Product Marketing - What it is; What it does; Why you need it!

October 13, 2017

 Do you need product marketing? Take the Quiz!


1.  Does your product have clear product / market fit?

2. Does your product have a clear and compelling value proposition for customers? Do they get it?

3. Do you have a good understanding of who your target audience is and how to describe them?

4. Have you done in depth competitive research, feature mapping and understand how your competitors are positioned?

5. Do consumers often do things with your product that seem strange?

6. Is the marketing plan on how to launch your product usually an afterthought that's hastily put together, not well thought out and hard to measure?

7. Do you have clear marketing programs for each step in the customer journey (awareness, trial, conversion, repeat)?


If you answered 'yes' to more than 2-3 or these questions chances are pretty good that your company either doesn't have a product marketing team or has a pretty weak one.  


After 8 years in the Valley and over 15 years in tech, I'm always amazed at how late in the game senior management, and/or founders, takes product marketing seriously.  But the reality is that in many companies,  product marketing is often little understood, misunderstood or delegated to someone who really doesn't know what they're doing.  


Why does this matter?  It matters because if more than 2-3 of the above questions remain unanswered, it could at some point sink your company.


So what is product marketing?


The best way to think of a product marketer, is as the co-pilot of an airplane with the product manager as the captain.  Both have the same destination and goal in mind but they have different skills sets and need to work together to reach their destination.  Like a co-pilot, the product marketing manager (or PMM for short) helps guide the pilot, provide navigation and alert the captain about changes in the environment (in this case your market).  The captain ultimately has the responsibility for getting the plane to its destination in one piece, but his job can be made much easier and the flight much more enjoyable, with the right co-pilot next to him.  


Generally, what the PMM is responsible for is:


1.  Understanding your users and their needs.  A good PMM not only pays attention to the data that comes from your existing users but looks at all users in the market broadly and attempts to understand their needs, habits, and usage patterns.  This means they'll work with market research agencies like YouGov or use tools like Survey Monkey to run research and polls to better understand consumers that you have and those you don't have (these can be either quantitative research polls or quantitative research panels or focus groups).  These insights can then be used to improve your product, add / remove features and fine tune your messaging.    


2. Knowing your competitors inside and out.  Your PMM should not only know who your competitors are but should know which consumers they are targeting, how they are positioning their product compared to yours, what competitor's product unique selling points are (USP's) and what type of advertising / marketing strategies they are using to effectively recruit and retain users.  More importantly, they need to stay on top of these trends and inform your company as they change.  


3.  Knowing your market inside and out.  It's one thing to know your product and your competitors but what about the broader market?  Ideally, your PMM should also be working with your legal and/or government relations team (GR) to understand what other changes are impacting your market.  What type of state or federal regulation could affect your product, are their environmental concerns to worry about, are their indirect competitors who could enter your market and grab market share?


4.  Crafting your Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning (STP) . In smaller organizations the CEO and head of product will drive this, but in larger companies your PMM is working to segment your market into clearly identifiable consumer groups, profiling each of these groups, highlighting which group is underserved and then deciding how to best position your product (product name / sales pitch or value proposition) to get as many of those users to try your product as possible.  If you're not familiar with STP, see my presentation here on Slideshare for more info.  Ensuring you're focused on the right audience and have crafted the right story to entice that audience to try your product is critical to a good product launch.  


5.  Developing your product name.  Product naming is a science.  Doing this well could be the difference between the success or failure of your product.  To give you an idea, back in the day Exxon paid a brand marketing agency $100 million to develop the name "Exxon".  That's how important it was to them.  I'm not saying you go out and pay an agency to do this (although if you're large and well financed enough it's not a bad idea) but what I'm saying is give this task to the people in your company that are the closest to actually understanding your customers and are the most creative.  Product marketing should lead this exercise and involve product, designers, and other creative people as part of the process.  Coming up with a name sounds simple but it's not.  There are things to consider such as the gender, ethnicity, level of education of your audience; the shape, height, weight or color of your product and then whether you want to prioritize distinctiveness, memorability or emotion as part of your product name.  Most importantly, don't ask your PMM to come up with a name two weeks before launch.  Not only is coming up with the right name difficult but there are business issues to consider such as whether the name can be trademarked, is the domain URL available and does it already exist in the app store (if you're making an app).  If you're really curious Nick Kolenda has developed a 95 (yes, 9-5) page document on the psychology of product naming.  It took me 20 years,  but I never realized how much of an art form this is until I read it.  Thankfully, Nick has condensed it down to 10 pages or so which is really what you need but the depth of his research makes for interesting reading. 


6. Driving the creation of your product assets:  Assets can mean many different things and really depend on the type of product you have and whether your focus is B2B or B2C but regardless, your PMM should own the development of the assets needed to promote your products.  That can include app icons, landing pages, product videos, written copy for technical manuals, sourcing high resolution imagery of your product for use in marketing campaigns and providing guidance to the growth marketing team on the copy needed for their ads.  In larger organizations, you'll have a marketing communications team together with graphic designers who create these assets but even then the brief / direction often comes from the PMM.  The PMM has to translate the vision of what the product promises to customers into the assets needed to communicate and sell that product to them.  This can and should also include the development of case studies that showcase how the product should be used and best practices on how to get the most out of it.  


7. Developing and (occasionally) executing your Go-2-Market plan: Chances are if you're a small company you have one or more marketing folks and they are doing all of this but in larger companies the PMM will be tasked with figuring out how to name your product, position it and also what the high level marketing plan should be.  Your PM will likely be highly involved in this as well since the success of the marketing plan will determine how many users you get, retention, monetization etc.  The high level plan needs to include the STP, Goals (users, downloads, revenues, etc.), recommended marketing budget to hit these goals as well as a short overview of the programs that are recommended to hit them.  In smaller orgs the PMM might have to develop a more granular marketing budget, define the exact nature of the programs to spend money on (such as what type of mobile ad networks you're going to use, what your cost per acquisition is going to be and how much you'll spend on each network) and actually execute them.  In larger orgs the PMM would probably pass the STP, Goals and Budget to a user acquisition or growth marketing team that determines which are the most efficient programs needed to hit those goals and then proceed to run and track performance of those programs.  There might even be a separate budget for the PR team to spearhead and launch separate PR programs.  


This is really the core of what a proper PMM does but the list goes on.  They are also involved in press / PR demo's, live demo's and work with nearly every team in your company from customer support to finance and data science teams.  Together with the PM, the PMM is one of the principal ambassador's or evangelists both internally and externally of the product(s) they work on.  More analytical PMM's are also involved at times in business modelling and will work with the PM and finance teams to assess things like price elasticity and how to optimize / maximize revenue, reduce churn and increase repeat usage of your product.  The best PMM's are highly analytical, somewhat technical but also possess an innate understanding of human psychology.  They are also great storytellers who can easily explain what the customer problem is and how your product solves that problem.  In an ideal organization, you'll want to pair your PMM's in a ratio of 1-1 with your PM's.  Sadly, in small companies and startups this is rarely the case.  At Google I had PMM on games, video, music, and books in a way that exactly matched the PM organization and it worked pretty well.  

Companies where product marketing is as strong as product management can be nearly unbeatable.  They combine the genius of cutting edge products that delight customers with laser-like marketing focus on a very well defined consumer audience who are guided seamlessly through the customer journey using crystal-clear marketing messaging.  The result, is like two perfectly mixed tracks coming from the turntable of great DJ: pure ecstasy.


 I hope this post has been useful and as always if you enjoyed it feel free to like, comment or share.  Also be sure to subscribe to my blog if you haven't already, follow #madmork on Twitter and check out my Facebook and YouTube page.  Until next time,





Chief Storyteller  

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