Ana Andres del Valle, Principal Solutions Architect at Twilio, preaches the power of communication. She maintains that products are becoming less and less about what they are, but more about the experience that they enable. Communications stand at the heart of this enablement.

If you want to build a great product and transform your product marketing, you need to have this nailed down.

The bigger picture

"Take a bottle of Coca-Cola, a MacBook and a Tesla car. What do these products have in common?

The companies that created these products were not thinking about the object they wanted to create or the service they were putting together.

They were thinking about the broader experience the customers were going to have within the service.

CocaCola would sponsor events, encourage people to go to concerts where the drink itself was served. The time spent drinking would be a memorable one.

Apple has been very good at creating a product that does that too. It sells the feeling, sells the ownership of the brand. It creates a unique experience surrounding the product.

alone together
Photo by Matt Reiter / Unsplash

For tech companies, especially for those that have been founded in the past 15 years, trying to provide this ‘unique experience’ has become an obsession. Tesla maintained that they wanted to be the first to create the one and only electric car.

Their core business is about being different.

Then we have Uber. The concept relied on building a platform that provides affordable rides across the city in a way that nobody else has done before.

50 years ago, people's obsessions centered around buying material items. A house, a car, clothes. To have material wealth surrounding you equated to personal success.

But, things have changed. Millennials have completely different values.

They prioritize the environment, they value fairness. There is research, too, that proves that buying or collecting ‘things’ doesn't necessarily make us happy.

What actually makes us happy is doing things.

So, it's a challenge. We’re moving away from a mentality where you're only producing a service or a ‘thing’. Now, you also have to focus on the experience your consumers are going to have with your product once they are on board.

So, where to start?

Every time you create a product,  ensure it is backed by the most suitable avenues of communication.

It has never been as easy to stay connected. It plays a pivotal part of how we exist today.

One-way communication is also gaining traction. But how many one-way emails and text messages do each of us receive on a daily basis? And how many of these do we ignore?

It proves important to be as close as you can to your customers. They must be within touching distance because you should allow them to connect with you, and they will then share this connection with their friends and family.

Try to pave these communicative pathways bigger than they ever have been and, as a result, allow yourself a wider reach for your product.

But, not all companies are well equipped to do that, and this is where things can start to head South. Even if you have created the most amazing product, but you have not invested in secure and useful communications, you’re going to have, as a consequence, terrible experiences for your customer.

We’ve all been there. You get a delivery message. You forgot you ordered those shoes last week.

Example of a product delivery message.

You wait a moment. You wait a bit longer. You wait even longer. Still, nothing happens.

Frustratedly, you think, why did the company even send me the message?

It's so easy to let your customers down. It's so easy to break the trust that has cost so much to create. It can happen in just a matter of seconds. At Twilio we know that. We also understand that it's not actually a simple matter to build these communication flows.

Overcoming the tech challenges

10 years ago, we took a long, hard think about the complexity of the hardware. We took all the telecom networks and put a layer of software on top of it, so that any company or any product could embed communications into the way they interact with customers.

On this journey, we have supported companies that have created, scaled or operated communications with their product.

We now have very complex pieces of technology at the hands of Developers and Product Managers that create differing experiences.

Building these experiences is not easy. We understand that not everybody is an Engineer.  So, we make it simple for Product Managers. We use plug and play tools and other ways that you can build proof of concept to start testing how the technology reacts and how people then react to that.

What technology is making the difference?

Three words: Leveraged Artificial Intelligence.

There's a lot of power there. There's the possibility of creating amazing tools using machine learning.

More or less, by the end of 2020, 80% of all businesses will have some kind of chatbot automation put in place.

When I'm calling Tesla,  I don't really care if it's a machine or it's a person, as long as I get exactly what I want. And this is the key.

Plus, it is important to remember that not everybody is the same. Not everybody likes to be contacted the same way.

We understand that when you're putting together a way of exchanging with a customer, it might prove useful to mix different channels. You do not have to force your customers to speak to you in a certain way. But, you can let them come and discuss with you in any of the channels they prefer.

Backed up with analytics and data gathering, you can have all this in one single place so that not only can you enable those discussions, but also learn from them. You can look to improve how your business works and gauge a deeper understanding of why it's important to talk to your customer.

It really is just the beginning."

Key questions

"Any recommendations of the most effective communication methodologies or tools for platform products to be used by internal developers or product managers?

Normally, they tend to separate communications in two ways: external communications to the external world (customer engagement, support marketing). Then internally, to manage your own teams.

It is my firm belief that for internal tools, you should use something that actually works.  I'm not going to give brands and I'm not going to tell you what to use. You need to understand the dynamics of your team, because that's how you end up with one tool over another.

There's no one single solution for a Product Manager. It's all about the culture of your company. And you need to find a tool that matches that. If you're a startup of 50 people, your tools are not going to be the same as if you work in a bank with 5000."

"How much adoption have you had from brands using WhatsApp?"

"Millions. They can’t get enough of it. They love WhatsApp because of the lack of friction in exchanging messages. And the fact that it is used (almost) worldwide. However, I must admit that Facebook doesn't make it easy.  In the process of creating your product, you're going to have to be patient because there's a long administrative process.  But, Facebook puts it in place for a good reason. They don't want WhatsApp to be a marketing tool. They just want it to be a communications tool."

"In the era of chatbots, people value the human approach more than ever, what are your thoughts?"

"Yes, I do want a human that can answer my requests. It often feels like a personal touch when you have a person on the end of the phone. But, there are many occasions where I don't want to call anybody. Sometimes I just want the answer. If I can find it with a Google search, I will.

It's about understanding and getting right that combination of context and content. Calling somebody just to be answered, 'I'm sorry, but I don't know. I have to pass you to somebody else', is not going to add much value."

"What is your number one recommendation for B2C subscription business for creating strong user onboarding?"

"One thing that most companies don't ask of the customer during the onboarding process is their context. They fail to understand who exactly is onboarding, what they require, what documentation they have, what experience they have.  Shaping their onboarding experience based on shared knowledge from the very beginning will ultimately create less friction.

But, If I knew how to seamlessly do this, I would have a product out there and I would always have sold it. You don't want to start invading too much and asking too much up front. There is a trade off that has to be made."

Ana Andres del Valle started her career in technology research and subsequently  founded her own startup. She facilitates product managers to create amazing experiences and great products with the help of Twilio.