To Achieve Agility, XO Group's Marketing and Product Teams Are Joined at the Hip
Executive Vice President, Marketing
XO Group—a lifestage media company that operates properties The Knot, The Nest and The Bump—has spent the past two years transforming its content and products into mobile-first marketplaces that, for example, connect people who are planning weddings with wedding professionals. Dhanusha Sivajee, XO Group’s executive vice president of marketing, spoke with eMarketer’s Bryan Yeager about how her team is achieving closer alignment and collaboration with its product team, as well as key attributes she looks for when hiring new talent.
eMarketer: How have your marketing and product teams evolved to support your company’s transformation from media company into marketplace?
Dhanusha Sivajee: [To accomplish] our transformation into a marketplace and our company goals, both product and marketing are joined at the hip. We actually have lined up KPIs [key performance indicators] and organized ourselves into squads whereby marketers, product leads and engineers are all working collectively on key product areas and company goals.
eMarketer: Is your marketing team adopting some of the principles and practices found in agile development methodology used by your product teams as a result of this evolution?
Sivajee: [Agile processes are] something that traditionally marketers haven’t always had to think about, right? They’ve all thought about, “OK, I’ve got the product, here’s the data. We’re launching. Here’s the campaign I’m putting in place, and then off we go.” I don’t think [the team] was as used to thinking about the ability to change homepage copy on the go, or changing user experiences after a week. That is something that this marketing team has certainly enjoyed, but it takes a lot to get it into people’s mindset.
“I don’t think [the team] was as used to thinking about the ability to change homepage copy on the go, or changing user experiences after a week.”
I think it’s a great thing for marketing, but it does take time to get those teams aligned. It means that areas that were traditionally more marketing-led—that use homepage or landing page copy or messaging as an example—now also have product influence.
eMarketer: How has it changed how marketing and product work?
Sivajee: You see marketers and product leads really thinking about the user experience holistically, which means product folks have to be open to marketers giving them insights on user experience. On the flip side, marketers now have to understand that product leads can see how users are reacting to messaging in real time. Bringing those two teams together and really collaborating has been great to see.
eMarketer: What characteristics or skill sets are you looking for when hiring new people to maintain and enhance your marketing agility?
Sivajee: I like to bring in people that very naturally wear that CEO hat. I don’t want marketers who just deliver creative and campaigns that acquire and engage. I want marketers who understand the overarching business objectives of the company and then focus on developing creative solutions.
In other words, it’s about hiring folks who understand that it might not be their specific discipline that is going to get the job done, but [it requires] an open and holistic mindset to figure out the best channel, the best tactic and the best user experience.
eMarketer: What other skill sets do you expect marketers to have?
Sivajee: Another key characteristic is being well-versed in product and tech language. That doesn’t mean I need marketers to be able to code, but I need them to understand the practices and disciplines of how product and tech think. All too often in bigger traditional media companies, you have these big silos between product and marketing. You can’t get anything done because neither speaks the other’s language.
They really need to be speaking one language. Who is the user? What’s the user experience that’s going to move the needle for us?
This is probably more of a traditional answer, but I think it’s also very important: I absolutely need marketers who are data- and insights-driven. There is nothing that happens here that doesn’t start from some sort of a data point or user insight, whether it’s coming behaviorally off of what we’re seeing on our mobile products and platforms or whether it’s happening more through attitudinal research and surveys.
“Marketers are starting to become chief experience officers, and also chief data officers.”
eMarketer: As a senior marketer, what are your top priorities for the next year or two?
Sivajee: I think the evolution is going to continue as we learn more about how consumers come in and use our marketplace, which is very much going to be tied to continuing to find ways to engage users throughout their journey and help them find and book just the right wedding pro.
Marketers are starting to become chief experience officers, and also chief data officers. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the insights and data to try to bring people into the “journey.” Over the next year or two, I’ll be getting more into the world of systems and understanding where that data lives so I can use it to inform the decisions that we’re making.