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18 min read

Product marketing life [podcast]: Mark Assini


Full transcript:

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:01

Hi, everyone, and welcome to Product Marketing Life brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. This week, I'm joined by Mark Assini, Product Marketing Manager at Voices, and we're going to be discussing product marketing in a two-sided market. Thanks for joining us, Mark.

Mark Assini  0:14

Hey Emma, thanks for having me.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:15

So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Voices?

Mark Assini  0:19

Yeah, sure thing. So outside of work, I'm very lucky to be the father of a toddler and a newborn. My wife and I of five years just welcomed our second little guy two months ago. So we're very happy and excited about that.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  0:31

Oh, congratulations!

Mark Assini  0:32

Thank you. Yeah. If you take a look back at work, though, as you mentioned, I'm a product marketing manager at Voices. For anyone who hasn't heard of Voices before we're an online creative services marketplace that connects advertisers, marketers, and producers to voice actors, audio producers, musicians, and translators.

We do that by matching them based on the specific needs of the clients’ project, and the unique skills of the creative talent. In terms of what I do as a product marketing manager at Voices, I'm actually one of three. And each of us is assigned a specific product team to support whether that's with feature releases or communicating to customers about said feature releases, we each have our own product lane that we operate within.

But then outside of that, we each have our own product marketing niche. So my niche is competitive and market intelligence. But then we also collaborate on a variety of product marketing initiatives, things like go-to-market, positioning, messaging, we work as a team on those larger-scale things.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  1:29

So for anyone who doesn't know, can you explain what a two-sided marketplace is?

Mark Assini  1:33

Yeah, definitely. A two-sided marketplace is essentially an online platform that matches and connects buyers to sellers so some kind of value can be exchanged between both parties.

Typically, the marketplace makes money by charging a fee to the sellers based on a percentage of that value. In the context of Voices, we connect clients to talent - so the clients are obviously the ones looking to procure that creative service or deliverable, and the talent are the ones offering and creating it. Then we charge a platform fee to our talent.

If you look more broadly, though, there are really two types of platforms out there, there are transaction platforms and those are what most two-sided marketplaces find themselves under. Those are the ones that, again, monetize through charging a percentage of a transaction. Those are your Ubers, your Airbnb, and of course, like I said, Voices.

Then you have innovation platforms, those are the ones that essentially build, again, a platform or a framework or the building blocks for other people to build and offer services on. So examples are Apple iOS, Google Android, and Amazon AWS. Those are all things I'm sure your listeners are very familiar with. So that's essentially what said marketplace is.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  2:49

Okay, so as a product marketer, how do you align interests on both sides in the market?

Mark Assini  2:54

Yeah, that's a tough one for sure. It's not always easy, because oftentimes, those interests don't always align. But we navigate it at Voices by working very closely with our product and leadership teams to identify customer problems and develop solutions to those problems, which is a standard approach for most product marketers, and product teams. And when we look at those solutions, we ensure that any solution we ultimately decide upon doesn't benefit one side of the marketplace at the expense of the other.

Obviously, there are times when some sides are disproportionately affected than the other but we try and do it in a way that minimizes that disproportionate effect. We want to ensure that any change or improvement we make is mutually beneficial.

So if you look just more specifically at what we do, as product marketers at Voices, it's really on us to explain what's in it for the affected side, and how that solution benefits either them or both sides, depending on the scenario. An example that we often do, is frame improvements to the client-side of the experience as having trickle-down effects on talent. An example would be, "Hey, we're gonna make changes to our job posting form" which is the primary way clients post their jobs and outline the things that they need from a potential talent.

But what that does is sure it makes the experience easier for clients but it also provides in often scenarios more information for the talent to provide the client with a better understanding of how that talent would tackle that specific job. So we're making the experience better for clients, but we're also providing a way for talent to give their prospective client more information and encourage them to hire them.

At Voices, like most two-sided marketplaces, we are demand constrained. So we grow fastest by actively seeking out more clients, which means more jobs. We tend to over-index on demand-side interests, things like client signups, activations and conversions, job postings, hire jobs, those are all the metrics that we want to optimize for that tend to push us in the direction of leaning towards those client interests that are going to positively affect those things.

But typically, if those metrics are trending positively as I said earlier, there are trickle-down effects for the talent. So if we're doing everything we can to make our clients’ lives easier and encouraging them to post more jobs it means more opportunities for our talent to make money.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  5:19

So how do content production and sharing work at a two-sided marketplace? Who are you ultimately targeting?

Mark Assini  5:25

Well, to be honest, at Voices as product marketers, we're really lucky. Our co-founder and CEO, he's really, I think, a marketer at heart. So even before product marketing was established as a function of voices, we had a dedicated content team and they are phenomenal. We have a content manager, a designer, a writer, as well as an audiovisual specialist. And they're all great.

They're all incredibly talented individuals. So when we look at how we leverage our content team, more broadly speaking, again, as I said earlier, we tend to target more so clients in our general marketing efforts, whether that's through demand-gen campaigns, or other marketing initiatives, again, because we are, like I said earlier, demand constrained.

But specifically within content, I actually asked our content manager, and she said that our written content is about 50/50 in terms of focus, video tends to be 75% talent-focused because they are a little bit more engaged with our marketplace, they tend to be the ones who are looking for more resources to either optimize their use of the marketplace to find more opportunities and earn more, as well as just become better creatives. Then we also produce some podcasts, almost all of which are talent-focused again, because the talent are much more engaged than our client.

Our clients are typically coming to our marketplace every couple of weeks or days to post a job to complete a larger creative project. Whereas our talent are logging in every single day to see what opportunities there are, and submit custom responses, and potentially get hired.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  7:06

Yeah. So can you talk us through some of the unique challenges of a two-sided market?

Mark Assini  7:46

Yeah, happy to. So I'll start with just looking more broadly at the general marketplace issues that most marketplaces need to solve for at some point in their existence, typically early on. Then I'll look more specifically at some of the issues we face at Voices.

So looking again, more broadly at marketplaces, I think the first one that any marketplace needs to solve, or one of the first ones is the chicken or the egg problem. That basically answers the questions of, how do we get, in our case talent, to sign up before there are jobs for them to work? Or how do we get clients to sign up before there is the talent to work their jobs?

You need both sides of the marketplace to be really chugging along to reach that critical mass where it's self-sustaining. But understanding where you need to focus your efforts first is one of the critical primary issues that any marketplace needs to solve for. Looking beyond that, just keeping work on the platform, obviously, the initial interaction ideally happens within our marketplace.

But just due to the nature of it being online, people are very creative in bypassing the marketplace systems we have in place to avoid things like the fees associated with working on the marketplace. So we have to build in controls and policies and clever design to ensure that we keep as much work on the platform as possible. Lastly, there's this concept of multi-homing. That's a harder one to solve for, just because there are so many marketplace solutions out there across a variety of industries.

Even if you look at food delivery services as a marketplace solution, there are upwards of five or six in any given geographic market. So each of those marketplaces has to figure out how do we get people on both sides of the marketplace to want to use us exclusively or more so than the others? That's a constant battle. On the Voices side of things there's really again, three unique ones I'll just briefly touch on.

One is educating clients in some of the creative industry-specific nuances that if they're hiring a creative professional for the first time, they might not be aware of. An example that comes up often is usage - ensuring that our clients understand when they use the creative deliverable they're paying the talent for, they understand when, if they do need to renew, how they should be paying the talent, how they should be aware of when it's time to renew, so on and so forth. And that's something that if you've never worked with, let's say, a voice actor before, you just wouldn't know.

Another challenge that we face is this concept of increasing the supply. So we talked earlier about the chicken and the egg and ensuring that we're managing both the supplies of our demand and sell-side.

But when you increase the supply of talent, you also want to make sure you're maintaining a certain level of quality. That's really critical to our success at Voices, we hear from clients time and time again that they come to our marketplace because the quality of our voice actors really far and away exceeds their experiences elsewhere. And obviously, the more people you let in, the harder it becomes to monitor that quality.

Quantity and quality don't always have the friendliest of relationships. We need to ensure that as quantity increases, quality is consistently maintained as well. Lastly, another interesting one is just balancing pricing being competitive for clients, because again, typically our clients are coming from industries or workplaces where budgets are tight, or they've got a specific budget in mind, and they need to work within it.

But at the same time, we want to make sure that our talent are being paid fairly for their work. We really want to make sure that we're not in any way putting downward pressure on job pricing because we want to make sure that clients are getting the work that they are able to afford, that is the quality they come to expect but also talent are taking home the money that they feel is fair for the amount of effort they're putting into the job.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  11:38

Absolutely. So can you talk us through some of the benefits of being a product marketer in a two-sided market?

Mark Assini  11:45

For sure, there are honestly so many. I've tried to highlight my top three. As I kind of alluded to, in a variety of the questions you asked earlier, it's a great time to get into the marketplace space, there are marketplaces exploding really all over right now across a variety of industries. Some of the world's biggest companies are built on these marketplace platforms, and there are new ones popping up all the time.

So you really have the opportunity as a product marketer to say I want to work at this startup marketplace that I think is really doing something unique or creative, or something different. Or you can pursue an opportunity with one of those bigger, more established marketplaces, and have that big brand recognition on your resume.

There's a lot of opportunities there and typically, these marketplaces tend to really see the value of product marketing as a function, and how that plays into the strategic growth of said marketplace and the overall organization. You're kind of spoiled for choice in a way, which is great.

The second benefit I'd highlight is just, as I said earlier, competition is so intense, and some people might look at that and think that's kind of scary for a product marketer to have to manage that. But what I think it allows you to do is really be creative and push yourself to try different ways to be different.

Because these marketplaces typically are built on the same core transaction or core interaction between either side of the market, you are limited, I shouldn't say limited, but you have to be creative about how you differentiate yourself, whether that's through the features your product team is developing, and then you're helping them kind of uncover as a product marketer, or in the way you positioning the message yourself.

That's one of the challenges that I find most exciting is how do we stand out amongst this crowd of - specifically in the freelance marketplace space - 10s of players that are all trying to fight for client and talent attention? Which I think is really neat. Lastly, there's a lot of variety, again, because you're trying to solve problems on both sides of the marketplace no day is really the same.

I know that's something that I've heard in previous guests you've had on this podcast, about how there really is no typical product marketers day, no two days are alike and I can honestly say that is very much the same within the marketplace space, which I personally love. I've never been a product marketer in my role within a marketplace and thought, "Man, I'm bored. This is boring" my work is genuinely challenging and different every single day, which I think is fantastic.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  14:22

So when you're marketing to two very different audiences, buyers and sellers, how do you prioritize their needs as a product marketer?

Mark Assini  14:30

Yeah, it's definitely a balancing act at times, when we think of needs, they're typically related to an unsolved problem. So they've identified this need because they're looking to solve a problem they're facing or pursue an opportunity that they see in front of them.

We typically let the business and the marketplace health metrics, some of which I mentioned earlier, dictate where and how we prioritize addressing those problems. If we see maybe the number of posted jobs are on a downward trend, which fortunately at Voices is not the case, but if that were the case, we might be able to uncover a specific need of our client that we're not currently fulfilling, and they're taking their jobs elsewhere as a result.

We really look at those, like I said, business and marketplace health metrics to navigate us. Then we leverage our product and UX research team to really interpret those metrics and balance them against the qualitative feedback we get from our customers through interviews. Again, I said earlier, I'm really lucky at Voices as a product marketing manager to have a phenomenal content team. We're also supported by an incredible product and UX research team.

They're really good at uncovering some of those needs and translating them back to the root problem at hand. And then identifying a potential solution and working with us to then articulate that solution to our customers so that it ties back to that original need, which again, makes my life that much easier. Lastly, one thing that I think we really started investing the time and effort in at Voices is monitoring what our competitors are doing.

Typically, if your competitors are moving or behaving in a certain way, or launching specific features, or highlighting different features, or values that they weren't previously, it indicates to me as a product marketer that maybe they've uncovered a need that we weren't either previously aware of, or that their customers have signaled to them being like, "Hey, help us solve this problem".

So that's another way we balance those needs is like, what are our competitors doing? What needs are our competitors addressing? And how can we do that for our customers if there is a connection between the two?

Emma Bilardi - PMA  16:38

So with this kind of business model, there must be a pretty heavy focus on user behavior, something notoriously difficult to predict, so how do you track user behavior at Voices to improve the experience for both the actors and the people looking to hire the voice talent?

Mark Assini  16:53

Yeah, so fortunately at Voices, we've got a great group of not only people - some of the teams I mentioned earlier - but also, we've invested in the tools to make that much easier. We look at user behavior indicators being tracked by tools like Heap, LaunchDarkly, Google optimized for a B testing, and then like I said, we have our UXR team doing customer interviews. Then we look at, again, some of those business metrics and indicators.

So I mentioned some of the client-sided ones, so the number of jobs being posted, the number of jobs being hired, etc. But then on the talent side, we're looking at things like talent balance. Are talent making a return on not only their financial investment in our marketplace but also their time investment? How long is it taking them to get hired, whether it's between jobs or their first job? And then what is their booking ratio? How many times are they having to respond to jobs before they're ultimately hired? We also, again, have an incredible in-house analytics team and they leverage Tableau to track those metrics.

Then product marketing in conjunction with our UXR team, sends out some automated get feedback surveys that go out at varying times during the customer journey, to ensure we're collecting the right feedback that is helping us identify how that user behavior could be changing, or could be improved upon, or altered through future product updates, or feature releases, etc. Lastly, again, I said it earlier in the previous question, we're looking at competitor and market trends.

We recently signed an agreement with Crayon to really help us in that area of competitive intelligence, which is an area that I think historically, Voices was aware of being a priority but really, since product marketing has been brought into the fold, has really increased in, let's say, awareness within the org of being something that's really important for us to actually invest the time and effort and we've got a great partner in Crayon to help us do that. Then I think just keeping eyes on the larger freelance industry, given the nature of freelance work, there's a lot of obviously government regulations potentially happening. There's a lot of conversations around freelancer rights and benefits.

So we, as a product marketing team, and as a larger organization need to understand how those market trends could impact our own user behavior. Could talents be telling client, "Hey, I want to change to the agreement so that I'm protected in this scenario", or how do we have to update our own terms of service to protect our users and us as an organization that facilitates those transactions? There are a lot of ways we monitor user behavior, and they all help us uncover different insights and things we need to be aware of.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  19:43

Yeah. So how do you foster a network of feedback from both sides? And how important is that feedback?

Mark Assini  19:50

It's definitely incredibly important. I don't think any product marketer would sit here and say that feedback isn't of the utmost importance, especially from customers. I would say at Voices fostering feedback from our talent is pretty easy. As I referenced earlier, our talent because they're so engaged in our marketplace, and they're really logging in almost every day are almost banging down our doors to tell us how we can improve, which, as a product marketer, and with our product and UXR teams is a great thing to have.

I wouldn't say problem, it's a great experience to have. I think the challenges then become how do we balance our feedback against, as I said, some of those business and health metrics, and how do we prioritize how we address that feedback? But I'd rather have too much feedback and need to prioritize it than not enough at all.

On the client-side, it's a little bit harder again, because obviously, we're solving an important problem for them, which is procuring those creative services to help them complete their creative projects. But it's not necessarily, depending on the client, fundamental to their day-to-day job. It could be a smaller part of a larger creative project that maybe they're working on for this week or this month, and then they're on to something else that doesn't have the same dependence on their creative service. So they're just not as forthcoming.

But the clients from who we do get feedback are incredibly insightful, and the feedback they provide us is always helpful to us. We do that in a number of different ways. Like I said earlier, our UXR team conducts interviews regularly, whether that's on a potential upcoming feature, or maybe a potential change to our marketplace experience that we want to investigate further.

We do those automated surveys, we also started doing pre-launch feedback sessions with some of our more engaged, especially talent community, for things that we think might either positively or potentially change the experience of our talent on our marketplace. So that as a product marketing team, when we ultimately go to market with that feature, we are better prepared to address potential objections or answer questions that we might otherwise, as an internal team, been aware of prior to the feature going to launch.

Lastly, we have feedback@voices.com which is an email our product team set up recently just to basically collect feedback from our customers on either side, have it sent directly to a Slack channel that they then translate into an Asana ticket that documents that feedback, and or problem or opportunity so that we just are better tracking it through various channels.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  22:28

Okay, so we like to end the show on an actionable advice note, so my final question is, do you have any tips or advice for anyone looking to join a product marketing team in a two-sided market?

Mark Assini  22:42

For sure. There are really two pieces of advice. I think the first one's a no-brainer and I'm also gonna put in a bit of a PMA plug here as well. But it's having strong product marketing fundamentals.

Take advantage of the sheer volume of resources offered by the PMA, whether that's written content, podcasts such as this one, some of the courses that the PMA is rolling out over the past several weeks, really pursue those opportunities, and really just be a sponge for that information. I would say be engaged in the larger PMA community. I found out about the PMA through, I don't know how I landed on the page, but through the Slack community.

It's really been a game-changer for me, it's really not only reinvigorated my interest and passion for product marketing but also just connected me to product marketers that I otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to chat with. When I started Voices, I was the solo product marketing manager for a time, we've since brought on a second product marketing manager and are leveraging another internal member to be part-time PMM to fill that third spot.

But without that Slack community, I would really have had no one to bounce product marketing-specific ideas off of or get that feedback. So I would say definitely take advantage of those resources and build those fundamentals. Again, the two things I'll just quickly shout out is yeah, the PMA podcasts are fantastic. Also, the Sharebird podcasts, I'm a huge fan of those podcasts as well.

They've got some great content and hosts out there so shout out to the team over there for putting together some fantastic lessons. I guess the second bit of advice I would have is really understand the marketplace landscape. If you want to get a job at a marketplace platform company, whether it's transaction or innovation-based, it's important to really understand the nuances and dynamics of what a marketplace is and how it functions.

There's a couple of books I always recommend to people who ask me a similar question. There's Platform Revolution by Geoffrey Parker - that was really the first marketplace-specific or platform-specific book I ever read and it was hugely eye-opening just to really understand what makes a strong marketplace and how you can grow and really ignite your marketplace growth.  

I was able to draw immediate connections to the things I was doing as a product marketing manager of Voices, which was incredibly beneficial. There's also Matchmakers by David S. Evans, The Lean Marketplace by Juho Makkonen, and then lastly, Upstarts by Brad Stone, which really just tells the story of how Uber and Airbnb got off the ground. They're your prototypical or the poster children for two-sided marketplaces, whether that's for good reasons or bad.

But it's a really interesting story and there's a lot of parallels anyone looking to get into a marketplace opportunity or role as a product marketing manager can really uncover it and benefit from it. I would recommend knowing the industry, doing your research, but reading those books if you've got the time or the opportunity to.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  25:57

Yep. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mark Assini  26:00

Thank you so much for having me. This was great.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  26:02

Yeah, I'm so happy that you got so much value out of the Slack community as well. I definitely urge anyone listening to give that a go if you haven't already. Thank you so much.

Mark Assini  26:14

Thank you, Emma.

Emma Bilardi - PMA  26:15

Yeah, take care. Bye.

Written by:

Emma Bilardi

Emma Bilardi

Emma is a Manchester-based freelance writer. She's been writing for as long as she can remember, and in the last few years predominantly about product design.

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Product marketing life [podcast]: Mark Assini