Jane is supporting the launch of Product X, a new release her company is really excited about. She is on the marketing team. Armed with her launch checklist, she schedules a meeting with John, the product manager.  At the meeting, John answers all of her questions, draws a market segmentation on the white board, and talks about the key features and why they are important.  Jane takes lots of notes and asks John to review what she sends him.

The first thing John gets is a press release. The features are mixed-up.  There is no positioning – just announcing it’s “now available!” – and the quote sounds like it came from a Web 2.0 robot. John inserts corrections. There are so many it’s like a rewrite.

Next, John gets the copy from the website. His corrections from the press release aren’t in it. The feature descriptions are wrong in an entirely new way because “the copywriter” took a pass.  John is starting to worry that Jane and the rest of the marketing team don’t get his product.

John asks the head of marketing, Bob, “Are we all on the same page about the product launch?” Bob assures John, “We’re in great shape.” Bob says this because when he reviews the launch checklist, everything is on schedule. John assumes Bob meant the marketing of his product is part of some grand strategy connecting it with what the market needs to hear.

Assured, John accepts Jane’s next meeting request to “review product positioning.” “At last,” he thinks, “I’ll see it all come together.” Jane shows up to the meeting and asks, “Now tell me how do you want to position Product X and what features do you want us to talk about?”

Does this confusion or frustration feel familiar? You are not alone and probably suffering from the need for Product Marketing.

The Problem

What makes Product Marketing distinct from corporate marketing is it’s specific focus on using products—most technology companies’ greatest asset—to drive market strategy and growth. When a company is a start-up with one product, “marketing” and “product marketing” are often one in the same.  The need for it as a distinct discipline becomes much clearer when a company branches into multiple product lines or is highly technical or complex.

The Job

My partner, Marty, wrote elegantly about the necessity to split product management and product marketing into two separate roles http://www.svpg.com/product-management-vs-product-marketing/, and this assumes that model.

I have yet to find a company that practiced the two roles as systematically and well as Microsoft, where I began my career. They recognized that the two jobs generally required different skills and people to be done well.  Product management (which goes by the program manager title) defined the products to be built.  Product marketing (which goes by the confusing title product manager) made sure the world knew about the products and why they should care.

It’s the “why they should care” part that requires far more product and communication skill than most realize.  To hone a compelling strategy and messaging requires deep customer understanding, an analytical mind, broad understanding of the industry and business, and—most important—a really good understanding of the “why” of a product.

It’s insufficient to just know a feature set or the business concerns of a C-level executive. If you get the in-depth “why” for a customer as well as the “why” for a product, you can dynamically position your product based on the specific goal or activity at hand. It’s this skill—the strategic application of product to achieve marketing goals—and the ability to communicate about it in a clear way that’s done insufficiently in many companies and is the domain of the product marketer.

Product Marketing Responsibilities

Good product marketers have command of:

  • Competitive analysis (what is the competition saying and how is it shaping perceptions in the marketplace?)
  • Market and customer research (what matters in and beyond our category, what’s the engagement model of the people influencing product conversion or the perception of our product?
  • Product positioning (what is it, why is it different, and why should the world care?)
  • Product communications/PR/social media (what can we say that will make others do the talking about us?)
  • Marketing communications and campaigns – advertising, email, interactive, search-engine, events etc. (when to use each and to what end)
  • Sales support, salestools (this includes demos and the product knowledge required to build a compelling one)
  • Vertical/affiliate/evangelist programs
  • Measurement of marketing programs (ROI and mapping to business goals)

In consumer companies, product marketers focus on enabling activities driving acquisition, activation, retention, and referral.

In enterprise companies, product marketers focus on shaping the product’s perception in the business and competitive domain and enabling sales channels.

Product marketers’ work also bridges product and corporate marketing teams, ensuring new product enhancements shape company messaging and strategy.

What to Do?

In all the companies I work with, when we look at product planning through a product marketing lens, the what and when of features inevitably changes.  Having product marketers participate in product planning discussions ensures every product effort has the maximum market leverage at it’s back.  Remember if the world doesn’t know about a product, believe it is important, or cares, it doesn’t matter how useful or useable a product is.

Even in organizations with existing product marketers (typical of most enterprise companies), the edges of the relationship between product mangers and their product marketing counterparts varies—due to skill differences, product maturity phases or often simply the lack of shared understanding of expectations.  Don’t let old habits get in the way of improving roles. Make sure product managers and their product marketing counterparts talk often so both feel invested in and understand market strategy.

Adapt until things work well, as each company and group has to find a groove that works for their teams. The ideal relationship is one in which the product manager feels like her product marketer is an essential part of the team. That’s also how a product marketer knows he is doing his job well.

However you get there, make sure the world knows why your product matters and invest in great product marketing.

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