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Building a marchitecture [Q&A with Akeneo]


There are a string of product marketers either building a marchitecture of their own or harboring hopes of doing so in the future.

But as many PMMs have, and will no doubt continue to find, building a marchitecture is far from easy, which is why enlisted the help of Ali Hanyaloglu, Head of Global Product Marketing at Akeneo, an expert in the area. Check out his top tips. 👇

Q: How do you define 'marchitecture'? Why is it gaining importance?

A: “I have seen a few different definitions for "marchitecture" or "marketecture" depending on who you ask. Frankly, I don't agree with many of them. It's not the abstract, marketing-friendly of an architecture - that's both over-simplified and somewhat patronizing.

“My definition of a marchitecture is that it's a visual representation that can explain what you do, how you do it, and for whom, and inspire the viewer with WHY you are doing it.

“Why is it gaining importance?

“Decision-makers are totally overwhelmed with information and marketing blurbs and sales pitches. And each one is beginning to sound like the other. And those decision-makers have less time on their schedules to have to sit down through a long presentation with slide after slide of text and numbers. A marchitecture is a great tool to be able to quickly, or in length, explain who you are in a way that is easier to digest and remember for the decision-maker.”

Q: After researching into the area, a marchitecture was referred to as a process "purely used for marketing purposes to mask weaknesses within a company.”

Can you provide benefits and examples of instances whereby the model is indispensable, and far more than a mere marketing exercise, as some of the skeptics may suggest?

A: “Ouch! I would never describe things that way, and if someone was using a marchitecture for that purpose they have other problems!

“A great example of a widely-used marchitecture is from Salesforce. You have probably seen it before. In one beautifully designed image you see the platform architecture, the applications built on it, and the use cases it was created for. It includes key parts of their technical architecture (i.e. CRM Data, Lightning), lots of things that aren't products per se but concepts (i.e. Einstein), products (Sales Cloud), and use cases (service, etc).

“It is used in many different places and versions in order to explain what Salesforce does and why they are an ecosystem unto themselves. It's super powerful, indispensable to Salesforce, their partners and customers, and clearly much more than a marketing exercise, as it's used in a technical architecture context.”

Q: How do you evangelize this with non-marketing stakeholders? In most cases, there are existing ideas on marchitecture, for example within the PM team. Aka, you're in a "brownfield" project.

A: “Great question! Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

“Firstly, this is something that you ABSOLUTELY DEFINITELY POSITIVELY MUST get your company leadership behind. A marchitecture is essentially a visualization of how they talk about their company, their products, and their vision, and how everyone else should be talking about it too. I am very proud of the work a group of us at Criteo did on a marchitecture and where it was used. But when the top leadership changed, the idea died very quickly when they weren't really supportive of the story behind it.

“Secondly, get all of your key stakeholder’s input. Product marketing is said to sit at the nexus of product, sales, customers, and marketing. So leaders from each should have a say. And each one has a pain point with how the company offerings and the story is told - whether that's sellers getting stuck explaining what makes your company unique, or marketers stuck on only wanting to market features. Start with that and how the marchitecture can be a way to address all those in a consistent and compelling way.”

Q: Tactical Q: outside of PowerPoint, what tools have you used for this?

A: “Good ole pen and paper! Seriously!

“Also, create a mind map, and use some kind of digital whiteboarding tool that has some sharing or collaboration features, like Miro or Microsoft Whiteboard. Then, test it over and over again!”

Q: As well as marchitecture, I've also come across the term 'tarchitecture', but I can't figure out what it is, and how the two differ?

A: “I actually had to look that one up: turns out it's "technical architecture". Someone just wanted their old technical architecture diagrams to have a cool name like the marketing people got to use! 😁

“To me, a tarchitecture is what we typically think of as a technical diagram used and loved by developers, architects, and IT folks. You've seen them before: the classic stack diagram used by every IBM and Oracle rep for decades, or maybe the left-right data flow diagram; its intention is to show how your product or solution works behind the scenes and what pieces make up that solution. It’s very hard to build, but easy to diagram.

“A marchitecture is more of a story-telling device. In addition to some things from the tarchitecture, it can also explain why you do something and for whom. I am currently working on a marchitecture, and without giving too much away, it also captures the people and process involved in addition to the technology. This is much harder to visualize than a tarchitecture.”

Q: How can I identify hidden yet relevant differentiators to elevate my offering above my competitors'? In your experience, what’s the most effective way to demonstrate these features to prospective buyers?

A: “There are lots of things to think about here, but here are a couple of pointers for you:

“First of all, you need to make sure your differentiators are truly unique: is it something that only you can claim, could a 3rd-party verify that, and is it of value to the customer? Check all three and you have something that - for now - will be relevant.

“With respect to demonstrating them, your goal should be to get an existing customer to validate those differentiators. We all want the customer testimonial that says ‘we had this problem before, and company x's product y was the only way to solve it.’ No-one buys bold claims from vendors anymore unless there is solid proof.”

Q: What’s the main obstacle you’ve previously faced when building a marchitecture? How did you overcome this challenge, and what measures did you put in place to avoid a repeat in future practice?

A: “Fantastic question. I think my biggest challenge has been to avoid trying to capture everything in a marchitecture. It is very tempting to react to ‘well what about this offering, or what about this use case?’

“A marchitecture needs to be beautifully simple but all-encompassing if that makes sense? Or, it needs to be just enough to tell your story, help you stand out, and trigger responses where the viewer wants you to double-click down into details.

“Another challenge? Try not to make it just about you and your company. But that's what we product marketers are here for, am I right?”

Q: When you’re building a marchitecture, how should silos be broken down to ensure the company reaps the benefits of the process?

A: “Developing a marchitecture must be an inclusive and iterative process. Everyone from the CEO down should feel like they are a part of this, and probably more than once.

“Don't land on a marchitecture based on consensus - it will be diluted, never finished, or both! Just bring in leaders from each of the key stakeholder groups - and that includes external parties like partners, analysts, and customers. And each time you meet with them, paint a picture of how they could use and benefit from the marchitecture: a customer success manager can use it to help bring awareness to an existing customer of what else you do in the context of what they have today, for example.”

Q: What would your main piece of advice be to a PMM who’s new to building a marchitecture and beginning the process for the first time? I don’t want to make any silly mistakes that can be avoided!

A: “Great question! A couple of starting points:

“Identify what challenges customer-facing teams, including marketing, have with describing your company's offerings and positioning. For example, maybe they can talk about your main product just fine but struggle with explaining how you are part of a broader ecosystem.

“Also, try giving an elevator pitch on your company using nothing more than a pen and paper/whiteboard. You will quickly realize where things can be simplified or filled in.”

Q: Do you have any recommendations for how to gain alignment with product teams who are thinking about the product architecture instead of the marchitecture?

A: “Ah yes, the techie product manager. Ignore them. Just kidding!

“What I find is if you bring in the people and process into the architecture, then it's not just a simple tech diagram. They aren't building tech for the sake of building tech: there are people involved, there are workflows and processes, not all of which your company's products are even a part of but still matter.

“And bring in business needs and impact into that marchitecture too. In fact, I suggest starting your marchitecture right there, in the center of the visualization.

“They will quickly realize the difference of a marchitecture vs a tarchitecture, why it's needed, and why product marketing is best suited to build these. But do include them still.”

Q: What would you consider requisite elements when building an effective marchitecture strategy?

A: “So, I don't consider a marchitecture a strategy. Remember, it is a tool. A powerful one at that, if done and adopted well.

“But to answer your question about strategies to take when embarking on a marchitecture project, I suggest the following:

“Start with a specific business need in mind. For example, will this be used as a tool to enable sellers to give more compelling and relevant pitches to higher levels in the target customer accounts? Or will it be used as a visual to describe new offerings that will be launched for analyst briefings. This way you aren't trying to boil the ocean, nor will it be just seen as a pointless marketing exercise!

“Don't go in with a specific layout or design in mind. I have been working on a new marchitecture and I started out with the classic stack diagram. I got stuck very quickly! Instead, I started just putting key points and concepts in a notepad and on sticky notes. From that, I could organize and rearrange concepts until I had a connection between them that made story-telling sense. All I will say is that the new marchitecture I am working on is far from a typical stack diagram!”

Q: How do you allocate roles and responsibilities among a team during the marchitecture phase? Do you have a go-to process for identifying areas where your team members can best contribute to the overall strategy? I’d like to be sure I’m utilizing everyone’s skills to the max.

A: “Having been through this a few times now I have to say that building a marchitecture is something that should be done at the highest levels of the organization as possible, especially if your marchitecture is something that is going to represent your company, its offerings and beyond. This is something that you should be confident that your CEO could present to the board, key investors, or your biggest customers. Having too many people involved risks diluting your story or delaying its release.

“Having said that, your team should be part of this. Each product marketer should be able to take the marchitecture and tell the story with it in entirety, or how it relates to their areas of coverage. The marchitecture should also incorporate things like people and process, and your PMM team will know aspects and nuances that could be a part of the story.

“Otherwise, see my previous answers about who should be involved, and treat the marchitecture as something that will be used by each of our direct stakeholders.”

Wanna get expert answers from product marketing experts? Check out our upcoming AMAs, submit your question(s), and receive stellar advice.

It's that easy. 😊

Written by:

Lawrence Chapman

Lawrence Chapman

Lawrence is our Copywriter here at PMA who loves crafting content to keep readers informed, entertained, and enthralled. He's always open to feedback and would be thrilled to hear from you!

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Building a marchitecture [Q&A with Akeneo]