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What I Learned About Product & Marketing During COVID-19

By Kobi Salinas
Sunday, July 12, 2020

Just like many organizations out there, Natural Intelligence, a world leader in online consumer comparison marketplaces, has had to adjust its Product and Marketing strategies as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has had tremendous effects on consumers around the world. Unemployment is at an all time high and people are spending a lot more time at home – naturally, consumer behavior has changed dramatically and companies are taking notice. 

In recent years, Product and Marketing Managers focused most of their attention on mobile (mobile first, right?). However, these days, users are confined at home and enjoy a more convenient browsing experience on their desktop screens. Another influence of COVID-19 is that users want products to come to them – meal delivery services, online banking apps, video fitness classes, online therapy sessions, and more. 

As a Product Lead at a company that specializes in intent-marketing (advertising to buyers at the search & comparison stage of the buying cycle), my day-to-day has also had to change dramatically. Consumer needs have dramatically changed and are still shifting and altering on a daily basis.
As marketers and product professionals, we must research and understand what it is that users want and need. What are they searching for? What are they willing to pay for? All of this should dictate your strategy during this pandemic. 

Here are 5 quick lessons for product and marketing managers during COVID-19

1. Maintain a dynamic backlog

A healthy, strategic Product backlog usually consists of short, medium, and long term initiatives. However, during times of crisis, your backlog should be dynamic and flexible. Take time every single day to tune into audience insights, and based on them, reassess your backlog.
At Natural Intelligence, we recognized that consumer behaviour changes very frequently and have decided to sync daily on the state of the market. Every day, we gather insights from various sources (HotJar, Google Analytics, our own BI system, Google Trends, the news) to gain a better understanding of what it is that our users need from our product. We then revisit our backlog and adjust it accordingly.

2. Don’t develop new features

If your Product and Dev teams usually focus on developing new features, you might want to use this time to focus on covering some Dev-debt. The reason for that is simple, during COVID, users aren’t behaving as they normally would. While it’s important to adjust user experience to fit their wants and needs during this time, it could also be a risk. You shouldn’t invest many Product and Dev hours into developing new features that may not serve you or your users in a post-pandemic world.

For example, at Natural Intelligence, we used this time to fit Dev debt into our current sprints. We removed unnecessary CSS, improved page load times, and more.

3. Focus on quick wins 

While it’s not recommended to dedicate Dev resources to new features, there are other tasks that are definitely worth your time. How can you know? Make sure they meet the following criteria: 

  • Take little time to develop (2-3 days).
  • Have immediate results. 
  • High business impact.

For example, at Natural Intelligence, we operate a comparison site called Users turn to Top10 in order to find the right product for their needs. In a market full of options, it’s difficult to navigate through the noise. Top10 consolidates products into a list of the top 10 brands and features essential information, reviews, and articles, so consumers can find the right option for them. 
A quick win for us at Top10, was to launch a “From Home” landing page that consolidates products to help people increase productivity, get fit and healthy, maintain relationships, and more. The page didn’t take much time to develop and we were able to see immediate results once it went live. We focused on quickly getting the page up and running, and optimized it daily based on performance. The page didn’t contain any new features – we used existing features only.

4. Conduct less A/B tests 

At Natural Intelligence, new features are almost always A/B tested in order to gauge their effect on the users experience.
We analyze our A/B tests based on the Bayesian statistical model, and only implement changes on our websites when they are statistically significant.
The true value of A/B testing though, is that it teaches us about our audience and helps us better understand how to cater to their wants, needs, and concerns. 

Therefore, A/B testing during COVID-19, isn’t highly recommended. Users’ day-to-days don’t resemble their usual routine. They are spending a lot more time online and are interested in different products than they normally do. If you would like to adjust and optimize your product offering to better fit audiences during COVID-19, you might want to do it without testing. Even if you A/B test and implement new experiences, these won’t remain relevant and sustainable in the long run.

5. Embrace the chaos 

Almost every business in the world has felt the effect of COVID-19 in one way or another. This time is full of uncertainty and has forced marketing and product managers to become professional crisis managers as well. As anxious and stressful as this time is, you can also leverage this experience to be a learning process. 

Personally, I have learned a lot from my team members, fellow team leaders, and my direct manager. I have also taken time to observe C-Level executives and their decision making process. The most important lesson I learned from them is that soft skills play a big part in crisis management: flexibility, creativity, sensitivity, empathy, and patience. These are essential to working effectively, overcoming the disconnect that comes with remote work, and the everyday challenges caused by the pandemic.

What I Learned About Product & Marketing During COVID-19
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