"We should think of ads as products"

This post was originally published on the AOP site on 27 October 2011.

Dennis CTO Paul Lomax kicked off the Product for Profit session at the AOP Summit with a short definition of product management from Marty Kagan:

"‘To discover a product which is valuable, usable and feasible’… bridging between user experience, technology and business."

Running internal startups, organised experiments, agile methodologies, advertising as product and encouraging innovation are then discussed by the panel of Google, Facebook, Pearson and Pichler Consulting, all in the context of how they might deliver greater productivity and financial returns for publishers:

0:33 - On Platforms versus Products

Agile expert Roman Pichler: “For me, a platform is a collection of shared assets… I’ve certainly seen organisations try to engineer the perfect platform, the perfect infrastructure services, and fail that way. While platforms might be a key enabler to launch products quickly, my preference would be to start with a product, or small set of products…”
Juan Lopez-Valcarcel, Director, Digital Product & Consumer Technology, Pearson: “In terms of defining priorities… If you have multiple brands, it helps to identify which brands you’re doing one-off experimentation with, versus which areas you might start to find the scale to build platforms. So an example of that might be within the penguin brand, we started experimenting a lot with children’s app for the iPad. And once we saw that there was a clear market for those products… we started creating platforms…”
“Similar to Google and Facebook, we have our own developer platform – one key angle of that is to be able to share it internally, so you have multiple business units in different countries trying to share content and expertise.”

2:30 - How Google reorganised itself around Product

Benjamin Faes, Managing Director, Media & Platform, N & C Europe, Google explains how Larry Page led the reorganisation of Google around seven Super-Product Managers, who manage search, social, YouTube, ads, etc – “Product is at the heart of our strategy and what we do… Product has to connect with all the other functions such as sales, policy, PR, marketing… and I think they’ve done a good job having all the products roll up onto Larry, to be able to have this conversation at the top level...”

5:00 - On Company Culture

Lopez-Valcarel: “We’re seeing a change in culture… Google, Apple, Amazon are led by designers or engineers… within the different business units, we’re starting to see those profiles leading.”
“We’re trying to create an engineering and a product culture, where traditionally in print we’d be based more around the editorial role and the sales role… And that takes time.”
8:00 - On Big Bang launches and Facebook working more closely with publishers
Karla Geci, Head of International Media, Strategic Partner Development, Facebook: “We just had our big F8, it was our big ‘ta-da’ moment. but internally, we try to focus less on that big bang, because unless you have the data to back it up, and the results aren’t there, it’s not worth it.”
She adds that it is only results and hard data which really count - “How Open Graph is moving business, a month from now…”
And citing one example of working more closely with a publisher partner: ”The Independent have really started to put their head above the parapet, because they just started blogging about their data, they just put it out there… and that gets a lot of respect.”

9:15 - What makes a Good Product Manager at Google

“Somebody who’s able to express a vision for the product. Because you need that vision to explain to engineers, as well as sales… If you just ask people what they want, we’d just end up with faster horses and not cars.”

10:45 - On Fostering Innovation

Lopez-Valcarel talks about failing fast with an internal startup - FT Tilt - despite ‘excellent work’, it just didn’t find traction, as well as seeing apps as startups - experimenting with partners as well as payment models.

12:20 - On running organised experiments

Pichler: “Just build something very small, as a first step, get some feedback, and see how to proceed. That’s how Google works… If you want to grow organically, you have to accept a certain amount of risk, but you can minimise that risk…”

13:45 – On Google Wave, and taking risks when we’re fundamentally risk-averse

Faes: “People are risk-averse, companies are risk averse and shareholders are risk-averse… Larry says ‘I want you to take risks, and I’m not taking any risks telling you that, because, fundamentally, I know you won’t do it.”
On Wave: “The product is genius… it’s now powering a lot of other products…[innovation] is part of how we grade people at the end of every quarter, and when you do that, you realise that everyone has a part to play in innovation – everyone in the organisation… valuing innovation at every stage of the company is where you should start.”

16:20 - "We should think of ads as products"

Faes: “There’s a way of making advertising better. With the example of Trueview, you can actually… make an ad that users like. After 6 months, the RPM for those ads is better than the non-skippable ads. It’s a virtuous circle, if you think of ads as products.”
Geci: “There’s a lot of people inside Facebook just said: add another unit. And that absolutely wasn’t allowed… and that’s how Sponsored Stories was born on Facebook… if that forcing function hadn’t been there [of not being able to add an extra ad unit to the page] Sponsored Stories would never have happened.”

Watch the video above to hear the discussion in full.