Product marketing is one of those areas of the marketing profession that’s shrouded in mystery.
Is it sales enablement? Marketing? Part of product? No one knows.
But they should.
That’s because — when done right — product marketing is one of the most powerful weapons in your marketing arsenal. It has the power to help you stand out in a sea of lookalikes, and elevate your brand to a household name.
But here’s the problem: Most start-ups and companies don’t give a lot of thought to product marketing. And that’s a huge mistake.
Some of it’s due to the fact that product marketing doesn’t fit neatly into just one category: It’s not growth, it’s not sales, and it’s not pure marketing hype. But the other part of it is that it’s an incredibly cross-functional role that serves a variety of purposes, depending on the organization.
But right now, the confusion ends.
Today, I’m going to tell you exactly what you need to know about modern product marketing, and why it matters so much in today’s saturated B2B software space.
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So, What Does Modern Product Marketing Look Like?
Glad you asked.
In the most basic sense, product marketing is the process of bringing a product and its target users together. But the role is highly cross-functional, and touches everything from market research, product design, positioning, messaging, and product launches to enablement of both sellers and customers.
Typically, product marketers fall into two buckets: those that manage marketing efforts before a product launch and after it. But some do it all–and that makes their job incredibly challenging. When done right, product marketing is an enormous asset to brands and their sales orgs.
Product marketing as a function also focuses on the middle to bottom part of the funnel, leaving lead generation duties to demand generation marketers and sales development teams. If your product marketer is spending his or her time re-engaging leads via email that went cold after one touch, then I got news for you: Something’s not right. Either your primary marketing team is driving the wrong leads into sales, or you’re not leveraging conversational sales tools that’ll help you connect with prospects higher up in the funnel.
In plain english, product marketers have the most influence against prospects who are almost ready to buy, not prospects who just started learning about your company.
What do product marketers do in any given day?
Here are examples of tangible product marketing deliverables:
- Buyer personas that provide structure for sales teams and audience info for the broader marketing team, but particularly, content marketing
- Positioning and messaging that fuels all of the marketing’s teams collateral and outreach
- Sales enablement materials that move prospects through the middle of the funnel faster — think pitch decks and case studies
- Competitive intelligence that gives the team a deep understanding of the marketplace, and the key features and unique selling propositions of competitors
- Go-to-market strategy and launch plans that outline in detail how the product will be promoted and sold
Without these precious little bits of gold, no company can achieve long term success. That’s because product marketers connect bigger jobs to be done with the messages that are being shared in the marketplace.
My favorite quote to sum this all up is from the zen master himself, Seth Godin:
“Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”
Product marketers are the one translating the tech specs from your releases into meaningful stories that drive adoption with your target markets. And they’re doing it with a combination of data, funnel and market analysis, as well as engagement with multiple departments inside a company.
But the more cooks you have in the kitchen, the more tension arises.
For example, the product team may not always see eye-to-eye with the sales reps on the ground.
In this scenario, the product marketer’s job is to:
- Train sales reps to articulate the product benefits and features as intended by your product team
- Give engineers feedback about the product that will help them iterate its features to improve sales
^ This tends to be a problem when organizations get larger and there’s a need for mediation of this type.
Earlier on, the primary function of product marketers is to craft materials that position a brand within the market. Which brings me to my next key takeaway.
Your C-Suite’s Vision Isn’t A Proxy For A Product Marketing Function
I see it every day:
Confusing value props, weak messaging and just straight-up awful product positioning. I ain’t one to name names, but let’s face it–startups and SMB companies are absolutely starving for sales – and as a result, they live and die by “MVP” versions of their websites and decide to prioritize scaling outbound sales prematurely.
Their websites merely serve as corporate brochures, rather than a place for meaningful information about which jobs the product can execute for them.
So, where does this tension emerge from?
I’ve seen fundamental disconnect between the vision that many founding team members and C-suite execs have for their product–aka their “baby”– and how customers see the product working to solve their actual business problems.
On some level, I get it — founders and others feel attached to the core functionality of their product. Especially if they built it themselves.
But we’ve got to inject some honesty into this line of thinking: The market isn’t attached to what YOU think your product is. The market wants to know what your product can do for them.
Good product marketers understand this, and don’t translate a vision dictated to them from senior leadership. Instead they use data and analysis from the frontlines to identify the best place to position your brand.
If You Don’t Have a Product Marketing Function, You’re Feeding Sales Reps To The Wolves
Ideal scenario: Your marketing team is crushing it. Driving leads to sales in droves. Now it’s up to your sales team to just close ‘em, right?
When you’re scaling your sales process, you’re going to need help from product marketing at the middle of the funnel when prospects are almost ready to buy, but need that extra social proof–or a gentle push–in the direction of a sale.
This is exactly when product marketers can jump in, evaluate what’s needed, and provide assistance. Usually, that help means creating case studies from successful users of your product, data sheets, how-to videos, and battle cards — typical middle of the funnel content. Usually, it’s prioritized by what the business needs the most urgently at that time — for example, if you’re selling into large media companies, you’re going to want to tailor your middle of the funnel product marketing material to appeal to that audience (think visual decks, not data sheets).
Solving That Middle of the Funnel Problem
Without a well-designed and executed product marketing strategy, your connection with customers will be hazy at best, resulting in poor engagement, forgettable experiences, and lackluster results.
The rest of the story is not so difficult to imagine: as the world of business increasingly becomes more customer-centric, companies which lack market empathy get a one-way ticket to failure.
Here are the top 3 issues I see that prevent companies from achieving scale:
- They fail to identify the core problems of their customers.
- They cannot make meaningful connections with their target audience.
- They discover later on that the market neither needs nor wants their “disruptive” product.
And guess what?
Had these ambitious companies focused on developing a product marketing function, these outcomes could absolutely be avoided.
To illustrate my point, here are some examples of companies that are crushing it when it comes to product marketing.
✅ Nail the straight-forward value prop. Good product marketing makes it easy to explain what you do, why you do it, and who it’s for. A good example of a company that nails this is Stripe. Their homepage is clear, and jargon-free, which is ideal for their target audience of business owners looking to implement a system for online payments.
✅ Make your features meaningful. Everyone loves to love Slack, but I want to point out something most people don’t: How awesome their Why Slack? page is. Instead of deluging the reader with technical specs of their core features, they’ve created a coherent and values-oriented story that educates and drives people to a specific part of the product.
✅ Provide social proof. If you want people to believe in your product, you’ve got to tell stories about where customers are finding success. Good product marketers don’t just regurgitate basic case studies, they use new content formats to show–in detail–how specific features and values of the product drive real business results. I can think of quite a few companies that nail this, but a few I’ve loved recently are InVision, Zenefits and Twilio.
✅ Build an epic sales deck. Gotta hand it to them — Zuora nailed their sales deck. Even messaging guru Andy Raskin is into it. But that’s because sales decks you use on discovery calls can make or break your connection with a prospect. Good product marketers know this, and have the ability to create content that’s informative without being a burden at specific stages of the funnel. What I love about Zuora’s deck is how they hook into a broader narrative about where the product fits into the target audience’s life, which is perfect for the discovery phase. It’s a hook too powerful to ignore.
Product Marketing Manifests Itself Differently In Every Org
Product marketing certainly isn’t one-size-fits-all, so success looks different in every organization.
But I do think there are some telltale signs your product marketing isn’t cutting it, or is being held back by bottlenecks in your organization.
The 4 tell-tale signs your organization needs a product marketing overhaul:
- Members of the product marketing team lack relevant skills such as technical communication, documentation, and market research
- Ultimate ownership of product strategy is vague or inappropriate, or product marketing has no ability to influence it (huge red flag right here)
- Product marketing teams are functioning merely as a middle of the funnel content team, and not a strategic arm working with product and broader marketing functions
- Customer segmentation, buyer personas, and marketing funnel parameters lack insight from product marketing.
When Product Fits Market, Dollars Roll In
Amid advances in technology, tighter competition, and rapid shifts in consumer behavior, product marketing is more crucial than ever if B2B companies want to be successful.
With a well-thought out and executed product marketing strategy, you’ll strengthen the connections between your product, its intended users, and drive middle of the funnel conversions. Without it, the mounting challenge of converting new customers and keeping existing ones will hurt your company for years to come.
Gaetano DiNardi is VP of Marketing at SalesHacker. Besides keeping it 1000% real all of the time, he’s a master of SEO, content marketing, and conversion optimization. Follow Gaetano on Twitter for more insights on marketing, sales, and growth.