Speaking Market into Product. Speaking Product into Market.

In answer to the question: what is product marketing?

Product Marketing speaks market into product, and product into market.

The role of the Product Marketer is as an expert and advocate for a product’s market. Whether they own or inform commercial strategy, the product marketer works to discover, describe, and define a population of buyers both now and into the future. Through a deep understanding of the competitive landscape and of individual stakeholder personas, the product marketer is tasked with crafting a message that is clear, consistent, and compelling, and is responsible for delivering that message in ways that are relevant and impactful.

Organizationally, Product Marketing sits between Product Management, Field Marketing, and Sales. As an expert in the product’s addressable market, it is the responsibility of Product Marketing to work closely with Product Management to ensure that features on product roadmaps are competitive, produce real value for the customer, and are aligned to the business’s overall commercial strategy. That is what it means to speak the market into product.

But product marketing also has to speak product into the market. Here, Product Marketing creates messaging for use by field marketing when developing high impact campaigns for demand and lead generation. This involves crafting language, positioning, and strategy documents to enable field campaigns, but also collaborating with field marketing to ensure that campaigns are consistent with core message, accurate, and impactful. The messaging that Product Marketing creates is also delivered to Sales, but translated according to the specific needs of that function. This involves the creation of tools and collateral, of course, but also enablement. In order to most effectively enable sales, it is vital for product marketing to have a close relationship with sales team, actively work to understand their unique needs, and deliver training and materials that actually make a difference in the field. Too often, Product Marketers lack a sales background, and so lack empathy. They focus their efforts on product and field marketing support, and merely throw materials over the fence at sales. This not only represents a missed opportunity to garner feedback from the field, but also a missed opportunity to have a significant impact on morale as sales is left to flounder and go it alone.

The role of product marketing is to speak market into product, and product into market. If we take this seriously, then the role of a product marketer ultimately becomes that of an advocate:

  • an advocate of customers who have real needs that we can meet in product,
  • an advocate for product managers who want to see commercial success and widespread product adoption,
  • an advocate for marketing functions that work earnestly to create high impact campaigns, and
  • an advocate for sales colleagues who face huge challenges in the field and are desperate for education and enablement.

When I think about product marketing, then, I ultimately think about the importance of the position to the people it serves, and feel strongly that putting service at the center as a core value of the role increases collaboration, mitigates against an imbalance in priority between product, marketing, and sales, and generates enthusiastic alignment within an organization in support of a common vision.

Product Roadmaps: Just One Damn Thing After Another?

Dostoyevsky once wrote (paraphrasing) that every man needs both a place to be, and a place to go. Others very cleverly talk about the difference between roots and routes, arguing that in order for humans to reach their full potential, they need to know both who they are, and have a vision for what they wish to become.

The same applies to products.

Unfortunately, product managers and humans alike rarely think deeply about either being or becoming. They think of life (that of the themselves or their products) as simply the cumulative effect of adding one thing after another. True, this may be life in the strictest and barest sense, but would anyone call this ‘flourishing?’ I think not.

Let’s talk about product roadmaps.

A product roadmap is NOT a list of features on a timeline. A roadmap is not a prioritized list of feature requests. A product roadmap, insofar as it IS a roadmap, MUST begin with a clear idea of what the product is, and what it aspires to become. It must have roots and routes.

Of course, the way that a product thinks of its roots and routes is always subject to change in the same way as a human being may change their self-conception and aspirations. What is VITAL, however, is that they HAVE a self-conception and a vision for the future.

You can’t steer a parked car.

It’s incredibly easy for product managers to fall into the same trap as humans in general, thinking of their roadmaps in terms of ‘what’

  • WHAT am I going to do?
  • WHAT am I going to do next?
  • WHAT are my product gaps?
  • WHAT are my customers requesting?

But a product roadmap should NOT first and foremost be concerned with ‘what’ questions. It needs to instead be laser focused on the ‘how.’

The ‘what’ is fundamentally about vision.

  • What is it?
  • What should it become?

Only once these questions are asked and answered can a product manager start thinking about creating and prioritizing specific features and enhancements. A clear vision gives a product a ‘why,’ and makes it possible to frame a roadmap as the ‘how.’

In the absence of this vision work (which is hard to do), however, there is no roadmap. There is no beginning. There is no end. Without a clear vision framed in terms of what a product is, and what it aspires to become, a ‘product roadmap’ is simply one damn thing after another.

What is product marketing? A kind of manifesto

There is remarkably little written about product marketing.

For the last month, I have been tracking the terms “Product Marketing” and “Product Marketer” using Google alerts. In that time, except for a few exceptions, all I have see are job advertisements. A LOT of job advertisements. For a position that is in such high demand, the fact that there is so little written about it is remarkable indeed.

So, what is product marketing? It’s complicated.

It is commonly accepted that product marketing exists at the intersection of marketing, product management, and sales. A product marketer ‘owns’ messaging for a product or product line. In support of field and central marketing, they work to ensure that what a product ‘means’ is coherent, consistent with broader corporate messaging and brand standards, and compelling to a full range of buying personas. The messaging produced by a product marketer comes to life in two forms: through outward-facing collateral used for demand generation, and inward-facing resources used for sales enablement.

So what is a product marketer? They are a story-teller who serves the interests of marketing, product, and sales through the creation of messaging that is coherent, consistent, and compelling.

It would be easy to stop here and think of the product marketer as a person in the present, as someone who creates stories that strike a balance between the three types of organizational interest it serves. Is a product marketer someone who creates messages that ‘work’ here and now? Yes. But if we also take seriously the role of a product marketer in creating, not just meaning, but also vision, then the product marketer also bears a kind of responsibility to the future. And as it turns out, the most effective and impactful product narratives are those that point beyond an immediate need and toward a future in which a thing is not only useful, but also important.

For me, the most exciting part of product marketing is its relationship to product management. This relationship is not one-way. It is not as if product management creates a thing, and then hands it to ‘the marketing guy’ to ‘market.’ To the extent that a product marketer is responsible for what a thing means, they also have a direct impact on what it becomes. With a meaning that is coherent, consistent, and compelling comes an understanding of the problems and needs of the market. It also necessarily defines values. By working with product management to understand, not just what is possible, but also what is meaningful, the product marketer importantly contributes to a vision for a product that is actualized in the form of a roadmap.

If you can’t say something important, don’t say anything at all.

How common is the commitment to importance among product marketers? I can’t say. But I would like to think that a commitment to importance is essential to being an excellent product marketer. It renders the role itself important (as opposed to merely useful). But with importance comes greater responsibility. It means developing domain expertise over and above the general expertise of being a product marketer. With domain expertise comes a greater sense of empathy for the industries your product supports.

The minute that a product marketer shifts their perspective from the present to the future, their locus of responsibility also changes. Focused on the present, the product marketer is an advocate on behalf of the product to the market. Focused on the future, the product marketer serves as an advocate to the product on behalf of the market.

What, then, is a product marketer? They are a story-teller who advocates on behalf of the market to an organization’s marketing, product, and sales departments through the creation of narratives that are coherent, consistent, and compelling.