The Misunderstood Opportunity of Product Marketing
“What is product marketing?”
I would wager that if I asked a crowded room of tech professionals to answer this question, I would maybe get a few hands raised. It’s understandable; product marketing suffers from a vague title that causes many to assume that it is interchangeable with marketing. This, however, is a misconception that does a disservice to the success of a product.
Product marketers are a rare blend of marketing, sales savvy, communications, product team knowledge, and subject-matter expertise. They are responsible for things such as positioning, product brand strategy, product hierarchy, packaging, and more. The responsibilities of product marketers are indispensable to the success of a product, and if they’re not properly understood or accounted for, the product can suffer.
As Greg Jung, VP of marketing for Seven Corners, explains, “product marketing is a misunderstood role because people don’t quite know what it is, so they shy away from it and add later to the marketing team once they realize there is a gap in product expertise.”
Despite its importance, product marketing is still relatively unknown and there are many unanswered questions that can lead to misunderstandings. As someone who has worked in this field for almost two decades, I will do my best to help you navigate through those questions.
What are the responsibilities of product marketing?
Because of their blend of extensive product knowledge, marketing expertise, and sales focus, product marketers typically act as the translator between the product team, marketing team, and sales team. At the end of the day, product marketers are tasked with supplying each team with the necessary knowledge, tools, and feedback to deliver the right product to the right audience.
“To the sales team, product marketing delivers product messaging, enablement, and all the tools they’ll need to sell,” says Nick Tippmann, VP of marketing at Greenlight Guru. He goes on to explain, “product marketers work hand in hand with the marketing team to create demand and close leads. And as for the product team: product marketing owns the psychology of the prospect while product development owns the psychology of the user.”
Product marketers live and breathe every piece of the product. They properly position it in the mind of the buyer, package the features in a way that appeals to buyers, and create a strong brand that visually represents the product.
Craig Sturgis, VP of product at SmarterHQ, explains that a critical responsibility of product marketing is to “supercharge a sales and marketing team in a world where it is harder than ever before to break through. Product marketers do this by helping people understand what truly sets your product apart for your target-market buyers and how it’s going to make their lives better.”
So, where does product marketing live?
Product marketing can live under either the product umbrella or the marketing umbrella in a company, depending on the problem it is solving and the familiarity that people have with the discipline. For example, at Greenlight Guru, Nick Tippmann explains that product marketing lives under the marketing umbrella, while Craig Sturgis at SmarterHQ oversees product marketing in the product team.
Regardless of where the desk sits within your organization, the most important part of product marketing is alignment. Wherever it lives, it must be aligned across all disciplines. There must be a direct line of sight between all departments and a constant stream of communication; otherwise, it is impossible to accomplish all the necessary functions of product marketing.
So do I need to hire a Product Marketer?
Not necessarily. While there is no question that the functions of a product marketer are indispensable, you don’t necessarily need to run out and make a hire. You have to make sure that all the bases are covered.
This discipline requires a specific skillset, so if you don’t have someone with experience within your company, there are product agencies that can provide the necessary expertise to fill the gap in your company. It is important to note, however, that it isn’t a marketing agency that can provide these services, because product marketing requires a technical knowledge and ability to put the product at the center of the conversation.
If you have to tackle the basics of product marketing in a short time period, partnering with an agency may be the right call for you. But if you want to continue to grow and scale your digital product, eventually you’ll have to take the product marketing role in-house. You will need someone who lives and breathes your product every day, and who can devote time to filling your product’s needs today and dreaming about where your product can be in the future.
As Greg Jung explains, “many people don’t understand how strategic the product marketing role is for revenue growth. They enable your team with what they need to close leads and drive revenue.”
It is a difficult role to quantify, because, says Craig Sturgis, “there are not specific KPIs tied to product marketing.” Sturgis goes on to explain, “Instead you have to think: How are my efforts impacting other teams’ KPIs? If we did this right, what would we expect to happen to the things we’re measuring?”
Product marketing is not about serving its own needs, but empowering other departments to make more informed decisions. In order to truly use product marketing as a business driver for your growing company, it will need to be given the proper seat at the table.