Starting as one of Facebook’s interns to becoming a manager and leaving the social media giant as the vice president of design, Julie Zhuo has picked up a couple of lessons here and there.
Racking up years of experience as a manager and powerhouse leader, the former VP decided to write a Wall Street Journal bestseller called The Making of a Manager, a modern field guide to management packed everyday examples and transformative insights.
When we sat down with Zhuo, our conversation gravitated towards the power of marketing and design when creating a product. Here’s what the young cofounder has to say about portraying a compelling story.
With 11 years under her belt, Zhuo found that creating a compelling product it’s about understanding the roles of marketing and design. And not as two separate entities but one function.
The key idea is how these two departments work synchronously to find value in the product.
“I think about marketing as telling the story of what you’re doing and why it might be valuable for someone. I think both [marketing and design] influence the other because, at the end of the day, the constituent is that you’re thinking about the customer.”
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For Zhuo, the ubiquitous spread of technology starts with tapping into the human condition. People don’t care about the product, they care about how that product makes them feel.
“You’re trying to empathize with [the customers to] get in their heads understand what their psychology is. What do they want? What do they need? You want to know that so that you can tell them the compelling story about why your product might be a great fit for what they need.”
The key idea is to stop selling the product. Avoid sharing superficial sentiments with your customers because they can smell that from a mile away. Instead, connect with your audience through stories that stick with them beyond the product.
Now you have a compelling story, what now? For Zhuo, she found that even before building the product it’s a great exercise to exchange and work together on the content with both the marketing and design team.
“I always love this practice to write the press release or marketing brief because you want to know before building something how you will talk about it. If your story or brief isn’t compelling and doesn’t get people excited, then maybe you shouldn’t build this thing.”
“A lot of marketing’s work is trying to help us understand. What is that narrative? We’re telling what’s going to be compelling so that customers become directly influenced by the product.”
A second ritual that’s helped Zhuo create riveting stories with marketing and design is focusing on your landing page. That’s where the customers get their first impression of the company and what they stand for.
It’s straightforward in Zhuo’s mind: Prioritize on your brand’s candor. Companies that map out their brand strategy and consciously make the effort to understand their consumer’s feelings about their product carve out that competitive edge. For Zhuo, that means centering the product around an immersive experience.
“The brand is the impression that people have of your product and service. Whether they love it or whether they don’t, you want people to know how they feel about your brand.”
Flyers, ads, colors, or logos — the customer will form their impression of the product through the most minute details, according to Zhuo. To create that epic experience for the user, marketing and design have to be married.
“Product designers will say, ‘I’m not a brand person.’ No, the product that you’re building is going to be 80% of what people take away as the brand. They have to be completely linked in that manner.”
Here were Zhuo’s three grab-and-go advice for when marketers and designers are jamming out to ideas.
Think of marketing and design as a marriage. Mixing your marketing and design strategies will create the best and most compelling experience for the user.
Before creating the product, take a step back and understand what you’re trying to communicate to your audience. That’s where example mockups or a copy can guide your team in the right direction.
No detail is too small. Everything matters. From logos to color palettes to banners, users will quickly form an impression of the product you’re serving. So, design an epic experience.
So, what’s next for Zhuo? With years of product design experience under her belt, the former Facebook VP wants to bestow her wisdom and knowledge to others in the industry. Zhuo and long-time colleague, Chandra Narayanan, are building Inspirit and Sundial.
Inspirit is an advisory firm to help other startups, and Sundial is a tool to scale and track that success. In essence, Zhuo and Narayanan want to work deeply with companies on their biggest challenges.
“If we’re successful, we’ll be enabling many other companies across the world to fulfill their mission and make better decisions for their business. Hopefully, build better products for people because ultimately [that’s] the thing that matters.”