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23 min read

Product Marketing Insider [podcast]: Melanie Linehan

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We caught up with WeTransfer’s Product Marketing Manager Melanie Linehan and delved into topics like the challenges she faces reporting to someone on another continent and how she makes it work, the value of executive-level buy-in for PMMs, the cruciality of communication as a core competency plus other skills she believes have boosted her career, and heaps more.


Full transcript:

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:01

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 pod’s sponsored by the Product Marketing Festival. For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, it’ll be coming to a screen near you between June 8th and June 14th, and will featuring headline acts from companies like Amazon, Uber, Adobe and Facebook, talking about everything from research all the way through to optimisation. To get your ticket, just head over to the site, festival.productmarketingalliance.com. 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 Melanie Linehan, a Product Marketing Manager over at WeTransfer, and before joining WeTransfer, Melanie held various account, customer, marketing, and product marketing roles at companies like Twitter, Topsy, Quarterly Co., CyberU and 1220. So, let's pass over and welcome to the show Melanie.

Melanie Linehan  0:22

Thank you so much for having me.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:23

Oh, it's our pleasure. Can I get you to kick off please by just giving everyone a bit of an introduction into you, your role, and then WeTransfer, please?

Melanie Linehan  0:32

Of course. So as you said, my name is Melanie Linehan, and I'm the Product Marketing Manager on our flagship product over at WeTransfer. I've been a marketer for a little over 10 years now, which sounds crazy to say. But I've been, as you mentioned, a marketer in various roles in various stages of startups for some time and prior to joining WeTransfer actually I was working in Los Angeles, prior to that in San Francisco, kind of working with, as you mentioned, account management roles, customer success roles in various technology companies, and that really fueled my excitement around growth marketing. And that's where I actually moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, working more with a subscription-based company called quarterly Co. That was acquired pretty quickly after I helped launch our growth marketing strategy. So that was really something that kind of fueled my excitement around building out growth marketing strategies, teams, and ultimately my excitement around startups. And then kind of fast forward to where I am now, my partner got offered an opportunity to come from LA to Amsterdam, and I said, why not? Let's make the jump across the pond if you will. Jump to Amsterdam in 2018, I was consulting, looking for something a little bit more exciting from my experience and my academic background in the arts, and found something at WeTransfer that really sparked my interest. And to give you an idea of what WeTransfer does, WeTransfer is actually a product that helps with file sharing. Similar to the way you would consider a courier 10 years ago, that ironically was the solution that they were kind of replacing, basically helping production or artists transfer large files to their clients. And it was something that's actually a Dutch-based company. So fast forward 10 years, I joined WeTransfer in April of last year as their first product marketer. I have a counterpart that also is a product marketer that focuses on our other products. But yeah, I focus primarily on our flagship product, and our premium offering of that file sharing service and our premium offering is called WeTransfer Pro, and that's actually an offering where you have more of a presence or profile as a creative. So there's a really exciting opportunity for you to have a landing page and URL and experience that you deliver in addition to whatever creative solution you're delivering as an artist.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  3:18

And then what's WeTransfer's setup like? So is the entire company based there in Amsterdam, or has it got a global presence? Or?

Melanie Linehan  3:25

Yeah, so we have a global presence. The majority of our team sits here in Amsterdam. So we have about 200, I would say close to 200 in Amsterdam. And then we have an office in Los Angeles, ironically, that I did not work with prior to joining, but that's the majority of our marketing team, and some of our sales team. And then we also have an office, a small office, in Seattle and then a small office in New York as well.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  3:50

Okay, cool. And then you mentioned you came from account and customer success roles previously. How did you make that transition into growth marketing and product marketing? Would you say it was fairly self-taught? Or?

Melanie Linehan  4:04

Yeah, it's a really good question. I think it was somewhat of a natural transition because I think working so closely to customer success, and it was a matter of you really had to understand the ins and outs of the product, the struggles of the clients and, of course, the best successes and best practices from a client's perspective. And also just being super close to the growth teams and also the engineering teams on like, where things are progressing in the product roadmaps. It was something that coming from San Francisco to Los Angeles, actually, it was quite a simple transition for me to move more specifically into strategic roles in marketing and then also within that same realm of product expertise, being in that technical marketing arena really allowed me to just naturally progress in that way, and also, like, as you said, kind of self-taught. So being able to work super closely with engineering teams and product teams on those opportunities to understand how to better communicate what the product's offering and the value proposition was, and understanding how to be customer-centric around what benefits, both of course, like feature, but also emotionally driven benefits really will resonate in your messaging, and that natural transition just happened.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  5:30

Yeah. And then would you say coming from those backgrounds and having experienced those different departments, has that set you up quite well for the product marketing role would you say, and especially when you're having to interact with those teams so much in this role?

Melanie Linehan  5:42

Yeah, I think the idea of having that empathy and understanding what their experience is on the other side, whether it's a sales team or a support role, I think it's certainly helped set me up in the sense of just really understanding the multiple facets that come in to play when you're talking about a product to a customer, but also understanding what perspective or point of view you need to consider when thinking about the messaging as a whole. And I definitely think starting out my career in that way, and also being at the forefront of having the conversations with accounts and your customers and understanding their struggles, even today sitting closely when we do have a product launch, with our customer support team and understanding what are the questions that are coming in, and how to make sure you're really addressing the audience and your customer in the right way to hopefully not have anything but happy and positive responses to your launch is critical.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  6:42

Yeah, sure. And then I guess kind of one fairly common talking point in product marketing is how much the role can vary from one company to another, and how product marketers often have different responsibilities depending on where they are. What would you say your main responsibilities are at WeTransfer?

Melanie Linehan  7:00

Yeah, I think that's a really fair assessment. I think there are so many different ways that you can address or position product marketing within a company. And I think within WeTransfer, prior to myself and as I said, my counterpart joining the organization, there was really no one focused primarily on product marketing. So we've really set out the foundation and set out the way we would ideally love it to be set up. And we're still kind of optimizing for that. But I would say for product marketing, within WeTransfer, we sit within our marketing team, I sit very closely with our product teams and our product manager. But across the board, I think that we're most successful because we really help facilitate the launches and equally, make sure we're really the owners of what this value proposition is, and messaging, the core message that we want our product to really communicate both externally but internally, you really are that champion of your product within WeTransfer.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  8:06

Yep. And then you mentioned you sit with product, do you report into product as well?

Melanie Linehan  8:12

No, actually, I don't. But it's interesting because as I'm sure, speaking to various PMMs and PM leaders, there are various structures, but I sit with my product team, although I still report into marketing, I sit physically with them so that I'm as close to the action as possible, being a facilitator and having a company that is obviously very rapidly growing and evolving, it's always really important to be there when the conversations are happening, be an advocate be a team player in the sense of being able to be as close to where the product decisions are being made. And I'm fortunate enough to be able to sit as closely as possible with those teams.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  8:58

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Have you had experience reporting into product? And like, would you say you have a preference over product or marketing?

Melanie Linehan  9:08

I don't actually have experience reporting directly into product. But I do think it's an interesting discussion. I think it completely depends on the structure of the company. Because ultimately, I report into my senior director of marketing, who's actually based in Los Angeles, but with where we're at as an organization that actually works quite well. However, of course, it depends on the business goals and your overarching KPIs or OKRs for your department. And it's also an interesting thing to consider when ultimately my goals kind of tie-up to what the product goals are, but also simultaneously with what marketing's goals are, and so it completely depends on what your focus is but I often find myself sitting with a foot in product and a foot in marketing, but it ends up working out quite well. But it can completely depend on the structure of your organization for sure.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  10:06

Yeah, and then you mentioned the person you report to is based in LA, how do you find those time differences and managing those?

Melanie Linehan  10:14

Yeah, it's an interesting way to structure your time. Of course, a nine-hour difference is not an easy one. But also moving from Los Angeles to Amsterdam I was consulting previously with my prior company as well. So I had some experience with splitting my time, or having a few late nights and a few, for them more early morning conversations, but it's just about structure. And I think also making sure that communication is key when you're working within like a time crunch or a product launch. Over-communication is always something that's super helpful, but equally, I think having trust in my manager, and also my manager having quite a bit of trust in me in being the core marketer that sits in our headquarters also is super instrumental and making sure that I kind of have my boots on the ground if you will, around what's happening, communicating and relaying back to her and the other marketers in LA and then equally for her to be able to kind of convey to me more so from a digital perspective and a brand marketing perspective, what our team in Los Angeles is focused on, managing our agency and also more holistically where the product marketers kind of tie into the overarching brand vision and messages.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  11:38

I think in this day in age as well there's nothing to stop... like with those time zones and location differences, nowadays there are so many ways you can overcome it. So even like us at PMA, most of the team are based down in London, I'm up north in England and then split between Canada as well. So when I'm in Canada, we have a six seven-hour time difference, but I found there's one big advantage of the time difference sometimes in that you can do something when it's your working hours, and then you can pass it over, and then by the time you wake up, other people have done their bit while you're asleep, and then it's ready to just flow on the next day, which I find is a bit of a perk, I guess, to the time differences.

Melanie Linehan  12:19

Yeah, absolutely. You can certainly really optimize it to be a passing of the baton in a way, in like an Olympic or triathlete sense, where it really helps if you have the right team members in place, and you know what needs to happen and when, it can actually be more advantageous to have that kind of structure. And we've certainly found that in some ways, working really closely with my director of digital marketing in LA, I'll hand over a brief or things that we want an agency to work on, she'll hand over details to an agency, they'll work on it while I'm asleep, and when I wake up, there are iterations for me to approve which is really exciting and a nice way to also wake up to progression of a project.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  13:01

Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, cool. So next up this is a tricky question but I ask everyone if there was such a thing, what does a standard day in your role look like? The impression I'm getting is there is no such thing as a standard day.

Melanie Linehan  13:19

No, I think that impression is an accurate one. I think overall, a standard day, one thing I would say thematically you could say would always be standard is you're always kind of facilitating a conversation or ensuring the progression of a project, whether it's a launch or ensuring that there's a constant conversation or flow of communication about what's going on with various stakeholders. I would say that that would be something that is continuously standard across my work. So you know, whether I'm having meetings with my product team, and understanding what's coming and then relaying that to the appropriate like channel marketers and who's going to be supporting a launch. And then, of course, working with an internal agency that we have here at WeTransfer, which we're very fortunate to have to start creating some of the campaign assets, and then relaying that to an agency that then would use that for performance marketing. There are so many things that are very fluid about communication that I have to ensure is consistent and constantly moving. So I would say that that's probably the biggest piece about my standard day, is that I'm constantly kind of just facilitating conversation with the appropriate stakeholders, making sure those that need to know are informed and also kind of being that internal advocate for the product just as much as an external advocate for the product. So you know, you should be able to sit down with customer support if they have a question on what's coming just as much as I should be able to sit down with an executive-level team member on where the progression of a specific launch is headed.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  14:56

Yeah, would you say the executives over at WeTransfer, are they quite bought into the product marketing role? So I know that's another contentious topic within product marketing, in that some people struggle to get that kind of buy-in from above, which makes the role obviously a lot harder to carry out.

Melanie Linehan  15:13

Yeah, I would say we're very fortunate to have that buy-in from our executive leadership team, they see the value and understand the value of product marketing, which is really a fortunate place for myself and again, my counterpart to be in and also having that ability to then have that trust internally allows for my voice to be elevated in the same context of being able to speak to the company on behalf of where the product marketing and objectives are, where a launch is headed, successes, failures, learnings. It's a nice place to be for sure.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  15:54

Yeah. Cool. And then in terms of people and teams outside of product marketing, like sales, product, operations and that kind of thing, which departments would you say you interact with most on a sort of day to day basis? And then what's your relationship with those teams like?

Melanie Linehan  16:11

Yeah, I would say I work most closely to our product team, of course, but also our formerly called growth team now called insights and intelligence team that's more composed of a set of data scientists that help myself with experiments, launching new tests of messaging, UX design, and then also UX designers and researchers that sit more closely to know where the product is headed, what we want to learn from our customers, what are our customers kind of asking for? Those are probably the two teams that I sit the most closely to and work really on the forward-thinking around the strategy of what’s happening and what we want to do from the product marketing perspective. Equally, as I mentioned, having an internal studio, we work really closely with them to create these amazing and creative campaigns to help launch with new product offerings or features. And also, of course, working with WeTransfer is an interesting beast in the sense of that we have our own advertising platform behind the transfer window where we have almost 60 million monthly active users come to use our tool, but also, they get to see this beautifully created advertising unit that's living behind that transfer window. So we also have an advertising team that I work with closely to actually use that unit, you could call it the billboard of the internet, to then also, of course, advertise our own products on our own service. So that's an exciting thing to think about when we think about being able to kind of work with that other department as well.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  17:51

And then in terms of your actual interactions with those teams, what does it sort of look like? So do you have kind of recurring meetings in the diary or is it more ad hoc desk drops?

Melanie Linehan  18:03

Yeah, it's a combination, I would say for sure, but I'm fairly structured in the way I like to work. Also, knowing how many directions product managers can be pulled in, I think they have the most visibility and demand within our organization. So I try to keep as much structure to having consistent recurring meetings with those individuals, as well as my growth team or my insights and intelligence team. And then of course, there's the interim check-ins of where things are going, conversations that kind of are ad hoc as well. But I think having a nice balance because you know that at the end of the day, people's time is limited, it's nice to have that recurring moment to check-in if you need it, if there's no reason to have an update, which is rare, you can always remove it. But I think that kind of structure helps everyone to be more on point and also know when you're going to have a moment to kind of revisit or think through a launch and have a conversation, you know that that time is set aside for you to kind of solely focus on that.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  19:06

And then out of curiosity, you mentioned it's you and you've got one other in product marketing, what's your ratio then with product managers? So how many product managers to product marketers are there?

Melanie Linehan  19:16

Yeah, so it's interesting because of the way that our transfer product, which is the product I solely focus on, has multiple product managers, but we also have, we kind of split it the way we think about it in the sense of, we have the free tool, and then we have our premium tool. And so we have two, I think we're actually hiring maybe for a third product manager that focuses on our core product. So more three to one with myself. Of course, I also have a project manager that sits with me to help support the majority of the projects that I focus on with our transfer product because of course, it is our largest user group and largest revenue-generating products. And then we also have two other tools, mainly that my counterpart focuses on, which is Paper and Paste, which are tools that have more of an opportunity for us to be a little bit more creative in where we can go with Paper, of course, being an iPad app that you can explore with a stylus and basically a journaling or creative tool. And then we also have Paste, which is a presentation tool that's more design-centric. It's more kind of in its product-market fit phase, that we're going to be doing some exciting things with this year as well. So she sits in Los Angeles, actually, and the product teams for both of those products actually sit in New York, but she sits with those two product managers as well.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  20:50

Okay, cool. Awesome. Okay, next up, what would you say the top three skills are that have helped you get where you are today?

Melanie Linehan  21:00

Wow, top three, that's always interesting, especially kind of thinking about how you've developed in your career. I would say for sure communication is up there, being a really consistent and clear communicator and also a facilitator in the sense of really being able to help kind of mediate and facilitate conversation in the right way with the right stakeholders. Equally being able to communicate up and across the organization is really key, when thinking about what we can maximize as a product marketer, you know, understanding what needs to be shared, who needs to know what, when, is really key. I would say being more of a strategic marketer in the sense of having like a growth mindset. And my experience working as a growth marketer has certainly helped. Understanding you know, how to measure success, being interested in data, and being data-driven. And I would say that's probably equally just as important to being a solid communicator. And then I would say also, maybe, from the context of really being adaptive, working in the startup space is really key as well, you know, there's always going to be a moving target, you're not always going to be able to say, this is the product, this is the feature, this is when it'll launch, nothing will change. It's very rare in technology, especially as we know. So I think being able to be adaptive and dynamic and also kind of have that can-do attitude is really key as well. Because at the end of the day, we know that the vision or the objective of where the project or product is going to go may shift and you have to be kind of reactive to that and be able to equally be proactive in your approach.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  22:49

Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, cool, thanks for that. Next up, would you say there's a lot of crossover between what you do and what a product manager does over at WeTransfer? Are the lines quite blurred or how does that work for you?

Melanie Linehan  23:05

Yeah, I would say that there's an overlap of where we work together, but I would say that the lines are pretty clearly divided in the sense of, you know, the two of us will work together to understand what the proper message is for what this value of a new feature or product is going to deliver to our users and understanding our users. But our product managers are solely focused on understanding the direction of the product and building out the roadmap. I, of course, will work closely with our product managers to make sure we're prioritizing what marketing needs if there's something within that roadmap that will optimize or help to enable marketing, whether it's like monetization of a product or optimization based on an experiment. And then of course, my side is, of course to then help make sure that that consistency of messaging and the value proposition is constantly and consistently communicated properly across the product. So working with our product designers, copywriters, and then also, of course, in the marketing team and with experiments to ensure that we're always optimizing that as well. So I would say there's overlap, but it's clearly divided as well.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  24:25

Cool. And then in terms of that roadmap piece, what does the process of introducing new products and features look like for you? And then how does it compare at WeTransfer to previous companies you've been at?

Melanie Linehan  24:37

Yeah, so I would say that it's quite similar across various roles that I've held at different companies where we'll work with more of an annual vision for the business and the product and then kind of break it out into quarterly objectives. And I think that's kind of the wonderful thing about myself enjoying some structure, as well as I think from a technology standpoint, it's fairly a standard approach to things. But I would also say that from that standpoint, as I said, you'll have moving targets, things will shift, things will be de-prioritized or re-prioritized. So you have to be able to kind of be on your toes. But equally, I think there's quite a bit that we try to map out as much as we can, to ensure that we communicate as much as possible to our product teams, how much time we'll need to ensure we can effectively market a launch just as much as of course, like as early as possible to be involved in those conversations with product to know what's coming, what we need to be aware of, what's changing, so that we can obviously work together as closely as possible to effectively work on a launch.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  25:49

Yeah. And then how much, if any, of your roadmap do you share with customers?

Melanie Linehan  25:55

That's a really good question. I think that at the moment we're pretty closed door with where our product is going, also because we're working on some exciting things to come out later this year, but at the same time, I think that we do quite a bit of user testing with our customers and our core users. We have some beta test that we've launched earlier this year and late last year, as well, to kind of get a sense of, if an additional feature or offering would be something that would add value to their experience of using our products and our premium products, especially. So it's a blend but I would say being more transparent with our audience and our customers, especially our core customers, is something we've started to do. But also I think it's tricky when you're still kind of building the plane as you're flying it, if you will. You want to make sure you're kind of keeping things close to the chest until it's ready to kind of really be full-fledged launch.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  26:54

Yeah, for sure. And then in terms of that user testing piece, how does that work for you? So how do you go about choosing which customers will test it? And then how do you find getting them on board? Is that a fairly easy process?

Melanie Linehan  27:08

Yeah, one thing that's an amazing advantage about WeTransfer is that we have like a fanatical user base. So it's really wonderful that we have so many people that are strong advocates for our products and our tools in our community. So I think that oftentimes, my user research team that's amazing, that sits on our growth team, they'll have a set number of users that are really super active or engaged or have raised their hand, if you will, to see if they're open to exploring some initial testing of new features or what have you. But I think we equally have done various outreach tests as well where we'll send out a general message around being open to participation in a beta launch, and see how many respondents we have but we've been fairly successful with that. And I think again, it comes down to the fanatical user base we have.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  28:04

And then are they any kind of, so outside of your user testing teams and the kind of insights and intelligence teams, are there any instances where you directly speak to your customers firsthand?

Melanie Linehan  28:17

Yeah, I think that there's quite a bit where I'll sit in the user interviews. I won't necessarily speak firsthand to them. But I'll sit closely with this team on what they're working on. And also we are working on some fun things to come out later this year around specifically speaking to our customers about the value that our product provides them more almost in this kind of honest testimonial like experience, but more from a marketing perspective, of course, where we can speak to what the value really is of using our tool compared to maybe a traditional file sharing service as a creative and how do we amplify their voice from a human level, not just from a technology-based company, speaking on behalf of how many gigabytes you can send or what kind of storage we provide you, but rather this branded amplification of your own creative persona, if you will, as an artist, and how we can use that to speak more to this really unique audience that WeTransfer has.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  29:26

Yeah. Okay, cool. And then out of curiosity, in terms of win-loss interviews, where does that sit? Is that the insights and intelligence teams do they kind of conduct those interviews or?

Melanie Linehan  29:37

Yes, exactly.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  29:38

Okay, cool. Okay, penultimate question. In your opinion what, if anything, do you think needs to change about product marketing?

Melanie Linehan  29:49

What do I think needs to change? Well, that's an interesting question. I think that, honestly, it's been really interesting to see the shift in focus on product marketing in recent years, of course, speaking to you and being part of the PMA community is really great. I think that continuing to see it be built out as almost a separate but still, I guess, part of marketing is really interesting and seeing where it evolves, as you said, and we spoke about earlier, where does it sit? Does it sit with product does it sit with marketing? I think there's really a lot to see how it's very differentiated from traditional digital marketing. But also, of course, it has a different use, then just, of course, sitting directly within a product team. So I would love to see, and of course, this role itself has only evolved over the past five years or so, so like seeing where it goes, obviously, where it's come from, where it goes is going to be really interesting. And of course, like anything, I think there are roles like this that have popped up over the last five or so years that we never really even thought about but as we as a society have been more technology-focused, it's become this more nuanced approach to marketing. And I would love to see kind of where that expands and grows, as we get more, you could say more 10-years in the experience, as a marketer, as a product marketer in the technology industry will be really interesting.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  31:26

Okay, awesome. 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?

Melanie Linehan  31:40

Wow, I think honestly, it's really interesting to think about how many product marketers I know have gotten into product marketing. And I think it's a natural transition or progression in a career of just having interest in technology-based products. But equally focused on the customer's journey, the customer success, and equally the messaging and the value of the product to the user. And really being able to spend time in each of those areas, I think really also thinking more about what products change your daily life or improve your daily life. Or it's also quite funny to think about in the context of things that maybe are sticky products or products that you don't always necessarily enjoy the experience, the user experience that you have, and why that is and learning more around what makes you tick, but also what makes you excited about using a certain product. What makes you an active user every day on a specific tool. And just really being curious I think is an interesting way to approach it. And then, of course, I think being able to learn more about the product management role and like product development as a whole is really fascinating as well, I think that really will help guide maybe an aspiring product marketer to uncover maybe what about product marketing they're interested in most because there's so many facets as we've talked about, and then, of course, being able to help them follow their own White Rabbit if you will, and their own curiosities to where they're best suited in the product marketing capacity.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  33:28

Okay, awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking some time out today Melanie, it's been lovely speaking to you.

Melanie Linehan  33:34

Thank you, you as well.

Written by:

Bryony Pearce

Bryony Pearce

Bryony's the Head of Content here at Product Marketing Alliance and you'll find her behind most things written!

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Product Marketing Insider [podcast]: Melanie Linehan