Even now, there is something of a fundamental misunderstanding around the role of a product manager and a product marketing manager. Some believe that a product manager is only involved in the production side of creating a new product (getting it on the shelf), whereas a product marketing manager is only involved in getting customers to take that product off the shelf.
That is a flawed view of both roles and in particular, the value of the product marketing role within any technology company. Products are always built with the end-user, the customer, in mind.
Therefore, a product marketing manager needs to play a key role throughout the build and product design stage, long before there is anything a company can offer potential customers.
What is product marketing?
Product marketing managers have a wide range of responsibilities and need to work with other key stakeholders and teams. Product marketing emerges at the intersection of marketing, design (including UX/UI), business development, and product development.
Product marketing starts with understanding the customer. In fact, it is a journey that moves into pre and post-launch marketing and plays a role in ongoing product development and processing feature requests from users, customers, and business development teams.
Depending on the size of your company, product marketing managers are either managing themselves as a single one-person unit, working with other stakeholders, or they’re managing whole marketing teams and sitting alongside product and business development managers (or directors, or heads of departments/team leaders), within the organizational hierarchy.
The problem surrounding product marketing is there are too many definitions trying to capture the value and very little clarity around the role. Some definitions talk about the role of being an interface between a company and the outside world and key stakeholders, whereas others see the role as a way of using the 7Ps of marketing.
Some definitions of product marketing aren’t clear on where the role should sit within an organization chart.
Is it part of a product development team? Is it a marketing function? Or part of sales? Or does it kind of float between all three?
It is time to gain a clearer understanding of the role and how to implement this within companies.
In this article, we want to bring clarity to this important issue.
We will focus on the two stages of product marketing to start with, and then look at 9 core functions and then how to implement product marketing within your organization.
Two stages of product marketing
#1: Before a product launch
Long before a company has a product, the product marketing role is often an output of founders and early-stage startup employees. It isn’t a role many early-stage startups can afford as a standalone function, but nevertheless, founders are often performing some of the work that is later absorbed into a product marketing role.
As companies grow, they can scale up staffing roles and this often includes a product marketing function.
Before launching new products or re-launching new versions of older products, product marketing managers need to deliver the following outputs for engineering and marketing teams (or drive this work forward, depending on the size of the company):
- Buyer personas and user-experience insights;
- Gain a clear understanding through market research and customer testing on potential functions and services, to clarify product-market fit;
- Work with marketing, sales, and management to make sure pricing is accurately aligned with market expectations and customer needs/price sensitivities;
- Use the product-market fit research, personas, and user-experience insights to establish a connection between the product development and design teams;
- Design the marketing and sales message, including sales enablement material (for B2B) products and marketing funnel journey;
- As a product gets closer to being ready to launch, design, and implement a pre-launch marketing plan that will generate interest, brand awareness, and early-adopters to test an MVP version of the product, a beta version, and once it’s ready, the final version of the product before it’s launched on the market.
#2: After a product launch
After a product is launched, a product marketing manager is going to be heavily involved in marketing and sales outputs. Whether they focus on social media or email marketing, the after-launch process needs a bit more attention.
They are often the ones driving forward marketing teams — and with B2B products, playing a key contributory role to that team’s outputs — and they should also contribute to product updates and the roadmap.
Product marketing managers outputs should be connected to key performance metrics and other KPIs.
Once a product is launched they are going to continue playing an important role in its development, traction, and ultimately, the growth of the company and that product.
Next, we break this down in more detail when we look at the nine core functions of product marketing.
9 core functions of product marketing
1. Understanding customers
Know your customer or you won’t know what product and features to create.
In effect, customer research and testing create products. Without customers, you have no market and no potential revenue. If they don’t know you exist, that isn’t good. But more important than that, they need to understand why they need your product and what problem it will solve for them.
- Why would they hire you/this developer to solve that problem?
- Is it a problem that needs solving and if so, will they pay for it?
These are only two of many questions that product managers need to answer to understand customers and how your company can serve their needs.
Another way to find out what your customers need is to simply ask them. Create a customer feedback survey and within the survey include important questions to ask your customers. This feedback will help you get a better sense of how your customers feel about your product or service and you’ll be able to identify areas of improvement.
2. Understanding competitors
At the same time, you need a clear understanding of competitors, competitors’ products, the quality of service they provide, and how you can differentiate effectively in the market.
What features are must-haves for customers? These are known as “table stakes” — bare minimums that your product needs, with enough improvements to beat the competition in the marketplace.
3. Problem statement and solution
What problem are you solving?
This should come from understanding your customers, competitors, and the compelling story behind why the company was founded in the first place.
Now outline the solution story: How this product solves that problem or series of problems, and why customers should pick this as the solution for the problems they need fixing/jobs they need doing?
4. MVP/Beta testing
At the MVP stage, you need early-adopter users to test it, see how it works, and give you feedback.
A product marketing manager should be involved in this stage of the development cycle. After the learnings have been absorbed from that — which should influence the problem and solution statement — you need beta testers.
Product managers should guide any changes that are needed to the product to make it ready for the wider market.Click to tweet
Beta testers are often those who will provide the first key group of use cases and testimonials that will give a new product vital social proof that will encourage others to become customers.
During this stage, the product marketing manager should work closely with product managers and marketing or sales teams to identify suitable beta testers and ask them to take part. Make it as easy as possible for them to do this. Get as much useful feedback and data as possible.
5. Position the product
With all of that research and testing, a product marketing manager should be able to position the product in the market with reference to the features being developed. This should be something everyone understands, from founders to new hires.
Explain where it sits in the market and how it compares to competitors. Always include differentiators. Otherwise, new hires might have difficulty explaining this to potential customers which could cause problems down the road.
6. Craft the message
Before launching any marketing, a product marketing manager should craft and test the message.
Describe the product, the company values, vision, mission, and product benefits. Of course, you should also explain how your product compares to competitors and solves the issues your target audience/customers are having.
The message should come together in a shared document or set of documentation that will influence and have a direct impact on all marketing, sales, PR, and advertising activity going forward.
From web copy to social media posts, the message sits behind everything driving marketing forward. It should change if there are any significant changes and updates to the product.
7. Product testing
Another key function before launching a product is the testing phase. Product marketing managers should know a product inside and out. They should know this product with the same level of detail as product managers and engineers.
Now is the crucial quality assurance (QA) testing phase. Make sure everything is ready and working that can be promoted in marketing and sales materials, with other less important features worked on and improved down the road.
8. User-experience testing
When the product is ready to launch, take a smaller group of beta testers and make sure that the end-user knows and understands how the product works.
If they encounter difficulties using the product, prioritize whether there need to be any improvements to user education, sales, and marketing message, knowledge base, or whether this requires product updates and changes.
Use the user-experience testing to thoroughly road test the product and get it ready for customers.
It is also useful to test the entire marketing/sales funnel. Is it easy to follow? Are the handoffs from one element of the funnel easy to understand? Is the message clear? Have you made a compelling case?
Have as many members of your team and beta customers test everything as much as possible, then take the time to implement changes.
9. Training sales and marketing teams
With everything ready and the marketing plan in place, a product marketing manager should train the marketing, sales (if this is a B2B product), and customer success/service teams.
Train employees enough to ensure that they’re familiar, comfortable, and confident describing the product to new customers.Click to tweet
Everyone needs to understand the messaging, positioning, and where the product sits in the market.
Next, let’s look at how you implement post-launch marketing within your company.
3 steps to implement product marketing in your company
1. Hire a marketer
Because of the role of a product marketing manager and where they often sit within an org chart, it often makes more sense to hire people with diverse majors or at least one member of the marketing team when a company is large enough.
You need someone who can implement the day-to-day marketing activities necessary to drive forward growth, from social media and advertising to content and creating landing pages. This person may also help you with PR activities to spread the word about your brand before the product launch. However, make sure the marketer you hire knows how to use different public relations tools and implement successful strategies.
Marketing staffers are teams that should report directly to a product marketing manager, to make sure that the product is always aligned with marketing (and sales teams, for B2B products).
2. Involve customers in the product roadmap
At a product-first or product-centric company, it doesn’t hurt to involve customers in the roadmap. Tell them what you’ve been building and are going to build.
Customer engagement and marketing should be involved in the product development process every step of the way.Click to tweet
Get them excited about new features and even new products long before you launch them; this way, you can engage an interested group of beta testing and start the process outlined above again.
3. Keep focused on the market
But not too much. You don’t need to continuously monitor your competitors.
However, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on them. Know what they are doing. What they are up to, including clients they’ve landed or user metric growth milestones and any new product features they’ve released.
Make sure, as a product marketing manager, you know the landscape and environment and how outsiders and potential customers might perceive your product and company.
Product marketing can and should play a key role in the development of any new technology product, solution, or app.
Product marketing managers can play an instrumental role in defining the market, the value proposition, solution statements, and driving forward product development and ongoing marketing.
With the right outcomes and outputs, products benefit enormously from the input and direction of product marketing managers.
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