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What’s the deal with Product Marketing?

It’s been quite a while since I wrote a What’s the Deal piece.  The last one was called “What’s the Deal with Software Product Management?“. So it’s kind of fitting, that I’m following it up (albeit almost 4 years later) with one on Product Marketing.

Recently, there have been a few posts on other blogs related to the Product Marketing role and the viewpoints caught my eye.

The “What’s the difference” article attempts to delineate the functions of Product Management and Product Marketing.  You should read the whole article, but here are a couple of snippets of the definitions of the two:

Product management usually “listens” to the market and then works with the internal team to develop products to meet the needs that are articulated.  They do not usually to interact much with the market on a day-to-day basis  in a direct way, but rather listen to feedback obtained by sales and marketing.

So if that’s product management in a nutshell, where does product marketing differ?  Well, product marketing is a more externally focused role. The product marketers “talk” to the market more.  They evangelize what the company’s product offers the world, and help the company focus their messaging to the market.

We need to get away from these “complementary opposite” definitions of the roles. i.e. one listens, the other other talks. One is inbound, the other outbound. One focuses on putting products on the shelf, the other focuses on getting products off the shelf etc.

The roles are are definitely complementary, but are definitely not opposites. These kinds of definitions, while short and easy to remember are incorrect and only help to further confuse those who aren’t clear on their relationship.

Now, in The End of Product Marketing, Dave Wolpert (guest posting on A Random Jog) describes a death spiral he sees happening to Product Marketers. Caught between Product Managers, Marketing and Sales, Product Marketers are losing responsibility for any strategic activities and are becoming tactical, siloed content creators.

At many companies, product management has already replaced the inbound function I described earlier. At others, product marketers have evolved into field marketers by focusing mainly on sales tools that are only used internally; development of externally-facing content marketing tools, like technical white papers, are sourced to others.

In what seems to be a bit of a rebuttal of Dave Wolpert’s piece, Josh Duncan (the main blogger on A Random Jog), states the following in the Rise of the Product Marketer.

In most businesses, there is a gap between marketing and product that must be filled. Without an audience, a great product has nowhere to go. Likewise, a great marketing strategy can’t save you from a woeful product. I believe that business success can be found when you match a great product with a great marketing plan and this is where Product Marketing can have the most impact.

So with that preamble, here’s my take on the situation.

1. Product Marketing is not dead, but it’s also not on the rise.

I currently work with some really good product marketing folks. I’m not saying that just to be nice or polite. I’m saying that because it’s true. But it’s not like that in many companies.

Part of the problem is that many companies don’t understand what Product Marketing is. So they define the role incorrectly, or hire the wrong people, or both. And what happens then? You have ineffective Product Marketing and little need to expand on it.

A lot of companies look at the role like this – product MARKETING. i.e. they focus on the second word and thus create conditions like those described by Dave Wolpert. i.e. Product Marketing becomes a tactically focused sales support role.

2. Product Marketing is usually ridiculously understaffed.

I’ve been in Product Management for a LONG time. And while most companies I’ve worked in have small Product Management teams, they have tiny, and sometimes non-existent Product Marketing teams. Ratios of 5:1 (Product Managers to Product Marketers) are not uncommon.  Why? Because companies don’t understand the role so don’t hire properly. Or they feel that the work can simply be done the “the Product Manager”.  Yes, it can be done, with the right people in place, but at what cost? Having individuals splitting time between all the different tasks of both Product Management and Product Marketing is simply a recipe for mediocrity at best, failure at worst.

3. “Marketing” is viewed very differently than it was 20+ years ago

The word “Marketing”,  if you look at the business school definition of it, is very different than how it is understood in most technology companies today.

Marketing used to be viewed as a strategic business function. Remember the 4 Ps (Product, Price, Promotion, Place)? Notice that “marketing” included “product”. Today of course, the term “Marketing” is mostly understood to cover only “Promotion” – i.e. advertising, PR, events, campaigns, awareness, lead generation etc. It has become specialized and focused heavily on demand creation.

Product Management has taken over “Product” and “Price”. “Place” — i.e. sales/distribution channels — has been taken over by Sales and to a lesser extent Product Management. Thus the “Marketing” part of “Product Marketing” is viewed in this context. Not as a strategic business function, but an outwardly focused partner to Sales.

Perhaps we need a new name for Product Marketing to better align with the changes that have happened in Marketing over the last 20 or so years.

So, what does that mean for “Product Marketing”?

In short, I see the clear need for what I would call “strategic marketing”.

This covers the basics like positioning and messaging, but also other areas where market, customer and product knowledge are required. This could include (but not be limited to) the following:

  • evangelism
  • analyst relations
  • sales funnel analysis and optimization
  • working on product, market or competitive strategy
  • high value content creation

So where does Product Marketing fit within a company? This role does NOT belong in Marketing and definitely not in Sales. Product Marketing should be part of the overall Product Management organization.

OK, Product Marketers, hear me out before you think I’m out to assimilate the role into that of Product Manager. I’m not. In fact, I’m advocating the opposite.

I’ve written and presented on the topic of How to Structure a Product Management Organization as well as The Need for Differentiated Roles in Product Management.

The fact is that both the roles of “Product Manager” and “Product Marketer” are poorly understood and implemented in the industry.  e.g. There’s too much focus on what a “Product Manager” does vs. what “Product Management” does.

Far too many companies have Product Management organizations that are populated solely with people with titles of “Product Manager” at varying levels of seniority. e.g. Technical Product Manager, Product Manager, Sr. Product Manager, Product Management Director, VP Product Management etc. Is there any other department that looks like that? No.

All departments have a spread of roles that have particular complimentary (there’s that word again)  focuses (foci?) and that work together to achieve common goals.  Why should Product Management be different?

There’s little disagreement that Product Managers and Product Marketers should work closely together, yet for some reason, there is pushback (mostly from Product Marketers in my experience) to be functionally within the Product Management organization.

Take a look at the following presentation. I delivered it last year at ProductCamp Boston. In it I present my case for the various roles, the place of Product Marketing within overall Product Management, and the problems this structure solves.

[slideshare id=7505312&doc=nomoresuperheroes-creatingpmorgs-110403233910-phpapp01]

Please take a look and let me know what you think.


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