4 Emerging Product Roles in 2019

When you think about digital product jobs, the well-known roles that come to mind may be: UX Designer, Product Manager, Engineer and Architect, Sales, and Product Owner, to name a few. I’m old enough to remember when these were still fairly new.

In 2019, we’ve seen some newer roles emerge and some that have evolved. Macro trends in product such as increasing consumer demands, emerging B2C marketing and sales channels, product-led growth, and cheaper development costs are creating new conditions and new demands on product teams. We’re also seeing the impact of more in-product data analytics and initiatives like product-led growth emerge.

In this article I want to capture a few new roles that have either emerged over the past few years or have evolved significantly. My hope is that growing product teams can use this to better understand how to fill out their team, and those seeking jobs in product have a better understanding how their skills may fit with new roles.

Product Designer

This isn’t a new title by any means. It continues to be used in industrial design to refer to physical products, and while it has been used in tech for some time, what it actually implies has been evolving. UI, UX and visual design are all components of this role, but what truly makes it “product” is the additional focus on issues related to adoption and usage of product.

Designers own feature design, and are experts at optimizing user workflows. But as the software industry has evolved, the bar has risen on UX to the point that it’s not simply enough to have a “better design.” Issues like adoption, conversion, and retention have grown in importance as the landscape has gotten more competitive. Historically, these types of issues have been the domain of sales and marketing. Today creative product designers that know users well are now tasked with providing creative solutions to these problems

Other Titles

  • UX Designer
  • UI Designer
  • Growth Designer

Skills

  • Concept Design
  • Conversion Flow Design
  • Prototyping
  • Visual Design

Typical Responsibilities

  • Finding opportunities to increase adoption of features
  • Streamlining conversion points in buying, and signing up for product

 

Product Marketing Director

Another role that isn’t new but is quickly evolving in importance due to many of the same factors I mentioned above. To understand this role, it’s first important to understand how product marketing is different than marketing. 

At their core, they both are tasked with understanding a market and promoting the product to the right audience. But product marketing takes a more strategic position in the organization. They act as the translator between marketing, sales, and product teams, and are responsible for things such as product brand strategy, product hierarchy, product packaging, and positioning. Marketers typically execute campaigns and collateral that tie to that overarching position, message, and hierarchy. The output of a marketer is fairly tangible to an outsider, but the output of a product marketer is behind the scenes.

It’s common to see marketers move into product marketing but it’s important to understand that this role is more of an architect than a builder: product marketers create the framework, marketers bring that framework to life. This role must lead with confidence and work with brand designers, marketing, sales and the product team to be successful.

Titles

  • Product Marketing Director
  • Product Marketing Manager

Skills

  • Product Positioning and Messaging Framework
  • Product Hierarchy
  • Packaging
  • Sales Enablement
  • Technical product knowledge

Responsibilities

  • Establishing clear market positioning to guide all downstream product decisions
  • Managing creative teams to ensure collateral, visual identity and brand tell a consistent story
  • Establishing messaging guidelines to guide internal and external product marketing activities
  • Creating internal alignment across all product, marketing and sales organizations

 

Growth Product Manager

Product Managers typically oversee products and features, but Growth Product Managers oversee growth-oriented initiatives. I touched on this in the description for product designers. More mature platform and e-commerce teams will often have entire teams dedicated to growth initiatives, much like mature software teams will have product teams devoted to product maintenance and support initiatives. The role of a growth product manager operates outside of a particular feature and product and oversees growth across products.

In earlier stage companies, or companies driven by longer sales cycles, outbound sales, or those operating in less competitive markets, dedicated growth teams aren’t necessary. However, it’s becoming more common that these industries have dedicated growth product managers that oversee conversion, adoption and retention to ensure that all teams are focused on these efforts. As I said earlier, these areas are not solely the domain of sales and marketing; they now must be addressed by all teams, and growth product managers are the people that keep teams in sync. 

Why would a product manager be devoted to growth? Imagine a product has been selling well but is starting to see hints at attrition—customers abandoning their product. The reasons will likely cross several features. 

One product manager might oversee settings and privacy, another might oversee analytics. But the attrition might be due to workflows that are crossing those features. Maybe users aren’t seeing the right analytics they want because the admin has hidden these from their dashboards. And maybe the admin hid them because user settings were confusing to find. 

A growth product manager can uncover these inefficiencies across the products through tools like Pendo or Appcues, and then working with product designers (who may often be serving more than one feature team) to find solutions.

Titles

  • Growth Product Manager
  • Product Manager

Skills

  • Data Analysis
  • Metrics-based Roadmap Planning

Responsibilities

  • Utilizing in-product analytics tools
  • Creating product initiatives aligned to product growth goals
  • Connecting with customer to uncover opportunities and pain points

 

Data Scientist

I’ve saved the best for last. I imagine this role is not new to anyone but its role on a product team is evolving fast. Marty Cagan, one of the most distinguished leaders of product has discussed how the data scientist is becoming the next new pivotal product role.

Similar to growth teams, company size and product maturity will often determine whether a data science team is needed, or whether data scientists will integrate with development and product teams. In my experience, I’ve seen data science impact the product in two key ways. The first is how data can help improve the product’s experience. Consumers no longer want to see charts and graphs, they want their product to make recommendations for them. Data scientists create structures and machine learning algorithms that help turn these hard numbers into real-world suggestions. 

The second way data scientists impact the product is through in-app analytics. Growth product managers become highly dependent on these statistics to make product decisions, but data scientists help provide the data. Once products gain traction and product market fit, the questions of how a product is being used gains more importance. Data scientists can work alongside product teams to help translate product analytics to influence product decisions.

Titles

  • Data Scientist
  • Data Analyst

Skills

  • R Programming
  • Server/Cloud Architecture
  • Machine Learning

Responsibilities

  • Creating data models that can scale as product usage grows
  • Creating algorithms to support product experiments
  • Communicating complex algorithms so product teams can understand
  • Interpreting product and user requirements

 


 

Consumer demands and vastly improving technology is opening the door for exciting new roles in digital product teams. Data is no longer relegated to server rooms, designers are no longer executing top-down feature requirements, and product managers and marketers are now being asked to own sales and growth. 

While many product companies are starting to hire these roles, in many cases it may be up to you to carve out these roles yourself. But whether you’re looking for growth opportunities for your product team or are on the hunt for a new job opportunity, start looking in one of these four areas to be ahead of the curve. 

Christian Beck
Christian Beck
christianbeck@example.com

Christian is Executive Design Partner at Innovatemap, a digital product agency in Indianapolis. He is a detail-oriented visionary that challenges entrepreneurs to think bigger. As the lead of Innovatemap’s UX team, he works closely with UX and product marketing to make sure products are well-designed and marketable. He serves as an advisor to over a dozen tech startups as well as co-hosts the Better Product podcast.