Fostering a Strong Product and Marketing Partnership with Trello Head of Marketing, Stella Garber

Every few weeks we host talks with Product and Marketing experts to discuss strategies, tactics, and pro-tips they use to ship great products. The events are a chance to ask today's leading Product Managers and Marketers about whatever is on your mind — from go-to-market, to team composition, to coordinating your next launch.

These talks and AMAs are for members of the Launch Awesome community, the go-to-place to learn, discuss, and connect with Product and Marketing leaders that want improve how their companies launch new products and features. Our goal is to create a space where the next generation of Product and Marketing leaders can come up together.

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Or read the transcript of some of the highlights:

Question: Can you recall on a tactical level which other marketing functions or marketing roles you brought in? And in what order and kind of how you thought through the progression of that team?

Stella: "Yeah, definitely. So I would preface by saying that at startup you really want to hire generalists. And the way that I think about it is that maybe a person is really good at one specific area, but they can do anything else almost just as well. And so the first hire that we had was a content person and I would put brand with that as well. We weren't doing traditional brand marketing in the sense of running ads or doing big paid campaigns, but brand was a huge part of why Trello was successful. And I would put SEO and brand under that and then PMM and then Sales Enablement. And then I think at Atlassian we became more well rounded in the sense that we never had like an analyst for the marketing team, a dedicated analyst before the acquisition because we didn't have any analysts actually I think at all.

We had just started building out our data team and so we would try to grab one data engineers time. And so it was really nice to be able to have more, more functions. Like, one other thing I'll mention is we also focused a lot on PR in the early days of Trello, but that was something that we outsourced."

Question: We had a great question around implementing process as startups grow and curious, that's always a trade off... do you add too much process or not have enough? And how do you kind of balance being structured and documenting the right things with moving fast and being scrappy and would love if you could share just sort of tactically, what were some of the nuts and bolts of processes, meetings, tenants of the marketing team that you put into place, and maybe how did those changes along the way? And what do you think was most helpful looking back?

Stella: "Well, I'm a huge fan of process. It's no wonder that I ended up being in project management because I'm a very Type A personality. At the same time, though, you have to be very flexible because things are just always dynamic and changing, and so it's great to have a process but also to have the flexibility to change that process fairly easily. The other thing is I was hired remotely from the beginning and we had a small office in New York, but we ended up growing the company as a distributed team. We wanted to dog food our own product because we were a project management tool that helped teams collaborate. So some of the things that we did early on, when the marketing team was a team of three, we would meet at least once or twice a week.

One thing that we did that was really important from the early days was to have a private Slack channel where we built our own sort of culture within the marketing team and have a kind of a safe haven where we could just, without judgment, share content and ideas and thoughts. One thing that we learned early on is that different teams use communication tools and collaboration tools differently. So we started a tradition where I think maybe once a quarter or once every six months, we had a working document of what our communication style and preferences were as a team.

We had a rule that if something took more than like two minutes to explain that you would hop into a Zoom and talk in video because there's so much more empathy and understanding that can come from a video conversation. We also had rules around overlap hours, so we overlap between twelve and four Eastern time, and the expectation was that if anyone was going to have a meeting, it would be between those hours and any other time. You were not expected to be available for a meeting. You could do deep work. My team also instituted really early on focus days Tuesdays and Thursdays, no meetings because you can be in Slack all day and feel like you're working, but you're actually not getting anything done. And some of the other processes that we instituted, we had a Trello board for all of our meetings that had an agenda that anyone could add to it. You would never show up to a meeting without an agenda.

You also were very critical about any sort of regular cadence of meetings so we definitely had our one we called it the club marketing meeting that was once a week where we would share things that we were working on and I sort of helped as the leader craft what the agenda look like some other things that were really great culturally for our team. We had a thing called Fuck Up Fridays where we would say something that we failed at this week and we would celebrate failure and normalize failure which I think is really important and then we also did a thing at the end of our team meetings where we gave kudos to each other and that's how we ended the team meeting where it was like, thank you to Blake for helping me with this design thing like I was completely lost and he really stepped up and it just helped recognize our teammates and that we were working all together."

Question: And speaking of the product team, we had a lot of questions about working with product teams, a lot of our audience is at that intersection of product teams and product marketing. And curious, how did the product and product management organization scale sale alongside marketing and your team? And then how did you manage that relationship?

Stella: "Yes, I am very close with our head of product, Justin, and we would be very collaborative from the beginning, and that was the basis of the relationship. We never really, like had a conversation of where product ends and marketing begins. I think that is a big part of Trello, too. Like, the whole brand experience is consistent from the very moment that you come onto the landing page. Throughout every interaction. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that there wasn't a lot of, oh, this is a product thing or oh, this is a marketing thing.

It was like we're going to work together to make this the best possible experience. And once we started having many product managers and many PMS, we added layers of structure on top of that.

The first thing was defining, what does the PMM do? What does the PM do? What does the designer do? The thing that was important, though, was for the PMs and for everyone to understand how important marketing was. And I think we did a really good job of educating everyone on those teams about the fact that, hey, you guys are doing this amazing work. We need to get this out in a way that's that our users will get excited about it. And what's the story behind it and what are the assets that are going to tell the story? And how can we do this in a way that fits in with Trello's brand? I think that was the overall thinking."

Stella: "First of all, remote work does not mean no face time. In fact, it's the opposite. It means that face time is so important. However, you have a limited amount of it. Right? Like you have an off site maybe once a quarter, maybe once every six months or whatever, maybe a whole company annual offsite. But how are you going to use that time to build relationships? And my team members have some of the strongest relationships. We've been at each other's weddings.

We're friends outside of work. So that's a really important thing is to have offsites. And I would say that the offsite should be more focused on building social connection than doing any sort of work related stuff. At Trello, we had an annual team off site where all we did was hang out. Like one of my favorite memories, we went to Puerto Rico and we went kayaking in the moonlight. And we had one work thing that we were going to do that day, and we drove by a go karting track in our CEO was like, no, turn the bus around, we're going go karting face time is really important."

Question: What are you remote tips especially as it relates to making great products and getting it into the hands of the right people?

Stella: "Some of the other things I think are having really defined processes because what's happening in an office environment is that people show up and there are a lot of cues. What time do people get there? What time do people have lunch? When is it okay to be away from your computer? What time do people leave? And in a remote working environment, you have to be much more vocal about what the norms and cultural practices are. I think that you also have to be really respectful of people's time, especially people who are working in positions that require a lot of creative or deep work. And so these folks right now who are in back to back meetings all day like that is a very unsustainable way of working remotely. And it's not going to be the way that we're long term working remotely. I can tell you that. I think it's up to leaders to set the example of, hey, I'm blocking 2 hours in my calendar for focus time, and that's when I'm going to knock out these strategic priorities.

And if you schedule a meeting on top of that, I'm not going to be there. I'm just not.

So I think that's really important. I think the next really big thing that folks need to figure out is the balance of synchronous time. So time spent in meetings or on Slack and the asynchronous time, that's the future of remote work. "

Question: Talia from Airbyte asks, how do you approach getting updates on really small deployments that even the product team might not know about? Do you make the responsibility of product or just deprioritize certain types of product changes when it comes to communicating with users?

Stella: "Yeah, what we did was we had a channel in Slack called #changelog and the engineers would post whenever things got updated. And so I think there were product folks and PMMs who had their eyes on that channel, and we would make a list of things that all had a theme around them that we could share in a blog post. The smaller things can give the power users some fodder to keep them engaged. I think the real big opportunity for marketers is to take those small changes, which may not be important to a lot of people, and figure out how to tell the story to a certain segment of the user base that will get really excited about it."

Blake: "Yeah, I think that's such a great lesson and a great reminder that as product marketers, it doesn't have to be an either or thing, too. We're obviously at LaunchNotes we're big advocates of communicating often about the product changes that are happening. But that doesn't mean you don't as marketers find opportunities to bundle those into bigger narrative and bigger moments and strategically make a lot of noise when the time is right in the sort of bigger channels and bigger brand splash kind of ways, too. So there's kind of a way to live in both those worlds I think."

Question: We've got Rahul from asking getting accurate timelines from engineering product design can be tough sometimes, which makes planning and announcing product features a little difficult. Any tips or tricks on how to make sure or launches happen on time and go smoothly?

Stella: "We've got Rahul from asking getting accurate timelines from engineering product design can be tough sometimes, which makes planning and announcing product features a little difficult. Any tips or tricks on how to make sure or launches happen on time and go smoothly? What a slipping timeline!? That has never happened. Those engineers, they always ship on time, right?"

Blake: "Yeah, I've never heard of this. This must be a hypothetical."

Stella: "Well, the reality is I talked to a lot of teams and this is it, guys. It's always a bit of a shit show, and there's always a bit of, like, uncertainty about when things happen.

And so one thing that I've learned over the years is, number one, obviously, you have to be flexible.

But number two, I think that when you are announcing things, they don't have to be 100% available to everybody when you're making the announcement. And you can also decouple sort of the product launch part of it, from the marketing launch part of it, and also even from the PR launch part of it. In an ideal world, we would try to have everything be connected, but a lot of companies and you can see this from larger companies where there's a lot more complexity in their product announcements, where they'll say things like, and this will be available within the next few weeks or something like that.

So in the ideal scenario, there's some timeline that everybody is really moving towards, and maybe there's a day or two of flexibility there, but obviously with something like a press embargo, there's not. So I think the most important part of all of this is communication and having the relationships with your engineering and product teams where they understand what's at stake, and that it is a big deal to move something a day or two."

Blake: "Yeah, that's really great advice. I think all product teams and product marketers especially should take to heart. It can be so easy to get stuck in this thinking of, like everything is behind one switch: your marketing, your comms, your brand, your updates, the features, the support, the sales enablement. You can and should sort of tier that out in smart ways. And like you said, look at big companies. Look at the way Apple does iPhone announcements months before iPhones are on the shelves. Or we talked about Tesla, the way they'll announce new vehicles and have waiting lists going into new rollouts like you can and should get creative, especially with modern tools like feature flags.

And even frankly, what we're doing with LaunchNotes, you can be a lot more tactical and exercise some finesse with launch roll outs. It's not one day, one shot kind of thing."

Question: We've got Chris from asking what were the three most impactful product / marketing plays Stella ran at Trello? Big question.

Stella: "That is a big question so I'll blow through a few...I don't know if they were the most important.

I definitely think the investing in the relationships that is key. I mean, you just got to do it.

User generated content was always really big with Trello and thinking about ways that, for example, we use public boards to share more ways that Trello used.

Brand was really big with Trello. Our brand was all about user delight and fun. And we had really fun little Easter eggs throughout the product that people were really obsessed with. One example of that is that our newsletter and I think to this day comes from Taco, who was our spokes Husky. And people would always be like, Who's Taco? Why am I getting an email from Taco? And that was part of the fun was figuring out who Taco was.

One overall big strategy for us in unlocking user growth was making it as easy as possible for people to use Trello. So removing a lot of the boundaries. For example, we were pretty early to be a best in class mobile app for our category. And that was something that we weren't really like monetizing directly. It was more that people use Trello on the go. We want them to and we're going to be available wherever you are.

Some of the other examples of that were we internationalized the product into 21 different languages fairly early on, and that was a fun marketing situation where we were doing global localized marketing with a team of like four. But the whole idea was that again, you can use Trello. There's no like language boundary to using Trello wherever you are. And I think that those were some things that really helped our loop of user growth over time. Our vitality you'd say."

Question: What would you say is the number one frustration that happens between product and marketing teams? How would you solve it?

Stella: "That's a great question. I get this all the time. And I think the thing is that people don't understand what marketing does, like people think that marketing is just paid ads or billboards, and that is just the tip of the iceberg for marketing. And even with product too I think that there's a lot of miscommunication about how product is developed and what those processes are like. And maybe there's frustration from the marketing side about how long things take.

And I really think this is the thing that I'm going to hammer into everyone's brain is that if you have good relationships, if you invest in getting to know your peers, getting to know their processes, getting to know them as humans, you build a lot of empathy.

And so when something does happen, that's really frustrating for you. You can lean on the fact that you have a lot of trust with these humans and you can work through the issue together instead of trying to be like, well this is marketing fault or hey, product is slipped on the timeline again."

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