Product marketing is a recently-trending job that has a tricky description.
Are they regular marketers with a fancier title or are they different?
Well, in the majority of the cases a product marketer is vastly different from a marketer, specializing in understanding the audience of the product and finding ways to communicate with only the potential customers.
In this article, I’ll explain the fundamentals of product marketing in-depth, hoping to answer these questions:
- What is Product Marketing? (history and definition)
- How is Product Marketing different than traditional Marketing?
- What is the role of Product Marketing in SaaS?
- What are the basics of a Product Marketing Strategy?
- What does the future hold for Product Marketing?
- What are the must-have tools for Product Marketers?
Let’s start with how Product Marketing started in the first place:
What is Product Marketing?
First and foremost, while recent evolutions of ‘Product Marketing’ are new on the scene of contemporary capitalism and technological progression, the position itself is basically a more focused Product Manager.
And ‘Product Management’ can trace its roots to the first large section of the 20th century.
Look at all the giant U.S. corporations dominating the scene just before, during, and then especially after WW2, and you’ll have spotted the vanguard.
These classic names in American capitalism first created the western version of Product Management, or as they were coined by Neil H. McElroy at Procter & Gamble in his 1931 memo, Brand Men.
While today these high-caliber branding specialists can be anyone from any background, we love the way Martin Eriksson weaves the infamous memo-turned-philosophy into his article, The History and Evolution of Product Management;
“Bill Hewlett and David Packard… They interpreted the ‘Brand Man’ ethos as putting decision making as close as possible to the customer and making the product manager the voice of the customer internally. In the seminal book The Hewlett-Packard Way, this policy is credited with sustaining Hewlett-Packard’s 50-year record of unbroken 20% year-on-year growth between 1943 and 1993.”
Problem was, the world’s dramatically transformed since then (let alone since the early 1990s…) and old school Product Management couldn’t keep up with today’s STILL increasing demands in a software-driven economy. Evolutions in the creation and production of the software itself NOW demand positions with more of an intimate connection with end-users.
This is where the modern 21st-century Product Marketer was born, in the chaos of sheer and vast necessities!
Because product managers were failing to bring their products into true contextualization. They’d lost that edge, that ability, almost in tandem with population numbers and customer diversity levels exploding.
They were the classic ‘suits’ high up in their proverbial corporate towers with boardroom crystal balls making decisions far and away from the people down in the streets using these products to help run their everyday lives and businesses.
Today Product Marketers and Product Managers are more closely tethered together, or, as Stephen Gossett put in his piece that Deep Dives into the industry:
“Product marketers, on the other hand, collaborate directly with the head of production — the product manager. How intimately the parties collaborate and at what point in the production process depends on variables like organizational size and maturity, as well as the nature of what’s being built.”
Product Marketer Job Description – how is it different than copywriters?
When folks start researching these terms, commonly Product Marketers are confused with copywriters and content writers/creators.
It’s easy to see why on the surface, and indeed these two positions have one thing in common – they seek to truly understand the product and end-users mindsets for higher-value communication.
True, they both make great ‘Pitch Men’ or folks you want pitching your product to customers, investors, incubators, etc.
However, they’re two extremely distinct roles wielding enormously different powers within modern organizations. Let’s tap into HubSpot’s Simplest Answer breakdown on the position and what they laid out as the Seven Critical Steps of Product Marketing.
We’ll use them to compare both positions.
#1 – Product Research: While copywriters research the dickens out of products already in existence, Product Marketers often work with development teams as they’re creating, tweaking, and perfecting products for solid market fits. Copywriters aren’t often hired to participate in Beta phases but swoop in once the product is about to go to market.
#2 – Product Story: Here the two positions converge as both are heavily involved in the creation of product stories. They help articulate all the core specifications and branding that copywriters and content creators use to do their work. Once again though, it’s worth pointing out that Product Marketers are often involved earlier on in the overall process.
#3 – Product-Focused Content: Copywriters and content creators play a gigantic role here, but they’re typically JUST the content creators. They aren’t often involved in the upper levels of designing WHAT to create, for who, why, and everything else that goes into producing cutting-edge product content in all its forms, not just written.
#4 – Product Launch Plan: Product Marketers, often in conjunction with a central Product Manager, are going to be a critical component in the construction of launch plans, step by step, through to completion. Writers on the other hand, would mainly just be responsible for creating the associated advertorial and marketing content.
#5 – Product Launch Meeting: Without doubt, the hard-working content creation teams play an important role in any serious organization and they’re invited to these meetings. But let’s face it, Product Marketers & Managers often play much more substantial roles in making all the working parts come together in harmony for a smooth rollout.
#6 – Community Engagement: Another great distinction is that Product Marketers and Product Marketing Teams are typically going to be the ones genuinely engaging with end users rather than creating static content users or customers consume. They’re reaching out to users and finding ways to leverage the user’s voice within the company.
#7 – Sales Enablement: As the voice of the user, during ‘about to launch’ meetings Product Marketers engage directly with sales staff to ensure consistency, proper language and messaging. Whereas content writers and copywriters are going to be more concerned with the polish and optimization of web copy, headings, brochure design, etc.
Hopefully, this helps better distinguish the role.
We wanted to give you a clearer understanding of why Product Marketers have become such highly sought after professionals, who themselves are seeing the demands for their services (along with expectations) rise exponentially.
Plus it’s a great way to transition into the next section.
Product Marketing vs. Marketing (Conventional)
We’ve covered how the role is night & day different from core marketing positions like content creators, now let’s look at the eagle-eye bigger picture.
“How do Product Marketers differ from just…well, Marketers?”
“How does Product Marketing separate itself from classic Marketing?”
These are the three most common ways Product Marketers will work with, coordinate with, synergize, and whiteboard with the folks hired to do the traditional marketing footwork of generating demand, leads, and consumer attention, according to Drift:
- Developing thought leadership messaging.
- Engaging with thought leaders to contribute to top-of-funnel marketing activities.
- Writing narratives that provide the backbone for demand generation teams to use in the creation of the outbound efforts across the funnel.
Another way to look at it is, Product Marketers aren’t managers, they’re at the end of the day researchers. Do they need to be effective writers and communicators? Absolutely. This is why they’re confused with high-level senior copywriters.
What differs is their level of responsibility.
They’re the ones tasked with identifying perfect markets and perfect market fits.
They engage buyers and genuinely identify what their needs and desires are in relation to the product. Afterwards, they create the architectural plans mapping out how to meet these needs in a way that’s focused on the user (re: product).
Meanwhile, traditional marketing teams take this research and translate it into contextualized product content – they bring the analysis to life as a team of professionals.
They map buyer personas, then help marketing and sales teams communicate with these folks on their level, using their language, and the messaging they’re most likely to notice and engage with. Product Marketers are the ones who do a ton of busywork to then collaborate with rank-and-file marketers.
“The foundation of Product Marketing’s work relies on being intimately familiar with the buyers… a lot of time talking to customers, attending events (virtual and live), reviewing opportunities and sales notes, talking to analysts, and engaging in online communities.”Source
Finally, it should be noted there really is no universal definition of Product Marketing yet, simply because it’s different and unique in every organization.
The lines blur for everyone, depending on your company’s pressure points, capabilities, constraints, and way of conducting business.
Conventional rule books were done away with a decade ago.
The Role of Product Marketing in SaaS
Funny thing, you may already have one or more people who could consider themselves a quasi-product marketer in your business.
For example, if you’re involved in a SaaS company right now then you have team members performing these following actions, all of which we’ve touched on:
- Creating Buyer Personas
- Creating Sales & Marketing Material
- Conducting Market Analysis
- Planning the GTM Strategy
- Designing Market Positioning
- Setting Out Product Launch (New Features) Plans
Of course you do. We’re knee-deep in a ‘Forget your title, we’ve just got to get X done!’ tech startup world.
Everyone’s answering the phone. Everyone’s wearing a variety of hats. For some it can work well in the initial stages of startup evolution. For others, not so much.
Question is, how’s it working out for you?
Chances are you wouldn’t be reading this right now and doing this specific research if you didn’t have some kind of need in regards to Product Marketing, right?
Often it’s because you don’t yet have a Product Marketing Specialist or a dedicated Product Marketer. Startups find it difficult to define and segment the role within their business.
As a member of the Forbes Communications Council put it in the summer of 2019,
“At best, product marketing’s fit within an organization can be described as unusual. At worst, it’s hazy, with roles, responsibilities, and even metrics that vary from company to company. Product marketing isn’t quite sales or product management, but it’s not quite classical marketing either — at least not in the way most companies define traditional marketing roles related to demand generation, digital, brand/creative, content, search and events.”
Using the bullet points above, let’s take a look at common signs a Product Marketer is becoming more of a necessity in your neck of the woods:
- The buyer personas are extremely basic; generalized and vague. They cover only very basic demographics with no real substance because there exists a lack of understanding of who the ideal user really is. The communication with them is seriously lacking.
Right off the bat, vapid discernment here means user experience suffers.
“Assuming you have information based on customer development interviews and/or statistically significant data, now you can set up proper marketing funnels; buyer journeys.”Source
- Because of this deficit in end-user mastery, Sales & Marketing material tends to underperform, underwhelm, and get shoved under the proverbial carpet in terms of high-level fine tuning and optimization. It becomes an expensive guessing game.
- Market Analysis again is too surface-level and basic for any true insight to be extracted. This isn’t usually because of any malicious intent or ineptitude, but rather a busy SaaS startup of professionals who aren’t specialized in Product Marketing.
- The Go-To Market strategy suffers as a result, making it a sort of blind Hail Mary pass. Could it be successful? Possibly, but unlikely, and regardless there’s already a domino effect happening that will HAVE to be addressed and remedied sooner rather than later.
And so on…
Where people in your position tend to get hung up is in creating this new role, but experts (and trends) agree it must be done, and done strategically.
“In today’s market, it’s more important than ever to have a team solely dedicated to understanding market and buyer needs and using that knowledge to ensure your company executes compelling marketing and sales strategies. That’s why it’s crucial for you to define and incorporate a Product Marketing role in your organization.”Source
Basics of a Product Marketing Strategy
By now it should be rather clear – Product Marketing is an exceedingly flexible title and role. Your strategy will be head-to-toe custom, and really shouldn’t attempt to conform to any cookie-cutter templates.
That said, there are a specific number of essentials.
In this section let’s go through each of these six essentials you’ll find in every product marketing strategy.
Essential Element #1 – A Strong Product
Forgive us for stating the blatantly obvious, but indeed one needs a quality product to attract a high-quality product marketer. Or, a small fleet of them. Pie-in-the-sky products and moonshot services are often going to lack the basics needed outside a tiny originating startup team.
There will be way too much discovery involved.
Product Marketers shouldn’t be confused with product creators.
A product marketer isn’t hired to create your product for you, but to help you understand how your product or service will solve end-user problems. They’re value seekers – trained sets of eyes who can see the value your product offers from user-centric perspectives. They can help your product become more streamlined and innovative as it takes shape.
Essential Element #2 – A Viable Audience
Product marketers do not create audiences, they define them.
In other words, your product marketer isn’t going to make a new breed of humans who need software services but define existing demographics to a highly-valuable degree.
Anyone can look at a new SaaS product and basically define who it would serve. But the genuine product marketer, again, contacts this already newly-defined existing audience and takes end-user research to another level.
- Not only their age, but WHY your product or service is valuable to any viable age groups.
- Why certain products hold more value, say to female executives in construction vs. male clerical workers in the B2C convenience industry.
- Why marital status plays a role in the thinking of ideal users, or why they respond to more conservative or progressive-leaning vernacular.
Product marketers are becoming more specialized with each passing month it seems, but one of their truly defining professional features revolves around user research. Defining a viable audience is critical to understanding how to move on to the next essential element.
Essential Element #3 – Distinct Hyper-Relevant Messaging
Product development is a great prism to look at value and users, but not the most effective.
Product marketers must translate the benefits, features, and value into proper messaging in a cohesive way that translates throughout marketing and sales.
Nothing new here. We’re talking about user stories, brand messaging, marketing messaging, sales messaging, and so on in all its forms. This is all done under the umbrella-knowledge that a brand is fundamentally the way users FEEL when they interact with it.
Messaging works in conjunction with SaaS function to create this feeling. It’s either going to strengthen and thrive, or fail to create a relationship of trust with users and fade into obscurity.
Essential Element #4 – The Overall Team Quality
Product marketers shouldn’t be looked at as one-man-bands, so to speak.
They aren’t the whole deck of cards.
And, they aren’t Product Managers either, at least not in any large organization.
While they coordinate and work with their counterparts across the spectrum, from marketing and engineering to development, they aren’t these departments themselves. They’re bridge builders.
It’s extremely common today for Product Marketers to feel they lack insight into what their exact role is.
The clearer these lines are defined, the more effective everyone can be. Don’t let miscommunication and disorganization derail your chances for a great market-fit team.
Essential Element #5 – Active Strategic Promotion
Too many companies try to shave costs and stretch margin by reducing promotion.
Unfortunately, even with everything in place, without promotion your SaaS will likely fall through the ever-shifting cracks into oblivion.
The reason B2B and B2C consumers are trying so many new brands and products is because of the renewed investment in promotion.
It’s essential. Even companies with rock-solid fits and fabulous marketshare continue making these investments.
Afterwards it becomes a matter of effectiveness, which is where Product Marketers can play a gigantic role in modern organizations.
Essential Element #6 – Analysis & Iteration
It’s undisputed, continually analysing and evolving your Product Marketing strategy is essential.
No marketing exists in a vacuum.
Results themselves are always changing and being redefined as technological progression alters the rules of the games our companies play.
Once you’ve gone to market, your team is in place managing your processes, and your promotion is unflinching, it’s not what’s going wrong that has all the opportunities. It’s where there’s room for improvement that matters. Look for the setbacks and challenges, because that’s where Product Marketers can iterate, improve, conduct more user-research, and create those big wins along the way.
Exploring The Future of Product Marketing
What does a Product Marketer’s future look like as we fully breach into the 2020s?
You probably aren’t feeling like a philosophical treatise on the subject at the moment, so let’s try instead to make some simple assumptions based on how they’re rolling with the punches.
Briefly, if we return to the Forbes piece, arguably the biggest evolutionary pressure currently pushing Product Marketers is, well, that there’s far too many of them!
There’s too many products, and just far too much marketing going on.
“With an estimated 10,000 private SaaS companies in existence, there are more software options available today than ever before. It’s a crowded market, in every market — both in terms of buyers’ appetite to adopt products and their willingness to listen to product announcements. And with the average attention span somewhere between eight and twelve seconds, we risk our market getting lost in our marketing.”
This isn’t theory, but demonstrated fact. Why else would the titans of Product Marketing be making such tremendous moves to cope?
Here are two examples from 2019, right around the time that article was written.
- Shopify announced the launching of their own “Film Product Branch” named Shopify Studios to develop, produce and finance much more entertaining (engaging) content for their entrepreneurial community.
- MailChimp as well announced it was taking its content marketing game to the next level with its own in-house studio. Their old model based on sponsoring content was being put to rest, so they can also produce more entertaining content – podcasts, documentaries, and even a fictional series.
One way to quickly wrap your mind around what seems to be happening in the Product Marketing world is a new iteration on being ‘Product-Led’.
All this astounding content being produced by Shopify and MailChimp will be exactly that.
Some of the best research in 2019 came about as a result of a collaboration between Pendo and the Product Marketing Alliance. They were looking for the state of things, but we can use their findings in this context as pressures, pushing the industry forward.
They surveyed 600 Product Marketers from five continents,
“…across B2B, B2C, B2E, and marketplace companies including Amazon, Booking.com, Care.com, Databricks, Estee Lauder, Facebook, Google, HubSpot, Kabbage, LinkedIn, Roche, Salesforce, Twilio, and Virgin.”
We’ll begin with this core statistic.
33% of product marketer respondents were overseeing or responsible for five or more product lines.
Five or more?
To some, that might sound perfectly reasonable.
To others, it’s the perfect recipe for strained clarity. It’s like trying to study five subjects at the same time, which is totally doable, but you’ll typically learn less about all those subjects than you would focus on one or two.
Anyhow, moving on, the three key frustrations reported were as follows:
- They lack concrete definitions of who they are within the company and their specific responsibilities.
- Many product marketers are overwhelmed, running on limited bandwidth with overloaded plates of work.
- Despite these first two frustrations, many feel they lack proportionate influence in the companies they represent.
As we dig deeper, these same folks feel they’re being put in charge of top-line metrics. And, honestly yes, many times they ARE!
“Despite role ambiguity, product marketers feel responsible for top-line business metrics. Over half of respondents count generating revenue as a KPI, 45% increase the MQL pipeline, and 42% focus on customer retention.”
Revenue, marketing leads, and customer retention – hmm, are those important top-line business metrics in your startup?
To get to the point, the future of the product marketer is bright and covered in decorative dollar signs.
A shift is occurring, another monumental investment in 21st-century content is being made as you read these words. Their frustrations are being heard and their roles are being better defined within corporate-elite companies down the pipelines into the greater SaaS industry.
Or, if that doesn’t work, you could always invest in new Augmented Reality, which according to the folks over on UFO3D is the future of product marketing.
Best Tools for Product Marketers
A product marketer always needs a great set of tools to define, reach, and impress their audience.
Such tools could be categorized as:
- CRM Tools
- User Behaviour Tools
- Feedback Tools
- Project Management Tools
- Product Management Tools
- Collaboration Tools
- Product Analytics Tools
Here’s our list of product marketing tools that got you covered most of these categories.
Product marketing is not a well-defined job, at least not yet.
With more and more organizations taking a look into the subject, its certain that we’ll get a more centralized approach to product marketing in the close future. With a capable team and the right set of skills, a product marketing manager can succeed regardless of the job they’re given.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a product marketer do?
A product marketer is responsible for understanding the product and the market it fits; then establishing the precise connection between the product and the market.
How do you become a product marketer?
There isn’t currently a degree program designed for product marketing, but one can get certificates from various organizations and learn more about product marketing before building experience.
What is a product marketing strategy?
A product marketing strategy consists of effectively reaching out to more of your audience, reviewing your pricing strategy, and improving user adoption across your existing customers for more exposure.