I recently attended a digital roundtable of women leading change in their organizations. The women who joined me represented companies across a spectrum of consumer and SaaS, with impressive track records of leading teams through breakthrough moments. Their individual career paths included product, sales, strategy, and marketing, so each had a unique perspective on product innovation.

As we closed the conversation, the 11 of us found ourselves in lively agreement on a point that’s stuck with me since: experiences are the new product, and innovation is more likely to occur when priorities are oriented around experiences rather than products. 

The difference between experience management and product management

I’m seeing Chief Experience Officer titles pop up in my LinkedIn feed more and more often, so my fellow roundtable change agents and I aren’t the first to arrive at this insight. These C-level leaders typically manage a combination of product, marketing, and design, and are responsible for outcomes like new customer growth or revenue expansion. It doesn’t require a C-level title, though, to bring the principles of experience management into a product manager’s purview. 

From my perspective, experience management represents a horizontal approach to solving problems, whereas product management is vertical. When you think as an experience manager, you prioritize the sequencing of interactions and features that lead to positive outcomes for your users and your company. When you think as a product manager, you prioritize individual, detailed features. Meaning, you spend less time thinking about how a user gets into and out of the feature, and more on the nuts and bolts of the feature itself.

An example of experience management

New user onboarding is an example of an experience. It’s the set of steps a user encounters when they’re getting to know your product. I believe a great onboarding experience accommodates the first interaction a user has with your offering, which is usually off-product. It could be a paid social ad, Google search result, or recommendation from a friend. It ends, in my opinion, when users integrate your product into their everyday lives — through recurring usage, for example.

A lot of features work together in an onboarding experience like this. Depending on your product, it could include landing pages, app download, signup, trial, and conversion. As an experience manager, you’d think about how to make all of these features work together to create value for your end-user, while inspiring them to continue using your product. You’d be steeped in marketing best practices as well as product development skills to bring the experience to market.

On the other hand, as a product manager, you might be laser-focused on sign-up for one quarter before moving on to conversion flows. In this scenario, you may offload all marketing requirements to roles with “marketing” in their titles.

Connecting experience management to product innovation

As an experience manager, you’re outcome-oriented. You believe that it’s not individual features that lead to those outcomes, but a creatively crafted sequence of interactions designed to delight your users. Because of that, you’re more likely to think beyond assumptions of what a feature should look like – a sign-up, for example. You’re also more likely to blur lines between product management and other functions like marketing.

While this may feel organizationally messy, remember that your users don’t encounter your product function by function. To them, every interaction is a part of your product, regardless of whether it’s an ad they’ve clicked on or a feature they’re actively using in your app. Innovation often stems from these types of challenges to the status quo.

At its heart, experience management is about building something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. While you may be a product manager in title, thinking like an experience manager can make you a stronger and more creative contributor. Encourage yourself to pivot your thinking horizontally, and absorb best practices from the teams that surround you. With time, you’ll start to see more product innovation in your work.

About the speaker
Katherine Kornas Betterment, VP of Growth Contributor

Katherine Kornas is VP of Growth at Betterment, where she leads new customer acquisition and engagement with a team composed of marketers and product managers. Prior to joining Betterment, she was SVP, Product at Havenly and held product leadership positions at Pandora and Autodesk. Katherine has also worked on product teams at Dictionary.com and GreatSchools. Katherine is a graduate of the University of Michigan and currently lives in New York City.