Dropbox’s Jenna Crane on bringing a new product to market

Whether you're at a brand-new startup, or launching a fresh offering under the umbrella of a name brand, you only get one chance to make a first impression with your product.

That not only means telling a compelling story and shipping a product that delivers on it, but also convincing someone they should switch their consumption from an established competitor to whatever it is you’re bringing to market.

As the Product Marketing Lead for Dropbox Paper, the collaborative document editing product that launched early in 2017, Jenna Crane knows this first-hand. Her team looks after the full marketing funnel for Paper from awareness and consideration, to activation and retention. Prior to Paper, Jenna had stints leading product marketing for Dropbox’s productivity features, as well as for its basic audience.

Jenna joined me on our podcast to share the importance of alignment with the product team from day one, why you simply can’t overestimate the value of user research, how to iterate on messaging post-launch, and more. If you enjoy the conversation, check out more episodes of our podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or grab the RSS feed in your player of choice. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the chat. Short on time? Here are five key takeaways:

  1. For product marketers, shipping is the beginning of a lengthy process, which includes continuing that steady stream of announcements and feature improvements, as well as getting to know your users better.
  2. A tight, closed feedback loop between your product and product marketing teams is essential.
  3. To help shape a product’s story, the Dropbox team creates mock landing pages and tests them in user research sprints.
  4. The key to an effective product landing page, particularly for something brand new: show, don’t tell.
  5. Product marketing has three pillars: data and insights, gut feel and empathy. User research supports all three.

Adam: Jenna, welcome to Inside Intercom. Could you give us a brief rundown of your time at Dropbox to date, including the different types of products you’ve worked on over the last couple years, as well as the problem that your team’s trying to solve with Dropbox Paper?

Jenna: I’ve been at Dropbox for almost four years. I actually came from a content marketing background, and was a writer originally. When I started at Dropbox, I was running the blogs and doing a lot of the content marketing. As part of that, I worked closely with the product marketing team and realized, the more I worked with them, the more I loved product marketing. It was a really great combination of strategic, creative, and analytical work.

I moved formally into the product marketing team, and in the first year I ran product marketing for our basic audience, which is a couple hundred million users, launching all the functionality that goes out to that user base. Then I started to lead the Productivity product marketing team, as it was called then, which was a more formal way to talk about all the features and functionality that go out to all of our users, including business end users and basic users, to help them be more productive.

At the beginning of this year, I got the opportunity to lead the Paper product marketing team. The problem that we’re trying to solve is that collaboration can actually be really frustrating. There’s a lot about the way that we work today, with each other, that involves unnecessary steps and a lot of frustrating work. It’s more difficult than we would like to create and communicate ideas, and we feel like Dropbox Paper could actually solve that really well. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Adam: Was the transition from content marketing to product marketing a natural one? Where’d you find the most difficult learning curve?

Jenna: It was pretty natural, because I had worked with that team before. There were definitely things that I needed to learn about the different channels and tactics that we use, and the whole launch process. It’s one thing to be part of that in a very defined way, and another to run the whole thing, understand how to work with cross-functional partners, and coordinate it all as a quarterback. One thing that really did help with the transition is having that content background because a lot of product marketing is messaging and positioning. There’s a ton of writing involved. Being able to clearly and concisely communicate your ideas, and what you’re trying to get across, is a huge asset.

Adam: As the product marketing lead for Paper, how many people are on your team? How is it structured?

Jenna: There are three individual contributors on the team, so four of us total, and we structure it mostly according to stages of the funnel. Paper is a really exciting product to work on, in that you get to support the full marketing funnel, from awareness and consideration to activation, acquisition and retention. In that sense we carve out areas of ownership for the different team members. One of our team members owns the growth program, and works super closely with our growth and monetization team, our product growth team, and our digital marketing team. We have another team member that crushes the awareness campaigns and programs. We just recently added a third, and she is likely going to be working on a lot of the foundational stuff like customer research, competitive tracking and analysis, and messaging and positioning.

How Paper came to be

Adam: Paper launched publicly in January, but the origin of this product goes back to the acquisition of Hackpad several years earlier. A lot of time passed between those two dates. What was the need, or opportunity, that you had pinpointed as an organization, with this product?

Jenna: Back in 2014 when we were thinking about acquiring Hackpad, Dropbox was evolving from a file sync and share solution to a collaboration solution. We heard from our users and saw that people were using Dropbox more and more for working with each other. We looked at what Hackpad was doing and saw a really elegant and unique approach to that problem, which is making collaboration simple and easy, and super real time and synchronous. We decided that would be a great offering for our users, so we acquired them in 2014.

We didn’t want it to be a flash in the pan of ‘We launched Paper, and now we’re going to go talk about other things.’

Adam: You joined the Paper team a few months after the launch. What was the state of the team, and the types of things they were working on, when you arrived?

Jenna: We had seen a lot of adoption already in the beta phase. This was about opening up the gate for anyone who wanted to try it, and letting that broader audience know what Paper is, why it’s awesome and why they should try it. We also didn’t want it to just be a flash in the pan of “We launched Paper, and now we’re going to go talk about other things.” It was continuing that steady drum beat of momentum, announcements and feature improvements. Really starting to understand what this broader user base looked like and cared about, what they were struggling with and how Paper could help.

Getting to know your new users

Adam: When you joined the Paper team, how did you start to get a feel for that particular user and uses cases?

Jenna: A ton of user research. We already had a big base of user research, which I definitely poured over when I was starting in this role. Still to this day we continue to do more. I can’t emphasize enough, as far as being an ingredient of good product marketing, that you should talk to users as much as possible. We learned exactly what is really difficult about collaboration and the way they work today, what early users of Paper were liking about it, what differentiated it from their other tools, and how they were talking about it to their friends. We really tried to get in the heads of those users and understand how Paper could add value to their lives.

Adam: What types of tools or processes for that have you found success with?

Jenna: We are lucky enough to have two in-house research teams: a marketing research team and a design research team. We also do quantitative research through Qualtrics, and studies that we send out to users. We also have some user research rooms as Dropbox. We bring in users and do qualitative focus groups there.

Building a relationship with your product team

Adam: Whether it’s Paper or other products you’ve worked on during your time at Dropbox, how early is product marketing given a full seat at the table? When are you involved in the process of designing what this product and this story is?

The best relationships between product and product marketing result in the best product.

Jenna: The best relationships between product and product marketing result in the best product. That’s a critical ingredient to developing a great product and bringing it to market in a successful way. We’ve been working towards that for several years now, and we’re really lucky to have a super strong relationship with the product team. I’m probably in more product team meetings than I am marketing meetings at this point.

We have 1:1s with the product team and the design team, at all levels. We sit in on sprint planning and roadmap planning. At the feature launch level, we do recurring standups. It’s really critical to have that closed feedback loop of them telling us what they’re trying to achieve and why they’re designing the product like they are, with us circling back with user research and what we’re hearing in the market, to inform how we can continue to build Paper to be a really awesome, differentiated product.

We even had seats in the product pod at one point. We go to their off-site, and we are in their team meeting. We have a standing marketing agenda item in that meeting to update them on what’s going on. We even send them a biweekly newsletter of all the things that product marketing is working on. We’ve invested a lot in making sure that relationship is super strong.

Shaping your launch story

Adam: At the early stages of working with the Product team, be it on a whole new product, like Paper, or a feature, what exercises do you guys go through to help shape that story? For instance, Stripe marketers write faux blog posts; Amazon will create fake press releases. Do you guys have any exercises like that?

Jenna: We have a couple different things like that. For launches and campaigns, we created a process that mirrors the Product review process. Product at Dropbox has a review process consisting of a P0, P1 and P2. P0 answers, what is the problem that we’re trying to solve, and is this worth solving? P1 covers what could a solution to that problem look like? P2 covers what the solution is, the execution of it, and making sure that’s all buttoned up and ready to go.

The Marketing process mirrors that. We have an M1, which is strategy; M2, which is messaging; and M3, which is creative. Like the product process, we have checkpoints at each one of those stages to make sure that everyone agrees on what we’re doing and why, the goals of the project, and how we’re bringing it to life. That’s been hugely helpful in making sure that we don’t go down one direction, and then have to take a step back. It eliminates a lot of the churn that can come with having to change direction as you go.

Adam: Do you feel like it helps with scoping as well? Are you able to evaluate whether or not certain ideas the product team has actually fit with the problem you’re solving and the story you’re telling?

Jenna: It’s more about alignment, and if there’s something we want to do, understanding how it fits within the goals of this particular launch or campaign. Saying, “We can always sequence that later or do a fast follow.” It definitely helps us get clarity on that.

We create mock landing pages when we’re going through the big sprint of user research.

The other thing that we do that’s been really helpful, at a higher level, is we create mock landing pages when we’re going through the big sprint of user research to really nail the focus and that positioning for Paper. We listened to users and mined all those insights about what problems they were having, what their needs were in the collaboration space, and what they were already using Paper for. We identified some distinct directions that the product could go in, and we made mock landing pages for each one those.

We then did a ton of qualitative and quantitative research showing those to users and asking, “Which of these is exciting to you? Are there any particular problems, benefits or features that you’re like, “I need to have that tomorrow?” That data helped us find, of all the amazing things that Paper does and all the different ways that people use it, which are the most important and compelling and differentiated. We called them “hair on fire” problems that people have. What are the things that they really needed us to do for them?

Assembling the landing page

Adam: One of the things I really do love about the way you’ve marketed Paper is the simplicity of the landing page. It’s such a short scroll. You’ve got your hero video and your key points, but everything is done with brevity so that you actually get people to go in, activate, and try this product out. How did that final landing page come together?

Jenna: We know that Paper is a super visual product. To really understand why it’s great, why you should use it and why it’s different from the other tools that are out there, you really have to see it in action. Ideally, you try it. We actually have a design lead who likes to say, “Just play around with Paper for two weeks, then try and go back to what you were using before. I bet you won’t be able to do it.”

For the landing page, that was our guiding principle. We wanted to show, not tell. Let the product speak for itself, and of course, pulling out those key benefits that we’ve identified through research to be really important to users. Of course, we’re always optimizing the landing page and changing around the format, testing button copy, headline copy and the actual wording. It all is part of that principle to clearly and concisely explain what Paper is, why it’s great and get you into the product to try it.

Convincing users to switch

Adam: Ultimately the job that Dropbox Paper does isn’t new. So you really need someone to switch over from something else – maybe it’s Evernote, maybe it’s Google Docs. Changing someone’s behavior is incredibly hard, and with a collaboration tool, you have to change a whole team’s behavior. How have you begun tackling that challenge?

Jenna: I’ll go back to user research, which is the core of how we tackle that. Those “hair on fire” problems that I mentioned were incredibly illuminating for helping us shape the product vision and direction to be something that users just couldn’t live without. The goal is actually to make Paper 10 times better for our target users, in their key need areas, than anything else out there. When something is 10 times better than what else you could use, of course it’s a no-brainer that you use it.

Those ‘hair on fire’ problems were incredibly illuminating for helping us shape the product vision.

Some of the key problems that we heard was that creating and communicating early ideas is really hard. The fact that we have content scattered across all different tools. We heard over and over from users who have PowerPoints, Word docs, Sketch files and InVision designs. It’s really hard to have all of those in one place, where you can add context. That was really painful for people.

We also saw that presenting in-progress work was more difficult than it needed to be. Oftentimes you have to create a separate doc, PDF or presentation, just to present the work that you’re already doing. That’s totally unnecessary. The work around meetings was also really tough. Things like making sure everyone has the agenda ahead of time. Who’s taking notes? Are they logging the right action items? How are you going to assign those action items afterwards? Take a photo of the whiteboard, and circulate that around. You’re probably never going to see that again.

More generally, we’re also looking at the idea of mutual awareness and tracking progress. Without that kind of visibility and transparency across the team, it’s really hard to answer, “What’s the status of that? Who’s working on it? Do I need to jump in?” Those were all pain points we saw very clearly, and where Paper has already started adding value. If we can solve those 10 times better, than another product, then it would be a no brainer to switch.

From launch mode to iteration

Adam: What does your post-launch feedback loop look like? Are you, yourself, actually talking to customers?

Jenna: We have customer chats at least once a week that the product and marketing teams sit in on. If I’m not able to attend any of those, I definitely read the transcript afterwards.

Adam: Do you do anything to help democratize the information that you get from those, whether it’s across your team, or even for other teams at Dropbox that could learn from the experience?

Jenna: We write it up in a Paper doc, and we share it around. If you write it up, send it to a few people, check back on the next week and see there are 90 people viewing it, this must’ve really been something that people were interested in. You don’t have to manage that or do this explicitly. The important information gets to whom it needs to get to.

Adam: How often are you iterating on your messaging today? You mentioned not leaving things static post-launch, but we’re now 10 months out. Are you still iterating on the messaging of Paper?

Jenna: We feel very confident in the positioning and messaging as it stands right now, given that it was so heavily informed by talking to users. We use that as a guiding principle, that Dropbox Paper is a collaborative workspace that helps teams create and share early ideas.

But, Paper is different things to different people. Different benefits and language can work better in certain circumstances than others. For example, when you’re talking to existing users versus nonusers, or in an email versus on a landing page. We always need to have that flexibility to be able to adjust the messaging based on who we’re talking to, and where we’re talking to them.

We are always testing the copy, in all those different formats, but the core of it doesn’t change. It always stems from that core key message.

Adam: Say you’re advising someone that’s about to go down a similar journey to your experience this year with Paper. What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned? What are some things that you might do differently, or exactly the same, if you did it all over again?

Jenna: I know I sound like a broken record, but user research is the most insightful, informative thing that you can do. Product marketing is really based on three pillars. There’s data and insights, your gut – marketing knowledge that you’ve somehow internalized – and empathy. User research actually helps with all three of those. Obviously, it can give you some really great data and insights. It also trains your gut to think outside of the Silicon Valley power user bubble. And it’s great at cultivating empathy – being able to put yourself in a user’s shoes and see, “What am I likely struggling with right now? What kind of information am I coming into this with? What do I need to know? What do I wanna see? What am I worried about?” That all shapes how you present the product and talk about it.

Adam: What’s next for your team, and for Paper? Where can our listeners go to find out more?

Jenna: My favorite question as a marketer. Go to dropbox.com/paper to sign up. It’s free with a Dropbox account, which is also free. Just plain free. Playing around with some of the sample docs to get a sense of all that you can do with Paper, but also to try it for something simple like meeting notes. Try creating a Paper doc for your next meeting, sharing with the people who you will be attending the meeting with. Then, anyone can take notes and you can create a quick to-do list, assign people to it, and assign deadlines for the action items, so those don’t get lost.

As far as what’s next, we are definitely continuing to spread the word about Paper, continuing to shape how it evolves, and finding the best ways to show new and existing users how to get the most value out of the product.

Adam: Awesome. Jenna, thank you so much.

Jenna: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.