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19 min read

Product Marketing Insider [podcast]: Aleesha Patel

Podcasts | Product Marketing Insider

Digit’s Head of Product Marketing, Aleesha Patel, shares her experiences taking the leap from a PMM team of 50+ at LinkedIn, to a solo PMM at tech start-up Digit, as well as the art of prioritizing as a one-woman PMM org, the top skills she believes have helped her career, and why she’s so passionate about the role.

Full transcript:

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:00

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Product Marketing Insider podcast which is brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name’s Bryony Pearce and I’m the Content Manager here at PMA.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Product Marketing Core...meta, we know. PMMC is our very own product marketing certification program, and it covers the A to Z of product marketing essentials. With 11 modules, 68 chapters, 87 exam questions, 10+ hours’ worth of learning and official PMA certification, it’s a course not to be missed. Head to https://pmmalliance.co/PMMC for more info.

To help establish and elevate the role of product marketing we’re on a mission to speak to 50 PMMs and pick their brains on everything from their journey into the industry, which teams they interact with most, what skills they believe are critical for the role, and a whole load more.

To do just that, with me today is Aleesha Patel, the Head of Product Marketing at Digit. Aleesha’s been at Digit since July 2019 and she’s currently building out the company’s product marketing team. Before joining Digit she spent just over a year and a half as a Product Marketing Manager at LinkedIn, and before that, she spent six in marketing roles at a company called SapientRazorfish. So, let’s pass over. Welcome to the show Aleesha, could I get you to kick off by giving everyone a bit of an intro into you, your role, and the company you’re currently working at.

Aleesha Patel  0:03

Yeah, of course. Hi, I'm Aleesha, I'm the product marketing lead at Digit. For those who are not familiar Digit is a B2C financial app that's focused on helping people get financially healthy.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:07

Okay, and how long have you been at Digit for?

Aleesha Patel  0:08

Not very long actually, just coming up on four months. So I'm very new to the team and I am their first product marketer.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:11

Okay, cool. And how long has Digit been around for itself?

Aleesha Patel  0:12

Digit has been around since 2015. So they've been around for a while, but growing very quickly.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:30

Okay, cool. So you said you're the early product marketer, what do the teams outside of that look like? So in terms of product management, how many people are on that side of things?

Aleesha Patel  0:53

Yeah, so we have currently have our founder, who's Ethan, who's the head of product marketing. We have three product managers right now and the team is also growing very quickly and looking for more product managers as well.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  1:09

And then pre-Digit, what made you want to get into product marketing in the first place. And how did that career path kind of take shape?

Aleesha Patel  1:16

Yeah, absolutely so I'll go back a little bit. So I graduated and went to undergrad at NYU Stern, studied marketing and economics. I did a few internships in the advertising agency space so that's where my interest and love or passion for marketing grew. I didn't honestly know what product marketing was at the time, that was a few years ago. So after school, I did more strategy consulting and marketing strategy consulting and that's where I spent most of my time about six, seven years, worked across different brands really helping them think about how do they grow? How do they keep their consumers engaged? And that was back in New York, and then I moved to the Bay area for personal reasons. So I found myself in San Francisco and when you're in San Francisco, you're exposed to the tech world much more. And that's when I learned about product marketing. So prior to Digit, I was doing product marketing at LinkedIn.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  2:11

Okay, awesome and how was that working at LinkedIn?

Aleesha Patel  2:13

That was awesome. LinkedIn is such a great, also very mission-driven company. So when I decided to actually leave consulting, and move client-side, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what is it that I would want to do and what would I find actually meaningful. And something that was very important to me was to go to a company that was very mission-driven and that's what drew me to LinkedIn. Also thinking about the really three things that drive and have always driven me, and where I go and how I land up at companies, and its really mission, people, and good work. So I was at LinkedIn, not for very long, I think I would have loved to be there longer, but the opportunity at Digit came up and that seemed like the right thing for me to try out right now in my life.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  3:02

And so did you say LinkedIn was your first product marketing position?

Aleesha Patel  3:06


Bryony Pearce - PMA  3:06

So did you do a lot of learning on the job there? And how did that work if that was your first time in that exact position?

Aleesha Patel  3:12

Yeah, absolutely. I think LinkedIn does a great job because you're surrounded by several other product marketers so there's a lot of learning on the job. But I also think, coming from a more consulting, but still in the marketing sphere, I had done a lot of the same things. I'd been exposed to do similar kinds of work, just not under the title of product marketing, or not under the same words and language that we tend to use in the tech world. A lot of it was like, "Oh, I've kind of done this, but I didn't realize I had even done it" and I think what the consistent theme is really like, in my time as a consultant it was really about helping clients understand their consumers. When I went to LinkedIn I was helping LinkedIn understand our consumers, and bring that insight back to influence product and marketing. So often the product marketing role should start with those insights of your end-user. And I've been doing that for several years just for different clients. So that was very natural to me and part of my experience.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  4:16

That's something I've heard quite a lot throughout these podcasts, people doing product marketing, without the title of product marketing, and I guess because the role is so different at different companies, what you do as product marketing in one place might not be product marketing at another place, but it all just kind of overlaps and interlinks I guess.

Aleesha Patel  4:33

yeah, and that's actually what drew me to the role because when I was... another thing I was concerned about when I was deciding do I want to leave consulting or stay in the strategy consulting was I like to be challenged and continuously growing and learning and doing different things. And the product marketing role is such a multi-faceted role, there's so many different things you could be doing on any given one day, depending on your product or feature that you're supporting, as the product and feature evolves in its life cycle, your role also is evolving. And that's very much true, there's a lot going on all the time, you're working with different stakeholders. And I was like, "Okay, I don't think I get bored in this role" and I can validate after doing it for more than three years I'm never bored. There's always something going on. I'm always learning and growing. So I think I made the right move.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  5:27

Yeah, for sure. And then so you mentioned you've been at Digit for around four months now. What has been your main focus points in that period? If it's a new function for the business?

Aleesha Patel  5:37

Yeah, absolutely. So coming in as the first product marketer, my focus has been to set a really strong foundation, just to help scale the team and help grow the business. So really coming in and helping digit understand like, who is their target audience? So we're doing some very foundational research right now to understand people who are using Digit today, but also understanding what's that opportunity outside in the market, and how to help Digit grow. And then the next piece of work will be leveraging those really strong insights to then inform our positioning and go to market, how we talk about Digit to those potential and current members that we have. And then simultaneously, it's been, as I mentioned earlier, the product marketing role is so cross-functional where you're working with a lot of key stakeholders. So a lot of time, my time has been getting to know who the stakeholders are, building relationships, building that trust, because the success of a product marketer definitely relies on other teams. And it's not really like a one-man role, one woman, it's leveraging the partners that you have, so a lot of my efforts has been building those relationships and also informing and educating our team on like, what is product marketing, and how can product marketing help, because a lot of people actually haven't even worked with product marketers before. So there's been very much foundational work that's been ongoing since I've come on board.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  7:03

And how have you found people have been with that? Have people quite receptive to the role of product marketing?

Aleesha Patel  7:08

Absolutely, I think, as I mentioned, when I decided to move and decided to join Digit it was three things that guided me, one of them being the people here, the people here are awesome. Everyone is very mission-focused but also super collaborative, in it to really do the right thing for our members. And I think that just brings about this like eagerness of like, "Okay, how are you going to help and like let's work with each other to make sure we're like doing the right thing for the business". So very receptive, very open and encouraging to do the things that I've been suggesting and really good partners so I've been really lucky.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  7:51

So how does your set-up at Digit compare to LinkedIn? So I guess LinkedIn presumably have quite a big product marketing team. How's that compared going from that end of the spectrum to then being the sole product marketer and having to kind of educate people about the role?

Aleesha Patel  8:08

Yeah, it's definitely been a very different dynamic. Yes, you're right at LinkedIn, I was probably one amongst maybe 50 or more product marketers, just on the consumer side of the business. I don't even know how big the product marketing team is on the enterprise side of the business. And I was in a very different type of role where I was not leading a team, I was managing people, but it was not the same scale. It's definitely been a very different base and dynamic. It actually kind of reminds me sometimes of my consulting days where I'm just kind of doing a little bit of everything and figuring it out, putting together what the process should be. And I'm enjoying that, I have fuller days, it's much faster paced. I have to... I think the other big shift is because I'm the only product marketer here I have to go outside of Digit to meet other product marketers which is why I've leveraged the Product Marketing Alliance Slack group a lot, it's how do I learn from other product marketers who've been in similar situations as I have, so who started off at other startups as the first product marketer who've then grown to lead a team. It's a different sort of... you have to be more proactive as the only product marketer at a startup because you're the one reaching out to the product marketers and it's amazing to see how the community is so supportive of each other. So yeah, that's a very high level how it's different and also I think in terms of like the actual work that I'm doing, just because it's just me I feel like I'm doing a lot more like we don't have a researcher so so I'm actually doing a lot of the research. We don't have like defined teams or like a lot of resources that a company like LinkedIn has, for example. So it's definitely being a little more scrappy, being okay with sometimes just doing the 80% which I'm still learning and adjusting. And then I think it's prioritization to be honest because it's like I have a list of I don't know how many things I could be doing but then it's identifying what are the one or two things that are the highest impact for the business, align with the business priorities, and then just focusing on that because otherwise, you're going to spread yourself too thin, and being okay with not like actually supporting everything at first. So it's an art for sure.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  10:34

Would you say are you quite enjoying the fact that you say here you get involved with everything, you don't have designated teams to do the research, etc. Do you enjoy that side of it?

Aleesha Patel  10:43

Yeah, I love it. I'm learning so much and it's not even just... I think it's part of me and I enjoy being involved in different things, it may not be for everybody. That's why I think when I did consulting I did it for so long, because I got exposed to so much and I was learning so much. And I find myself in a very similar situation now, for example, next week, we're thinking about our employer brand. And even though I'm not on the people team, you know, I'm involved in that, because I have an interest, I have experience that can help. And it's like stretching, in whichever way I can either help, or I'm interested in, I'm entirely enjoying it.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  11:25

Okay, awesome. And then on a day to day basis, which departments outside of product marketing would you say you interact with the most?

Aleesha Patel  11:33

Yeah, that's a great question. So I would say my primary stakeholders are my product managers, of course. And then we have a growth marketing team and then we have a creative marketing team. So those are two of the other key stakeholders who I'm working with closest. Then depending on the project, it's also working with our designers, closely working with the product managers and then sometimes even the engineers. So that's been typically sort of the key stakeholders. We actually just hired someone as the head of support on our customer success team. So I imagine going into next year I'd also be working closely with her to see how can we actually take insights from the support team to then feedback into the engine.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  12:20

Yeah. And then out of curiosity, who do you report to? Which department?

Aleesha Patel  12:25

Yeah, so my manager was actually the chief operating officer, so the COO of the company. I have three marketing heads so the head of performance marketing who's also growth marketing, head of creative marketing, and then myself who's leading product marketing, and then we all report into the COO.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  12:43

Okay, awesome. And then how does that compare to LinkedIn? Was product marketing its own entity there, or did they report to an external department?

Aleesha Patel  12:51

Yeah, so we had at LinkedIn, we had our CMO and product marketing ultimately laddered up to her. So she was kind of like head.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  13:06

Yeah. Okay, cool. Okay, next up, what would you say the top three skills are that have helped shape your product marketing career so far?

Aleesha Patel  13:14

I think the one that's sort of been the common theme in all my roles and I think it's what helped me get into product marketing is also having a very strong empathy for the end-user and having the skill set and also the intention to really understand who that end-user is. So through research, whether that's quantitative or qualitative, and then being able to take those insights, whether it's as I said, data from quantitative research or more qualitative and actually converting that into then actionable takeaways. I think that's a core key skillset because that's like really what sets the foundation to be successful whether then you're focused on the go-to-market or then you're focused on influencing product strategy and roadmap, you really need to develop that key understanding of who your user base is. I think another really important skill set is being able to stakeholder manage. So it comes down to I think always like understanding people, whether that's internally or externally, externally is like your users, internally is how do you best work with your partners? How do you influence them, build their trust, and then manage the process, especially when you get to the go-to-market planning phase, you're coordinating so many different things. And you have to also be very organized. But you also have to understand people and understand like, what else is on their plate? How do you help them stay on track to make sure that the whole project is staying on track? So I would say those are probably the few key skill sets.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  14:44

Okay, thank you. And then just going back to understanding the end-user and that kind of research side of things. What does that process look like for you? How do you go about gathering that data?

Aleesha Patel  14:54

Yes, I think it honestly depends on the type of resources you have available and the time you have available. So you know, it can sort of range, but at a startup like Digit where we don't have a lot of time and support and resources. So it's like, how do you be scrappy? So initially, when I started, I was actually just doing calls with people who are members. When I updated my LinkedIn profile to say I was joining Digit I discovered there were a few friends that I had who were using Digit, so it was trying to just find people who are using Digit to understand why are they using Digit, what's their experience, and then starting to go more and do more market research and we've been working with a research partner who is helping us do more of that, a market survey so segmentation study right now to understand what's the opportunity outside our current member base, and that tends to take a little more time and it's a little more rigorous. But if you're strapped for time, just get started, reach out to the people who are using your product, and talk to them. I think that's the best way to get insights from the get-go.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  16:00

Yep. And then on a sort of ongoing basis outside of the bigger research projects, do you have at all a set weekly quota, for example, you'll try and get on the phone to two customers a week or two customers a month, for example? Or is it more of an ad hoc?

Aleesha Patel  16:14

From a research perspective?

Bryony Pearce - PMA  16:15


Aleesha Patel  16:16

Yeah, I think I would love to eventually get there where there's some ongoing cadence of you know, we had that at LinkedIn where every quarter, the product marketer would be responsible for synthesizing insights from any research that's happened from the support team, and kind of pull it all together. And then they kind of share it out. Like these are the common themes we're hearing from all of these different sources. I don't think we're at that stage right now, but hopefully, at some point in 2020 once I'm able to have a few more product marketers on my team, and we have more resources to support there definitely. That's definitely on the roadmap to build that ongoing cadence because then you can be much more strategic when you're crafting your go to market, your positioning, your messaging and you can really keep on that pulse of what's going on to like, support your product management team.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  17:06

Okay, cool. Thank you. And then next up, I'm not sure, so I know you've only been at Digit for a few months, but in terms of introducing new products or features, what does that process look like? Have you experienced that yet?

Aleesha Patel  17:20

We're actually building that muscle right now. So it's a lot of like, test and learn. I haven't actually had a chance to do that as yet, but it is actually trying to put in place what that process should be. I've been working with the team to understand "Okay, not every launch is the same size. Let's think about if it’s small, medium or large", kind of trying to have them think about what are the key things we need to be doing for every launch? If it's a much bigger launch, what then do we add? What are the different channels that we have access to and what levels should we be leveraging and pulling? I also am excited by the foundation research we're doing right now on our audience. So that will also inform what are those key channels we need to be playing in to reach people. So we're very much in setting that process right now and we'll be testing and learning as we go.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  18:17

Yeah, for sure. And then does Digit have an in-house marketing team that would leverage all these channels? Or is that something you'd outsource to a third party?

Aleesha Patel  18:25

Sorry, can you repeat that?

Bryony Pearce - PMA  18:28

In terms of when you're doing these launches, do you have a marketing team that takes care of all the different channels, for example, your PR, your social, or is that something you outsource?

Aleesha Patel  18:38

Yeah so we have a few partners and we do some of it internally right now. So right now all of our PR is through a partner agency that Digit has been working with from the very beginning. And then we have internally we have, as I mentioned, we have a growth marketing team that kind of manages sort of the big spectrum. And they have joined partners that they work with. I can totally imagine as we scale either we start to bring things more internal, or we start to bring on more partner agencies, as we invest more in our marketing efforts.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  19:18

Yeah sure. And then in terms of your day to day, do you have any go-to tools that you tend to hop in and out of quite often?

Aleesha Patel  19:26

Not really, to be honest. I think maybe over time, I will figure that out. I think for me right now, I'm actually putting in place some of that. So the one thing that helps guide I think us internally and this is not specific to product marketing, but we have a very well sort of defined OKR planning process and we actually do cycles of every two months. So I know for me it is a nice format to take. We've already gone through two cycles so it's using that to guide what should my priorities be for this week and then using that to keep myself focused. But I don't have any other specific tools. I know we're trying to bring on user testing as a platform to help with some of our ongoing user research more focused on product and usability but not yet.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  20:19

Okay, and in terms of those OKRs is there anything that you're specifically responsible for?

Aleesha Patel  20:25

Yeah. So as I mentioned, figuring out our target audience, using those insights to figure out our positioning and messaging, and then using all of those insights and that foundation to then start to influence our marketing, so like starting new messaging, influencing how we talk about our product in our app and in the experience, so that's all work that's ongoing that I'm responsible for.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  20:50

Okay, awesome. And then next up, what if anything, do you think needs to change about product marketing?

Aleesha Patel  20:57

Oh, I want to say I don't think anything needs to change. I think we need more people to talk about it. At least specifically I've had, the community is great, but I've had a hard time reaching more consumer-focused product marketers, I think there's a lot of product marketers, I think maybe this is skewed to the Bay area that is focused on more B2B enterprise companies. And now in this digit role where I'm trying to seek more support and guidance from product marketing outside I've had a hard time finding those consumer product marketers, so I wouldn't change anything but I'm like, just maybe raise your hand more support and help each other out. But yeah, I think the function is great. I think it's a super exciting space that doesn't get as much attention. I think product management gets a lot of attention and rightfully so I think that's a very interesting road but it's similar and different you know, like product management skews and dives deep into one aspect and goes more towards working with engineers and it's more of the building with product marketing has an overlap with them, but then also skews to the other end of how do you get your message out and the marketing spectrums. I think they're both really exciting roles. I just don't think product marketing gets enough attention as product management does. So this podcast and what you guys are doing also helps, which is great.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  22:21

And then the final question. If there were any new or aspiring product marketers listening to this podcast right now, what would your advice to them be to get into the industry?

Aleesha Patel  22:31

I would honestly say tell your story, even if you don't have the experience, I know the perception is that the barrier is really difficult and it's hard to get in. But I can use my example like I didn't really have the product marketing experience, and I was able to come into LinkedIn as a product marketing manager, so think about your experience and you've probably done some aspects of the role, you may not just realize it, and then always starting with you though, so whether you're coming out of college and you've not really had work experience and it's taking from your own personal experience and why understanding people is really important to you. And pulling that through. I think that's really the root of what we're doing here and then obviously having an interest in marketing and being able to tell the stories.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  23:29


Aleesha Patel  23:29

I was going to add another thing, as I mentioned, maybe? But we will be growing the product marketing team here. So if there are people who are interested, I'm happy to chat with them and share more about Digit and more about the roles that will be opening up soon.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  23:43

That'd be great. And then you did spark another question there, out of curiosity what's your favorite aspect of product marketing?

Aleesha Patel  23:50

Oh, it's the people. I've always loved just and I think this is truly myself even in my personal life, I love listening and I love understanding and helping people out. And it's awesome that I can get to do that in my day job as well. So that's definitely my favorite part of the role and especially being at a mission-driven company like when you do the research, you really feel like, "Wow, there are so many needs that we can really help people with". And then when you see the good reviews, and you're like, you really feel the impact that you're having and that's the really special moment for me.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  24:27

Awesome well thank you very much for your time today, Aleesha, it's been lovely speaking to you.

Aleesha Patel  24:31

Yes, it's been fun, thanks for having me.

Written by:

Bryony Pearce

Bryony Pearce

Bryony's the CMO for Product Marketing Alliance. She's been with the company since day dot and leads our marketing, courses, content, community, and customer success teams

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Product Marketing Insider [podcast]: Aleesha Patel