Pradeep Chopra, CEO at Digital Vidya: Product Management is the heart of product and market information for Sales, Marketing, Development, Support, Finance, Management and other parts of the company. It acts as a guiding light for the company to create competitive products with limited resources. Product Management is a rigorous process that includes a large set of ongoing strategic responsibilities. In this interview, I spoke up with Shyamal Datta to know his views and significant approach towards Product Management.
Shyamal has 13 yrs of experience across IT organizations and Digital start-ups. He started his career in 2004 as a rookie Software Developer with CMC Ltd and then switched to IBM. Post-MBA in 2009, he started his journey in Product Management and had been part of Snapdeal, Firstcry, ABC Consultants in the past.
Currently, Shyamal is working as the Chief Product Manager with Jagran New Media (the digital wing of Dainik Jagran group) – his role is to improve the user experience and monetization of the digital properties.
How did you get involved in Product Management and what led you to become the expert you are today?
Shyamal Datta: Well, the fact is that I never planned to become a Product Manager. During MBA, my dream profile was Business Analyst – however in 2009, due to the global recession, the opportunities were scarce and I didn’t have too many options. One of my MBA buddies, Aayush Pahuja, was working with a Delhi based startup named iMarketing Advantage where there was a requirement of an Associate Product Manager. He referred me and after 4 rounds of interviews, I was hired. That’s how I was inducted into Product Management.
Over the next few years, I found that Product Management profession lies at the intersection of Technology & Marketing. Doing BTech in Computer Science and MBA in Marketing has helped me to better appreciate the role of a PM. Also, due to the nature of my father’s job, I have stayed in Metro cities, small cities and towns. Since the growth on the Internet is happening majorly in tier 2 and 3 cities now, I can relate to the needs and personalities of the people across various segments from my experience. And User Empathy is the biggest asset a Product Manager can have.
What are the biggest challenges you faced as a Product Manager? How did you overcome them?
Shyamal Datta: Before answering the question, I would like to mention about our job roles. In an online setup, PMs don’t do coding, designing, selling, editing or branding. However, we do one thing which no one is designated to do – representing the customer and solving his pain points. Our role is comparable with that of a Chef in a restaurant in the sense that both the roles are about creating a recipe which the users like. And then other teams come into action to implement the recipe ( to create a digital or physical product). Naturally, some of our biggest challenges are:
(i) Be the ultimate negotiator: As a Product Manager, one needs to balance conflicting views of different teams and find a solution which will move business metrics. Resorting to a data-driven decision is a great way of addressing conflict so that it’s not a war of opinions.
(ii) Keeping up with the change: Our profession demands that we update and upgrade ourselves regularly. One has to read a lot – books, blogs, white papers, industry trends to make a product which is relevant for the users and generates revenue for the organization
(iii) Dealing with multiple failures: This is the reality. We see way more bad days than good days in any given month. It’s important to keep a positive outlook as PMs interact with lots of intra and interdepartmental people. Any lack of enthusiasm is spread very rapidly among other teams. I am a great fan of having micro goals which are easy to taste the success of and motivate you to go for the next goal.
What’s your favourite way to stay up to date with the latest product management trends?
Shyamal Datta: Since PMs have many shared KRAs with Tech, Design, Sales, Marketing, Edit (for Media companies especially), I keep myself updated with various blogs. My habit of reading anything and everything has been very beneficial as one can learn to put ideas across subjects into practice. I keep a close watch on products by Google, Facebook, Amazon as they invest a lot in research and data-driven decisions.
However, the best way to learn about Product Management, in my opinion, is extensive use of tools like Google Analytics to analyze user behaviour and trends on your own site. It has given me the best learning so far – also, over time, this helps to build a judgement on what works and what doesn’t work.
Share a few words about your 3 favourite Product Management Case Studies.
(i) Amazon: They are undoubtedly the #1 customer-centric company in the whole world. Whatever they do, is prioritized basis customer benefits. The micro changes that they do on their websites which add value without disturbing user experience are something to learn.
(ii) New York Times: The way they came back from the ebb to become the champion of paid news content (Digital Subscription) has no parallel. It’s a perfect example of Editorial, Product and Technology teams working hand in hand.
(iii) Whatsapp: I will credit them for keeping Whatsapp simple to use. It’s a great temptation to integrate the product with Facebook and Messenger – however, they have proved that Less is actually More. In my opinion, Whatsapp, more than anyone else, has made consumption of Digital Content a mass phenomena.
What are the dos and don’ts you would want to share as a Product Manager?
Shyamal Datta: I personally view Product Management as a lubricant which ensures smooth functioning of all the departments and stakeholders. And as Product Management is a leveraged role, any fault in the lubrication system can cause the business to falter.
That’s why Product Managers need to ensure that they bring tangible benefits to the table and every department is better off with a product manager on board. Product Manager’s role is not a uniform one. Basis industry and business model, the tasks can change to a great extent. Still, there are some best practices which are followed in general.
(i) Do prioritize only basis business and user requirements
(ii) Do track and measure everything that you create
(iii) Do balance your short term and long term goals. Both are important.
(iv) Don’t try to create a perfect product. Iterate and improve.
(v) Don’t be a bottleneck in the system.
(vi) Don’t assume anything; validate, validate and validate!
Is there any link that you see between Product Management and Marketing?
Shyamal Datta: Like Marketing, even Product Management puts the end customer in the centre. Actually, Product Management is a specialized area in Marketing only. For best of Products, Marketing is not an afterthought but an integral part of it.
Do you think it’s important for businesses to learn and capitalize on Digital Marketing today?
Shyamal Datta: Marketing will follow the users wherever they go. If a significant chunk of people with purchasing power is spending 2-3 hrs daily over digital media, businesses can’t afford to miss the bus. It’s imperative that ALL businesses must consider digital marketing as one of the prime marketing channels.
Additionally, Digital Marketing has a lower entry barrier which is an opportunity for new entrants and threat for existing players. Due to exact measurability, it’s very popular for conversion driven campaigns. Also, Influencers are forming public opinion today via their social handles – so even for branding/awareness campaigns, marketers rely on the vitality of digital media.
If someone wants to enter into Product Management, would you recommend him to learn Marketing and especially, Digital Marketing?
Shyamal Datta: Aspirant PMs of any digital properties have to have a solid grasp of Digital marketing. The overlapping area is generally known as Product Marketing. Understanding of Digital Marketing areas like SEO, SEM, Social Media, Email/Mobile Marketing, Content Marketing, Analytics is critical for the success of any future Product Manager. It helps them to plan for the right campaign mix.
How do you see Digital Media evolving in future? What are the top 3 trends do you foresee for 2019?
Shyamal Datta: Digital Marketing started as a standalone Marketing platform which is highly measurable and ROI driven – and over time, integration is happening between all marketing channels. So the future definitely lies in reaching out to the Audience multiple times over multiple marketing channels like Print, Radio, Television OOH, and Digital. You will definitely see big brands measuring Customer Lifetime Value as a sum total of all channels in years to come.
Not exactly for 2019, as some of these trends have started getting noticed already – still, at the cost of being repetitive, I will mention these 3Vs as my bets:
(i) Vernacular: As 9 out of 10 new users on the Internet in India are consuming content in local languages, more and more digital content is being created in those languages. As far as digital advertisements are concerned, the mix is still biased towards English. This will change soon as vernacular ads are more local, targeted and yield higher returns.
(ii) Video: As a content format, Video is going to be essential for Marketers due to high engagement and interaction. Live video enables the users to consume the content instantly, whereas on-demand content focuses on the convenience of the user. A lot of TV advertising budgets will shift to Video advertising.
(iii) Voice: This is the area which has huge potential. With the gradual adoption of Voice searches and virtual assistants, it will only get hotter. And when the audience will be there, marketers will have to include Voice as an essential part of their strategy.
Would you like to share a few words about the work we are doing at Digital Vidya?
Shyamal Datta: Digital India has been taken as a theme by Govt of India and a lot of education on Digital Marketing is needed here to raise awareness. Digital Vidya is doing a fantastic job since 2009 to enable people to make a career in Digital Marketing. Also, your highly valued course content is relevant and taught by experts with industry experience. I wish Digital Vidya all the success and recognition.
Are you inspired by the opportunity of Digital Marketing? Start your journey by attending our upcoming orientation session on Digital Marketing for Career & Business Growth. It’s online and Free :).