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How brands build digital products: lessons from Financial Times, Skin Rocks & Ennismore

by Fiona McLaren7 May 2024 5 Min Read

At Planes, we believe that bringing brand and product together results in more successful, and more meaningful products

It's the difference between an app which feels like an afterthought, to an end-to-end digital experience which is 100% true to a brand’s values.

Typically, brand is associated with building emotional connections, while product is focused on data. But you need both to make a successful digital experience. But what does it really look like when we bring the two things together?

We sat down with brand and product experts from Ennsimore, Financial Times and Skin Rocks to hear how they built brand-led digital products that their communities love. 

Key Takeaways

  • Brand is what provides the point of difference - it’s the reason why customers choose you. But the product is what makes them stay.

You can make decisions with numbers. But ultimately, you want users to love the things you make. Often it’s brand that brings the heart to that.

Fiona McLaren, Product Director at Planes
  • There is a difference between asking a user what they want and user research. Good user research taps into behaviours and needs not wants.

If you work with a skilled user researcher who can get a proper picture of a person, you can draw great conclusions and dispel huge myths with quite a small sample size.

Debbie McMahon, Product Director at Financial Times
  • Your brand values will help you bring your brand into your product: use these to guide your decision-making.

 When making product decisions, as long as you can look back and say with confidence this feels consistent and correct with your personality and values, you have nothing to worry about.

Andrew Antoniades, VP of Brand at Ennismore

Brand and product can feel like a tug of war; prioritisation is key

A legacy company’s brand can feel quite fixed yet new digital products should be agile. Debbie McMahon told us: “When you come from the world of brand you’re often used to working with physical products that are quite hard to change”. 

To get around this divide, Debbie explained: “Show people how it works when you can change things tomorrow. Bring them into the process. Ask them ‘why don’t we try it like this? And see what happens?”. 

Andrew echoed Debbie’s approach: “You have to work closely with the product team. Ultimately, it all comes down to prioritisation”. From a product perspective, there are processes and structures that teams need to use to help make the right decisions and navigate the uncertainty, Fiona McLaren added. 

Brand and product can come together over a shared interest: the customer 

Brands have a lot of eyeballs on them. Whether you’re an influencer brand like Skin Rocks and Mila or a heritage brand like the Financial Times, you likely spend a lot of time listening to your community. 

In fact, as Andrew Antoniades put it: “Your brand, your business, is only going to go somewhere if you are listening to your customers". However, while the customer is usually right, they aren’t always right.

When building a digital product your community loves, you have to build it with them. But as Holly Brooke explained: “You need to be able to weed out the noise, because there can be a lot of chatter. You have to know how to find the nuggets of goodness”. 

Product and good user research can help brands dispel myths and draw the best conclusions to move an idea forward. 

Product can help brand get started

One of the biggest challenges for brands launching digital products is getting used to launching little and often. While this is the best way to ensure you build the right thing, it can feel scary when you have a reputation to protect. 

Holly and Andrew agreed the product term ‘MVP’ was hard to get comfortable with. Holly told us: “MVP wasn't even a word we comprehended. The thought of launching with something that was ‘kind-of’ done because we needed to get it into people’s hands was really scary.” 

Whether it’s an MVP you build or not, if you want to launch something new you need to be smart about how you start. 

Debbie explained: “Find something you can do that starts from where you’re at, rather than going straight to the brand new thing.” If you’re from a brand background, this will help you get comfortable with product processes. “You’ll start getting feedback and you’ll be able to see if you’re heading in the right direction, then you can go for the absolute brand new thing, and you’ll have good footprint to use”.

Watch the event recording to learn more about how Ennismore, Skin Rocks, Financial Times and Mila launched new products while protecting and growing a brand.

Lover of creating new propositions, listening to customers' real motivations and believer in happy teams making the best things. Accidental finance and travel product expert. Volunteer search dog handler.
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