s high demand for those who can take someone’s vision, and create a strategy to propel it into success.”

– Nick Anderson, Web Development Immersive Instructor, GA Denver

Developing Your Social Media Marketing Campaign for Success

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When you hear the term digital marketing, a few examples may come to mind. Perhaps you can remember a viral campaign on Facebook, sponsored ad on Instagram, or popular YouTube personality acting as a spokesperson for a certain product. These are all common forms of social media marketing — which most of us see every day.

In recent years, social media platforms have emerged as a popular — and essential — channel for digital marketers to reach their target audiences. With 2.46 billion people worldwide using social networks today, according to the statistics site Statista, this is a huge online audience that marketers can’t ignore.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have developed many advanced features that allow marketers to target different user segments based on their demographics, geographic locations, languages, interests, online behaviors, and more. Ad formats may include sponsored posts and various types of banner and video ads.

With so many platforms, though, it can be overwhelming to determine which ones to utilize, and how best to leverage a particular platform’s features to reach specific segments of users.

Before carrying out a social media marketing campaign, you must first ask yourself the following three questions:

1. What is the objective of your campaign?

Marketers launch campaigns for various reasons, including building brand awareness, generating sales, strengthening customer relationships, or acquiring new customers. By answering this question, you’ll know what KPIs (key performance indicators) to set and who you want to target. For example, if you want to acquire new customers, your target audience would be people who fit into your customer profiles, or personas, but are not yet your customers. Your KPIs could be the number of new potential customer email addresses you want to collect, and how many new buying customers you want to acquire through the campaign.

2. Which social media platforms does your target audience use?

Find out about the demographics, geographic coverage (i.e., where the platform’s users are based), user interests, and behaviors for each social media platform you’re considering using. This will help you track down and reach out to the target audience that you have defined based on your campaign objectives.

3. What is the mindset and intention of users on different social networks?

On a professional network such as LinkedIn, users want to display their professional competency, improve themselves professionally, and connect with business associates or authoritative people within certain industries. On personal networks like Facebook and Instagram, users look to display their lifestyle and beliefs, entertain themselves, and connect with family and friends.

Therefore, a user may be more receptive to a software promotion ad on LinkedIn than on Facebook. Similarly, a leisure travel ad might perform better on Instagram than LinkedIn. So, reach out to your audience where they are “tuned in” to your message.

In conclusion, choosing the appropriate social media platform — where your target audience is present, plus, tuned in with the right mindset to receive your type of marketing message — is already half the battle in creating a successful social media campaign.

Managing Your Social Media Marketing Assets

Once you’re on a social media platform, there are three types of marketing assets you’ll manage and leverage:

  • Owned: Company-created content, e.g., the company’s Facebook page, Instagram account, Twitter feed, or YouTube channel.
  • Paid: Sponsored ad placements, including video ads, promoted Facebook events, or Instagram photo carousels.
  • Earned: Content published about your company that’s distributed or created by your fans or users, such as tweets, Facebook reviews, or Instagram photos of your product.

Marketers need to create a well-thought-out content calendar and publish high-quality, engaging, and relevant content on the owned social channels. The paid campaigns should amplify the messages on the owned channels, driving more users to the company’s owned assets. Well-managed owned and paid assets will help grow positive and high-quality earned assets generated by fans or users, and over time lead to increased cost-effectiveness and success of your social media campaigns.

Social Media Marketing at General Assembly

As part of General Assembly’s part-time Digital Marketing course, on campus or online, we look at emerging trends in social media marketing, including the market positioning, user base, and user profiles of various social media platforms. We also explore the pros and cons of collaboration with social media creators on content marketing and affiliate marketing. Students also learn about the various targeting capabilities and advertising formats offered by each platform, and have a chance to create sample social media campaigns for selected companies or a company of their choice.

Students complete class with an understanding of the social media landscape, trends, and ecosystem, so they can:

  • Integrate social media marketing as part of an overall marketing strategy.
  • Effectively evaluate and select the appropriate social media platforms for different campaign types.
  • Execute and measure the success of various social media marketing campaigns.

Meet Our Expert

Frances Chiu has over 17 years’ experience in IT and the internet industry. She has worked for leading companies including Apple, Yahoo!, eBay, and AT&T, and held Asia Pacific senior management roles in product management, marketing and PR, and channel management. Frances is currently an instructor at General Assembly in Hong Kong and a lecturer at Hong Kong University’s School of Professional & Continuing Education. She also runs her own management-consulting company, Solitude Productions Limited.

Frances was born in Hong Kong and lived in Sweden for 13 years. She holds a Master of Science degree in industrial engineering and management from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.

“In recent years, companies have started to realize the importance of digital marketing, as their target customers are spending more and more time online. Therefore, the demand for digital marketing skills has grown rapidly.”

Frances Chiu, Digital Marketing Instructor, General Assembly Hong Kong

Programmatic Advertising: 5 Successful Methods to Reach Your Audience

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The first website banner ad ran on October 27, 1994, when Wired magazine launched its first website. It asked users an important question: “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE?” Online advertising quickly exploded, as banner ads revolutionized advertising by allowing brands to actually track how many times an ad was seen and show true user engagement.

Even with these exciting innovations, there certainly were challenges in the early days of buying online media, including:

  • Publishers had to negotiate rates with each individual website and developing contracts every time a new budget was added.
  • Marketers had to use average site audience as a proxy for whether a brand reached its target audience. This may sound fine in theory, but creates a lot of wasted media dollars in practice.
  • Agencies and clients entrusted publishers to optimize their campaigns with very little visibility into actions taken on brands’ websites.

But no more! Programmatic buying — the automated bidding on advertising inventory in real time using data and algorithms — allows media buyers to efficiently identify and target users who are more likely to love their brand, be interested in its message, and purchase its stuff. Using signals like geographic location, demographic information, browsing behavior, purchases made, and shows watched on streaming services, it’s easier than ever to serve the right message to the right user in real time.

Popular Methods of Programmatic Targeting

Programmatic buying allows marketers to use data to segment and target users based on their behavior. There are five major targeting types, which can be used separately, or combined to create a more complete audience picture.

Remarketing: Generally the best-known type of online targeting, remarketing allows brands to reach users who have previously visited their site. You may recognize some brands “following” you around the internet with the same ad — that’s remarketing. While poorly managed remarketing can become annoying, good remarketing works. According to the conversion rate optimization consultancy Invesp, website visitors who are retargeted are 70% more likely to convert than those that are not.

Audience: Audience targeting, also called demographic targeting, is reaching users based on their demographic information. This includes identifiers like income, education level, relationship status, and hundreds of other specific attributes.

Behavioral: This is generally used to reach users based on actions they’ve taken online, but can sometimes include offline behavior as well. Behavioral targeting allows advertisers to segment based on things like specific websites or types of websites visited, searches made, and purchase history. In a campaign for the Amanda Foundation, a nonprofit emergency animal rescue, this was used to reach users with an adoptable cat or dog that fit their lifestyle. For example, a user identified as athletic or outdoorsy would be served an ad for Mandy, an energetic and active pup with the phrase, “I love a good run, just like you.” Contrast that with the message for someone identified as a single reader: “I love curling up with a good book, just like you.”

Geotargeting: Using geotargeting, marketers can target users in specific locations or types of locations. Don’t worry, they can’t target anyone based on a specific address! But they can target types of places, like stadiums or gyms, or general areas by zip code or latitude/longitudinal address. This is often layered with other types of targeting to deliver specific messages in the right place at the right time.

Contextual: Similar to how marketers traditionally bought online media, contextual targeting reaches a user based on the website they are on. However, using programmatic, buyers are able to target not only specific sites, but also site categories and keywords, leading to increased efficiency and improved relevance.

We can start to see why programmatic targeting really changes the game and reaches the right user with the right message.

Programmatic Advertising at General Assembly

Programmatic advertising has changed the way marketers run digital advertising, from display to video, and even audio and out of home. Programmatic is constantly changing as new platforms and technologies continue to roll out. At General Assembly, all of our instructors are also practitioners of our craft, so we see and feel this change in our day-to-day lives.

We teach programmatic advertising in our part-time Digital Marketing course, across our campuses and online. For businesses, the skill is taught in our corporate training programs in formats ranging from one-day seminars to multi-day workshops. While programmatic education is certainly relevant to digital marketers, it can also help anyone in a company that practices digital media truly understand the landscape as dollars continue to shift. In our programs, we focus on making the theoretical real using hands-on exercises, real-world examples, and a collaborative approach to help each participant understand how programmatic approaches can help their team succeed.

Meet Our Expert

Veronica Ripson is an experienced digital marketer with a passion for developing full-funnel, data-driven solutions across programmatic and paid social channels. Currently an Associate Director of Optimization and Innovation at the Kepler Group, Veronica has worked with leading brands including Google, Barclays, Church and Dwight, Albertsons, and Harvard Business School Executive Education.

At General Assembly, Veronica is a member of the Enterprise Education team, developing customized in-person and online training for large-scale enterprise companies. She also teaches our 10-week Digital Marketing course in New York and contributes lessons to our online training programs for companies.

“Anyone in media will benefit from learning about programmatic, especially as more channels shift to programmatic buying. GA instructors hold day jobs in our fields, so we’re able to share real-world challenges and solutions.”

–Veronica Ripson, Digital Marketing Instructor, GA New York

Personalization: 3 Ways Digital Marketing Can Speak to your Customers

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When was the last time you went through your mail? No, not your email inbox. Your physical, real-life mail. How much of it was relevant to you? I’m going to take a guess and say that around 90% of the material you found was impersonal, generic, and maybe downright bothersome. But log onto the internet and suddenly you’re inundated with content that seems tailored to you. Where a one-size-fits-all method still tries to succeed in physical marketing materials, smart advertisers are using their money and energy to grab you where you’re spending the most time: online.

From sponsored Instagram posts by a brand you may be interested in, to email subject lines that tempt you to come back by adding in your first name or a specific call to action “just for you,” the lines between pleasantly browsing and unsuspected marketing are blurry. Where, as users, we think of the internet and our social media channels as a way to catch up with friends, see what our relatives are doing on vacation, or share updates about our lives, brands see this space as prime real estate to catch our attention and convince us to buy a product or service.

For digital marketers, catering ads to users on social media is a smart move. When it comes to buying products, people most often trust the recommendations of family and friends, and, according to Nielsen, if they see the product on social media, they’ll at least consider taking action from that platform.

The landscape for personalized marketing is competitive — but with considerable payoff for brands that do it well. A study by marketing platform HubSpot notes that advertisers utilizing social platforms with paid ads are seeing startlingly high returns on investment. The popular morning newsletter theSkimm, for example, used Facebook’s lead ads to drive more signups, which led to a 22% increase in lead quality. There are many factors at play here, including a popular brand (versus one that’s lesser known) using ad space, and engaging with users on a platform they’re already familiar with, but it could work with smaller brands as well.

With a user base as large and active as Facebook (the same study counts 1.18 billion active users as of September 2016), marketers would be remiss to not consider implementing strategies on this more personal channel. The challenge is how to make a brand or product visible on a platform that’s already saturated with competitors vying for consumer attention. Savvy brands are utilizing personalization tactics to make their marketing stand out, and you can do the same.

A Brief History of Personalization in Marketing

The early days of digital marketing were similar to our mailbox example: Marketers tried to create enticing messaging that was general enough to be used on multiple parts of the internet. You’d run into the same banner ad many times over the course of a few days of browsing, and perhaps at some point thought, “This doesn’t relate to me at all.”

Geotargeting — pinpointing a user’s location — somewhat helped to address this by making regional sidebar ads more common and eliminating the extra headache and ad spend for marketers. With location as a driving force, marketers could spend time and money where their users actually were. Thanks to Google Analytics and other ad tracking tools, marketers could learn not only where their leads were from, but also from which kind of page they landed from, giving early insight into potential interests.

With the advent of social media, though, digital marketing exploded. People quickly started sharing personal data every day, sometimes without realizing it, including foods eaten, places visited, and entertainment enjoyed, complete with their own personal ratings. Social giants like Google, Facebook, and Instagram began to gather all this data as a compelling way to get marketers to spend money on their platforms and reach more targeted leads.

However, gathering consumer data is just the start. Knowing what kinds of people to market to is one thing, but knowing how to market to them is much more important. You can know any number of stats about your customer, from their age range, to gender breakdown, to how much money they make, but your customer is not merely a statistic, devoid of personality or motivation. Unless you speak to your potential leads as people rather than numbers, your personalization efforts will fall flat. It is the combination of informed statistical analytics and targeted content marketing that will lead to purchase conversions, and ultimately, brand loyalty.

Personalization Strategies for Digital Marketing

Once you’re armed with the statistics about your audience, you can better create a content strategy that will resonate with them. Below are a few content strategies you can use to make your marketing more personal, along with how to use specific data points to strengthen the message.

1. Ask customers for feedback. Fans love to interact with the products they love. The cosmetics brand LUSH is particularly known for using its social pages to drive conversation by asking for opinions, personal anecdotes, and ideas for new products or customer service initiatives. Once you have a good understanding of your user, consider nontraditional calls to action that will drive engagement.

For instance, instead of posting, “Like us if this is true for you,” share your update and say, “Tell us about a time where [XYZ scenario] applied to you. We may feature you in a future post!” By both asking for personal stories and showing how those stories may impact their future, customers will build trust in your brand and be motivated to contribute.

Data to watch for: engagement. Keep any eye on any post where you specifically ask for feedback and monitor engagement, including likes, comments, and shares, and promptly respond to or acknowledge comments. The more active a post is, the more likely it will stay in a prime spot in someone’s newsfeed, and the more likely that a relevant (but currently disengaged) user will see your content. This also shows current users that your brand is actively listening and responding to questions and anecdotes, and that you’re not just asking to appear interested.

2. Tell stories. There’s a good chance your product or service has helped you or your team at one time or another. Show your users how you are like them by tying in how what you do has affected you personally to create accountability and familiarity with your users. Employee testimonials are a great way to accomplish this, and show users that you as a company truly believe in your product. The online clothing retailer Modcloth uses employees to model its products. Potential customers can see firsthand that the company stands behind what it does — because it puts its people at the center.

Data to watch for: location. Take a quick glance at where in the country (or in the world) your customers are viewing your content, and if it’s appropriate, tailor your stories to a certain geographic area. I live in Chicago, and for the past few months I’ve been seeing sponsored posts from Smirnoff about how its vodka has ties to the Second City. While telling about its history, the company asked readers to share stories about their favorite cocktails and bars in the city (Smirnoff or not). By sharing the brand’s story and encouraging others, people throughout the Chicagoland area were talking about their favorite places to grab a cocktail, and users were interacting with one another in a genuine way. Smirnoff got to enjoy the increased brand awareness and the benefit of highly engaging content — some commenters even said they were going to give Smirnoff another try, after years of loyalty to other brands. Would they permanently switch? Maybe not, but the online experience was interesting enough to make them think differently.

3. Be conversational. Consider your product as another person your customers interact with on social media. Instead of “selling,” think of “sharing.” This automatically positions your word choices as more conversational and less toward conversion — but the difference in tone will be apparent to your customers. By offering advice or a recommendation as opposed to pushing a product (at least not directly), you’ll increase rapport with your audience in a way that’s natural and unforced.

Data to watch for: age range. Recommendations or advice are much better tailored when you know the age bracket you’re speaking to. BuzzFeed content verticals like Tasty (for food and cooking) and Nifty (for money-saving DIY projects) are great examples of this. Some of the language Tasty uses when it posts recipes and tips may come off as too trendy or informal for certain age brackets, but the content speaks directly to its most engaged audience, which happens to be a younger group. Similarly, if your product is aimed at a more mature demographic, be cautious of using slang to entice younger users. Not only will you drive away your core user base, but you’ll confuse the base you’re trying to attract — because they associate your brand with other language. If your metrics start to shift, however, you can adjust the tone and see how it performs on a post-by-post basis before you make a more permanent pivot.

Personalization in Digital Marketing at General Assembly

In GA’s Digital Marketing course, on campus or online, we cover personalization when students learn about content marketing strategies. By combining content marketing know-how with skills in social analytics and key performance indicators (KPIs), students discover strategies for creating marketing pieces that resonate, connect with audiences, and will drive sales and engagement. Throughout the curriculum, students learn about real-world examples of marketers who do this well, and get a chance to practice the skills as they relate to their own or future businesses.

Meet Our Expert

Rachel Wendte is a designer, content strategist, and marketer who teaches the User Experience Design Immersive course at GA’s Chicago campus. She is passionate about communicating design for connection, and uses her skills in client management, user research, and strategic thinking to craft meaningful solutions that are user-friendly and aligned with client goals. Before learning UX, she worked as an arts administrator and social media consultant.

“Giving students the information they need to succeed and providing tools to turn their ideas into solutions is powerful. Combined with input from career coaches and industry experts, GA students are well rounded and strong.”

Rachel Wendte, User Experience Design Immersive Instructor, GA Chicago

How to Use Swot Analysis in Product Management?

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Whether you’re starting a new project, evaluating the state of your business, or trying to decide how viable a new product might be, here’s a remarkably simple yet powerful tool that can help you move forward: SWOT analysis.

SWOT is a strategic planning method structured on four elements of concern —  strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. SWOT can be terrific tool for strategic planning, and it helps to better manage the future of a product or organization. It’s often used by product owners, marketing managers, and business analysts, but may be undertaken by entrepreneurs and other business decision-makers as well. A SWOT analysis can benefit a business at any stage, and its popularity has driven its use to noncommercial organizations, industries, and even entire countries.

A SWOT analysis is often created during a strategic planning session as the result of brainstorming exercises. It can be constructed quickly and the results are usually broad and simplistic, but they can help jumpstart discussions of strategic priorities.

Considering Internal and External Factors

A SWOT analysis includes factors both internal to the company and outside in the greater environment. Strengths and weaknesses are internal. They are the things the organization does — or doesn’t — do well. Recent research has shown that these are the most important factors, and they’re within the organization’s control. For instance, when performing a SWOT analysis on a company, the internal factors may include the organization’s people and culture, client and vendor relationships, physical plant and equipment, financial assets, manufacturing prowess, intellectual property, marketing capabilities, and beyond.

Opportunities and threats are external factors. These are the forces that are outside the organization, but could still have a significant impact on the ability to reach the stated objective. For a company, these may include competitors and vendors, technology, macroeconomic trends, government policy and regulations, changing demographics, and more.

How Does a Swot Analysis Work?

SWOT analyses have emerged as a valuable approach because they’re fast, flexible, and give a quick overview of the company’s situation. The method works like this:

  1. Clearly state your objective.
  2. Identify strengths — things you do well that may help reach the objective.
  3. Identify weaknesses — areas that need improvement and may hinder you.
  4. Identify opportunities — places ripe for growth or advantage moving forward.
  5. Identify threats — competitors or conditions that could harm your efforts.
  6. Recognize relationships between the identified elements.
  7. Prune and prioritize to those topics you can focus on to drive change going forward.

The elements proposed in a SWOT may be wide ranging, yet the analysis must be realistic and rigorous. SWOT is a strategic tool. It is about planning for the future, so focus on things that could actually impact reaching the stated objective.

Threat of new upstart competitor? Yes.

Threat of zombie apocalypse? Not so much.

A SWOT analysis can help reveal issues and determine whether the desired objective is feasible in the operating environment. SWOT results can be simply listed or shown in a series of columns. However, the most common representation is a matrix like, this:

StrengthsWeaknesses
Positive characteristics, tangible or intangible, that will help your efforts. These are things that are going well! e.g., Proprietary technology; brand equityNegative attributes that may detract from your ability to execute. These are things that could be improved. e.g., Lack of experienced UX designers; dependance on a single supplier
OpportunitiesThreats
Conditions or elements in the environment that can be exploited to help grow. These outside forces may be a benefit. e.g., Market growth in India; possible strategic alliance with GoogleOutside forces that might cause problems and hinder progress. These may require contingency plans. e.g., Entry of Amazon into related industry; proposed legislation to restrict distribution

A SWOT analysis can be used early in a strategic planning session as a conversation starter to surface issues like market positioning or technology changes. Or, it can be taken deep and used as a more comprehensive study.

As a planning tool, SWOT analysis can utilized at many levels. It can be used to:

  • Evaluate a product
  • Appraise a line of business
  • Assess a team
  • Analyze an entire organization

SWOT Analysis at General Assembly

At General Assembly, students learn about SWOT analysis in our User Experience Design Immersive in the unit on business analysis. It’s also covered in our part-time Product Management course, as it’s key in understanding the path to product-market fit. Students are taught to be aware of the competition and what they are doing, but to not let that be the only determinant of what your product should be. They must also appreciate the assets they have to leverage and how it all fits together.

Meet Our Expert

Jason Reynolds teaches the User Experience Design Immersive program and related workshops at General Assembly’s campus. He is passionate about user experience and process improvement and is excited to share his knowledge and experiences with others — especially those new to the field of UX.

Jason Reynolds

“Thoughtful product design is essential. It’s no longer enough to bring a functional product to market. Companies must differentiate on UX and customers want delightful experiences. It’s a great time to be in UX!”

– Jason Reynolds, User Experience Design Immersive Instructor, GA Boston

How to Organize User Interviews to Inform Product Development

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We all know the products that are successful; the ones that seemed to come out of nowhere and then change the way we go about our lives — like the smartphone, ridesharing, or turn-by-turn navigation. But there are a lot of products that didn’t make it. Though there are many reasons why products aren’t successful, one that often comes up is that people don’t see value in what it does. Or, they don’t see enough value in it to pay for it.

One way to avoid going down that path is by conducting user interviews. This is where product teams go out into the world and talk to people who fit their product or service’s personas, observe their behavior, and ask them questions. A persona is a representation of users who have the same problem or goal. Though personas are not real people, they are created based on real user data, often generated or validated by user interviews.

User interviews were introduced in 1990 when the authors of a report called Contextual Design: An Emergent View of System Design talked about “contextual inquiry” as part of the product development process. The goal of an interview is to discover what problems users have that product teams might be able to solve. This is done by visiting users in the environment in which they use the product or a competitor product, or where a problem is occurring; watching their behavior; asking them questions about their behavior; and then drawing conclusions from what they observed.

Anyone and everyone on a product development team — including product managers and user experience designers — is encouraged to take part in a user interview at some point. It’s very easy for teams to get caught up in their own assumptions around what products users want or need. By observing real people, in context, experiencing a problem, team members build empathy and have a strong desire to personally solve it. So the act of interviewing can result in not only more successful products, but also more inspired teams who find meaning in their work.

Oftentimes, user interviews are criticized as “asking users what they want.” That is a misnomer and not the true objective. As researchers, the goal is always to observe current behavior so that we can understand as much as we possibly can about the problems users experience, relative to the solution we’re able to provide. We try to prove that the problem is real, in what context it occurs, how a user currently solves the problem, the frequency with which it occurs, and how frustrated a user is when it’s occurring.

Critics will often add that they understand problems enough by looking at analytics, or quantitative data. Unfortunately, quantitative data can only tell you that there is a problem — it’s qualitative data that will tell you what that problem is and why it exists. The insights the team gets from truly understanding and empathizing with the problem allows them to think more broadly about their solutions and truly build the next set of innovative and successful products.

How to Find Users to Interview

A key step in planning user interviews is, of course, finding your users or potential users. Sometimes seeking out people who are willing to talk to you can be as simple as doing an intercept interview, where you approach people on the street, in a place of business, or digitally while they are using your product, and ask them if you can have a few moments of their time. It’s OK if they say no! Simply move on to the next person (who will most likely say yes).

You can also find people by asking your product or service’s current users via an email blast, or by reaching out to those who have submitted a support issue.

It’s common practice for researchers to compensate interviewees, though it’s encouraged to try to compensate as little as possible. That’s why you’ll often see companies recruit by saying something like, “Talk to us for 30 minutes and get entered to win a $25 gift card.” The idea is to provide just enough compensation to entice people to participate, but not too much to introduce additional bias into the data.

If you have a large budget and are looking to speak with very targeted users, you can also hire a company to recruit users for your test. This can be very expensive and can also inject a bit of bias because those users tend to be compensated at a greater rate than willing participants from other methods. But sometimes that route is the only efficient way to get access to a specific group of people.

Depending on where your users are located, you might conduct an interview in person, on the phone, or over video conference. It’s best to have two people from your team there to conduct the interview so that one person can ask the questions and have a conversation while the other takes notes. (It’s quite difficult to simultaneously take notes and practice active listening.) If you record the interview, make sure to tell the user beforehand.

How to Ensure a Successful User Interview

The goal of a user interview is to get at why users behave the way they do and how they feel about their experiences. Because of this, it’s important to ask open-ended questions that focus on the person’s past or current behavior. Interview prompts can even be phrased in a way that it isn’t a question, such as, “Tell me about a time that you [used a self-checkout/searched for clothes online/scheduled an appointment with a doctor],” or, “Tell me about the last time you…”

After the user has described what happened, follow up with questions that get at why they behaved or reacted the way they did. Ask them questions about how they felt. Watch their body language as they answer those questions. Sometimes the most important information about how to proceed can come from what people don’t say.

Above all, do not ask users to predict what they will do in the future. If you find yourself asking questions like “Would you use this product?” or “Would you pay for this service?” or “What would you like to see in future updates?”, simply pause, and rephrase the question so that it asks about past behavior. “Why did you use this product or similar products?” “Have you ever paid for a service like this?” “Why have you stopped using this product or similar products?” By focusing on past behavior, teams will gather information about the problems users are facing so that they can use their collective wisdom and skills to come up with innovative solutions that succeed in market.

User Interviews at General Assembly

In General Assembly’s full-time User Experience Design Immersive (UXDI), part-time User Experience Design, and part-time Product Management courses, students get firsthand practice conducting interviews. We first discuss how to interview and learn best practices for being effective. Then we jump in and start interviewing. Students draft questions and an interview script, practice with one another, and get immediate feedback from their peers. Then they set out to find and talk to real users who have the problem they’re looking to solve. In UXDI, students work with real-world clients and conduct interviews with their current or potential users.

After their first interviews, students generally say that the experience of approaching and talking to strangers was a bit scary, but also that it gave them so much good information that they need to take their projects in a whole new direction. Essentially, they discovered that their assumptions were incorrect and they now understand what problems are worth putting more time and effort into exploring and solving.

Meet Our Expert

Tricia Cervenan is an instructor for General Assembly’s part-time Product Management course in Seattle. She has been developing products for over eight years and currently helps clients solve software problems at the product agency L4 Digital. You can find Tricia on Twitter at @triciacervenan.

“Product managers are a stand-in for users, customers, stakeholders, and our development teams — depending on who we are talking to. We need to be able to share the feelings of any of those people throughout a project.”

– Tricia Cervenan, Product Management Instructor, General Assembly Seattle

How Using Rapid Prototyping Tests Product Efficiency & Usability

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It was a strange sight: a 40-year-old man taking a block of wood out of his shirt pocket, then pretending to scribble something on it with a stick. He stopped, then tap, tap, scribble again. After that he put it back into his shirt pocket.

The man is Jeff Hawkins, the inventor of the PalmPilot, the first handheld device that put computers into our pockets.

Hawkins had launched a similar venture a few years earlier, an amazing handheld computer called GRiDPaD. This was before we had LED monitors, when laptops weighed more than 10 pounds, so it was an impressive piece of hardware — but it was a flop because it wasn’t small enough for people to carry around. This is why he decided to simulate the experience of carrying around the device by cutting a block of wood representative of its size, sticking a piece of paper on it to simulate the interface, and carrying it around for months. Every time he needed to make an appointment, he’d take it out and pretend to check his calendar on the “device” and add the appointment to it.

This story illustrates prototyping — a quick and cheap way to simulate a product experience in order to reduce risks — very well. In the Palm Pilot example, the biggest risk was that the device might be too big to carry around. This type of prototype looks very crude because the focus is on realistic scenarios.

Prototypes can be really close to the final product with all of the features that will be included when the product is launched. But designers often start out by making a rapid prototype, the quickest and easiest way to prototype, in which the designer tries to mimic the experience without actually building or creating anything.

In software development and product design, rapid prototyping refers to techniques used to simulate the experience of using the software. In most cases, these techniques involve no coding in order to optimize speed and minimize cost. The goal is still to reduce risks — in this case, having to do with the product’s efficiency and effectiveness.

What Is the Purpose of Prototyping?

Effectiveness and efficiency are essential in user experience (UX) design. Effectiveness means the product’s user is able to get the value they come to the product for. If you’re an Airbnb user, you want to be able to book a place to stay while traveling. How do you do this? You would visit Airbnb’s website or open its mobile app. Can you accomplish this task (booking a room) using the website or app? If you can, then it’s effective — it’s giving you the result you desire.

Now, just because a product is effective doesn’t mean it’s efficient. Efficiency means you can complete the task with very little effort. If booking a room on Airbnb’s website takes you over an hour or too many steps, you probably wouldn’t use it often.

To determine whether a product is effective and efficient, we need to test it. And if the product is not built yet, we create a prototype and test it with real users.

Prototyping in UX Design

The UX design process is based on design thinking framework, a problem-solving approach used by designers that’s centered around the target audience for which they design. It starts with understanding who they’re designing for (called a persona) and the problem the persona has before coming up with solution ideas. This way, the solution directly addresses an actual problem the target audience is experiencing.

The design thinking framework looks like this:

  1. Empathize: Understand who your users are and the pain point(s) they experience.

  2. Define (the problem): Using the problem as a starting point, generate ideas for potential solutions.

  3. Ideation: Generate ideas and choose the one or two most promising.

  4. Prototype: Create prototypes of the best idea or two.

  5. Test: Test the prototypes, and use the learnings to improve the solution. After testing, you’ll return to the appropriate step. For example, if the idea is not effective, you’d go back to ideating more or simply choosing another idea to prototype, then test again.

UX designers go through this iteration loop multiple times until they find an effective and efficient solution.

The focus of prototyping is to get as much learning as possible with the least amount of effort. This means we only put into the prototype what we need to test, based on what we want to learn about our product idea. In Lean Startup, a methodology to build businesses and products, this concept is called building the minimum viable product, or MVP. The focus here is the viability of the product idea — is it going to work?

How Do You Create a Rapid Prototype?

When creating prototypes for digital products, like apps and websites, there are many tools available. These tools allow designers to create prototypes, regardless of whether they know how to code. Some of the platforms commonly used by professional product and UX designers include InVision, Marvel, Flinto, UX Pin, proto.io, and Axure.

Creating a prototype with these tools is very easy. Here are the steps:

1. Use a UI design application like Sketch or Adobe Photoshop to upload screen mockups (typically in the PNG file format).

2. Add hotspots — areas with which users can interact — to a screen and define what should happen when the user interacts with it (e.g., take the user to another screen, transition between pages, etc.).

3. Preview the prototype to make sure it’s doing what you want it to do.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for each screen.

Once you’ve connected all the screens, you can then use this prototype to test your design in usability test sessions. You’d show the users your prototype, then ask them to complete the specific task for which you’re designing the prototype. This would allow you to discover, then address issues that block them from completing the task.

Rapid Prototyping at General Assembly

At General Assembly, students in our full-time User Experience Design Immersive and part-time User Experience Design course (on campus and online) learn hands-on how to create a rapid prototype by using Sketch to create the screens, then InVision to connect those screens and make them interactive. This portion of the course happens right before the students learn how to conduct usability testing to make sure their design work well.

In order to determine what to prototype, students create user flows, wireframes, and information architecture before they create the screens in Sketch. By the end of the course, students have both the theory and hands-on experience of applying the design process.

Students in GA’s part-time Product Management course also learn to create rapid prototypes; after drawing drafts of their wireframes on paper, students turn to platforms like Sketch, InVision, and more to digitize their designs and create interactive prototypes.

Meet Our Expert

Danny Setiawan is a UX professional with 15-plus years of experience. He is currently the managing director of CoCreate, a UX consulting firm, and a product mentor at Starta Accelerator. Danny has worked with brands like Yahoo! Finance, The Economist, PwC, MSN, Kimberly-Clark, and Microsoft. Danny teaches the part-time User Experience Design course at General Assembly’s New York campus.

“More and more companies are realizing that if they don’t improve their products’ user experience, they’ll lose their customers. That means there’s growing demand for UX designers, making now a great time to enter the field.”

Danny Setiawan, User Experience Design Instructor, GA New York

How to Define a Clear Product Vision to Lead Your Team to Success

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When you think about the world’s most visionary leaders, whose faces do you see? Steve Jobs? Elon Musk? Perhaps Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Henry Ford or Amelia Earhart? In hindsight, what makes these leaders “visionary” is often the enormous degree of impact they enabled. However, leaders like the list above rarely stumble into their success; they enter their field with a resolve for how they will make a difference. They see things no one else does. They have a vision.

Seeing things no one else can see takes practice. It’s not a bolt of lightning, but consistent practice that allows truly visionary leaders to constantly push the boundaries of what products can enable a better world. Subsequently, forming a product vision enables you to set the North Star to guide you and your team toward a goal without leading you astray.

In the context of product management, business strategy, and entrepreneurship, if your company’s mission is to solve problem “X,” your vision is the imagined and idealized world in which your product has solved problem “X” with the greatest conceivable outcome. The best product visions paint a picture of a dramatically better world in which the lives of your users are improved by your product.

Having a clear product vision allows product teams and leaders to:

  • Suspend constraints. It’s impossible to develop a vision without dreaming big. Thinking about the ideal end-state, even if only for a moment, will allow you to open yourself up creatively to all the possibilities of how a problem can be solved without being held back by feasibility concerns. When developing a vision, anything is plausible as long as it doesn’t violate the laws of physics.
  • Inspire greatness. A well-articulated vision allows your stakeholders (both internal and external) to close their eyes and envision the same thing as you. Your customers who see themselves as part of your vision will be more likely to buy your product. Talented employees who share in your vision will be more likely to join and stay on your team.
  • Set strategy. A vision helps you forge a path from where you are to where you ultimately want to be. Your vision will inform short-term roadmaps as well as long-term strategies, where you can plan concrete steps (e.g., minimum viable product, future version releases) toward your end goal, saving you time spent via trial and error iterating in the wrong direction.
  • Align teams. Having a shared North Star means anyone on your team can constantly evaluate whether the work at hand gets you a step closer to the end goal, lending a level of built-in focus to your team.

A great company mission and product vision informs clear strategy and roadmaps. To clarify further, here’s an excerpt from a post I wrote about product strategy:

… I want to provide a relevant and concrete example using Tesla. I choose Tesla because a) Elon Musk is rad, b) Musk and Tesla have been unusually public and transparent about their strategy, and c) Tesla is a rare example of a company that has followed through on its strategy with execution that is down to the “T”. This puts it into a godly territory that is almost difficult to believe.

  • Mission: “Tesla’s mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport.” (This was recently updated when Tesla merged with SolarCity.)
  • Vision: To summarize, Tesla’s vision is to reduce vehicle carbon emissions through the advent of electric vehicles.
  • Strategy: This is the famous “Master Plan”: 1) Build a sports car, 2) use that money to build an affordable car, 3) use that money to build an even more affordable car, 4) while doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options, and then finally 5) don’t tell anyone.

Interestingly, despite all of these benefits, many teams don’t (or don’t know to) explicitly define a clear product vision. Often, teams will home in on a short-term solution and begin defining, designing, and developing a product without a long-term vision. Product teams can go on for months and years building features and fixing issues based only on reacting to user or stakeholder requests without a clear end-goal in mind.
In the absence of a vision, product leaders from all backgrounds (product managementengineeringdesignmarketing, executives) are required to step in and define a vision and ensure that the team gets to a shared understanding.

Product Vision at General Assembly

We’ve spoken primarily about product vision at a grand level, but it can also be something as small as how a single feature can transform a user’s experience in the product. It is never too early for early- or mid-career professionals to practice developing and sharing a product vision.

In General Assembly’s part-time Product Management course, students practice developing a product vision as part of their final project. The course guides each student through the steps from identifying a problem in the market to solving that problem — no matter how small the product or feature may be — through the development of the product ideas into a concrete vision, executable roadmap, along with success metrics, and product design.

For businesses, train your team to get the full picture of the product development cycle. Through design thinkinglean methodology, and agile development skills, you can ensure your company is equipped to efficiently develop and deliver effective digital products and services.

Meet Our Expert

Vince Law is a Product Management instructor at General Assembly San Francisco, where he has helped newly promoted product executives become effective leaders and aspiring product managers land jobs. He was previously GA’s director of product management, a role in which he directed, mentored, and built a team of 15-plus product managers across a spectrum of initiatives. In addition, he advises and consults various startups around the world, and blogs on Medium. He has previously served as the senior product manager at Storm8 and as a product manager at Kabam, and has worked in the consulting, finance, telecom, and automotive industries in various capacities.

“Companies across a spectrum of industries are realizing the importance of product management, specifically around innovation and growth. The industry is experiencing a surplus of PM jobs, but with few qualified candidates.”

Vince Law, Product Management Instructor, General Assembly San Francisco

An Introduction to Agile Methodologies for Product Management

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By Cliff Gilley

Agile methodologies in product development are those that embrace the principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, a set of guidelines created in the late 1990s by a group of software development professionals seeking to revolutionize the business. These methodologies focus on performing work in small, iterative steps that allow a product team to validate its assumptions and test hypotheses frequently. Examples of these methodologies include Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming.

These Agile methodologies are often contrasted with “waterfall” approaches, which focus on defining as many of the requirements as possible before the project can begin, in as much detail as possible, so that there is no question as to what will eventually be delivered. The biggest downside of a waterfall approach is that it requires a large amount of up-front work and long development times before anything useful and testable is actually completed.

The importance of the Agile way of thinking cannot be understated in the modern business of software and general product development; its application stretches from development and quality-assurance work up into product design and management, and even into marketing and business strategy. While Agile began as a solution to a very specific set of problems developers were facing, it has grown into its own culture that permeates every aspect of modern businesses. It’s essential for any product manager to understand the fundamentals of Agile methodologies so that they can influence an organization to change for the better or engage more meaningfully with their teams on a day-to-day basis.

Scrum: The Most Commonly Used Agile Methodology

In practice, the most popular Agile methodology is Scrum, one of the first methodologies designed to deliver software products following Agile principles. In Scrum, the product manager creates a backlog of “user stories,” simple statements of the problem a development team is being asked to solve. Each user story gets stored in a “product backlog” that the product manager prioritizes according to business and other needs.

The development teams, usually sized between five and nine members for optimal effectiveness, look at these stories, estimate their complexity, and take some of them into a “sprint” as a commitment to deliver. A sprint is a two-to-three-week period during which teams work to deliver their commitments. During a sprint, the product manager and development teams work together to discuss, clarify, and deliver all of the previously agreed-upon stories. At the end of the sprint, each development team demonstrates to the product team and interested stakeholders what it has completed. Once the team has iterated to the point that the product team believes the work is worth sharing widely, a release can be created and push out the product updates.

Kanban and Extreme Programming

There are other Agile methodologies, besides Scrum, that are important to understand given that many companies may pick and choose from one or another to build their processes. Kanban focuses on limiting works in progress, only allowing teams to take on a set number of stories or efforts at any one time, then working them through to completion before taking on more. Extreme Programming, on the other hand, is a very hands-off methodology that puts most of the power and authority on individual developers rather than taking a full-team approach. This methodology stresses that constant pairing and test cycles ensure quality outputs from the teams.

Why Agile Methodologies Work

The main value of Scrum and other Agile methodologies lies in their focus on atomic units of work. The Scrum team commits to a small number of user stories for each sprint, which means that, at any time, the future work can be reprioritized, or even abandoned or added to without affecting the team’s work in progress. At the beginning of the next sprint, they look at the next set of priorities and commit to delivering another set of work. This is the opposite of “waterfall” methods, which establish a large commitment over the course of many months and apply strict processes for changing those requirements.

The other value in Scrum and Agile methodologies lies in the testing overhead required to validate the work the team completes. Because the team is delivering small sets of functionality, each of those sets can be tested during the sprint. This reduces the kind of massive, overarching integration testing required with a waterfall approach, in which everything is “done” only at the end of the entire project.

Agile Methodologies at General Assembly

General Assembly teaches Agile methodologies as it relates to software development in our part-time Product Management course, full-time Web Development Immersive (WDI), and in workshops. We focus on the difference between the principles of Agile methods and the real-world application of those methods. Expert instructors, who have used these methodologies to help teams through Agile processes in their own careers, prepare students for the use of Agile through lectures and practical examples from their real-world experiences. In WDI, we reinforce Agile principles through lessons on user stories, pair programming, and more.

Meet Our Expert

For nearly 15 years, Cliff Gilley has been a product manager and Agile coach at a wide variety of companies across many different industries, and is currently working as a technical product manager for the K2 corporation in Bellevue, Washington. He teaches General Assembly’s 10-week, part-time Product Management course, as well as shorter-form product management courses at GA’s Seattle campus. He also blogs regularly as the Clever PM and is an active board member with the Pacific Northwest Product Management Community.

Product Management is the ultimate “jack-of-all-trades” role in a healthy organization. It’s one of the few roles where you’re likely to be needed to contribute to the success of so many other teams.

 – Cliff Gilley, Product Management Instructor, General Assembly Seattle