The role of product marketing in technology companies is a fascinating topic in part because it is so poorly defined and inconsistent. I’ve managed product marketing now at LinkedIn, SurveyMonkey and various early-stage startups and in each case the expectations for the role were different from team to team and company to company. It’s a chameleon role that is often defined by circumstance, such as the first hire of a marketer to support the product development teams. Often, this first hire creates a precedent on product marketing’s role and contribution within the organization which results in wildly different roles from company to company. What then do product marketers do?
The role of the product marketer is to accelerate product growth by championing the customer, communicating product value, and driving distribution. It may even be just one of many hats, like what it is today in my role as founder at Notejoy. Regardless, effective product marketers are focused on ensuring the product connects with its ideal customer. The “work” of product marketing may look very different due to the variety of products out there, but generally they share these common pillars.
Championing the Customer
Product marketers work closely with their product teams to define the target customer and champion them throughout the product development process. During initial product design, product marketers are often focused on researching and defining the ideal target customer. This often takes the form of customer development interviews, market research surveys, and competitive analyses. Key insights such as a customer’s purchasing process or industry information during this phase can influence product teams to make radically different decisions. For instance knowing the primary complaint about your competitor’s feature might inspire a team to double down in that area.
After a product is launched, product marketers often play the role of data aggregators, sifting through customer data to provide actionable recommendations for development teams. While many product teams are on top of product metrics, other sources of data may be overlooked. What are the top trending issues from the customer support teams that are receiving feedback from customers? What is the reception from early sales conversations with prospects? What can we learn from the traits of the most engaged or profitable customers? What is the general sentiment of about product & brand on social media? While product and engineering teams are deeply focused on the work of product design and execution, product marketers play a key role in enabling them to easily leverage customer insights from other sources. Often, product marketers have a seat at the table as a proxy for the customer’s voice. At Mochi Media, when we had debates over which feature to prioritize next for our game developers, I’d message key customers for quick feedback to drive an informed decision. At LinkedIn, we monitored our product’s Net Promoter Score and verbatim feedback, and analyzed the results to provide roadmap recommendations.
Examples of a product marketer’s role in championing the customer
- Coordinate and execute customer research for validating key product hypotheses, such as product-market fit, definition of target customer, pricing strategy
- Create competitive overview of industry and products with deliverables such as internal digest of competitor news, competitive training, or collateral communicating product differentiation
- Train R&D and sales teams on who the customer is and how the product helps them
- Develop buyer persona and customer segmentation as a resource for product development and marketing programs
- Collate and deliver regular stream of customer product feedback such as NPS, support issues, sales team feedback, and other channels
Communicating Product Value
Successful product growth and engagement is fundamentally linked to whether customers understand and realize the value it offers. While all product teams aspire to create an elegant user experience and functionality that enables customers to intuitively “get it” after they try it, product marketers are focused on conveying the product’s value to the customer to engage, convert and retain them. Product marketers play a key role in driving awareness and trial as well as packaging the product to appeal to customers. They accomplish this by packaging a product’s features and functionality into messaging and positioning, pricing, and collateral.
Prior to launch, product marketers spend time helping the team gain an understanding of the customer. During this process, the team reaches a clear understanding of who the ideal target customer is, their motivations, and what pain points are driving them to purchase. In a crowded landscape with limited budgets and many options, competition is fierce, and product marketers are responsible for developing product messaging and positioning that explains how the product provides unique and differentiated value that resolves pain for the customer. Without someone owning this critical component, many brilliant products are reduced to a long-winded list of features lacking clarity on how they are better or different. In addition to this, the product marketer ensures that the product’s value connects with the customer on the basis of it’s price and overall package. During and after the product launch, product marketers own the expression of the product’s messaging throughout the website and marketing materials. When the product package is well-defined, everyone who interacts with the customer from product development and design to sales and customer support should have a clearer view of how to effectively and consistently explain what the product is.
Examples of a product marketer’s role in communicating product value
- Develop product messaging and positioning framework leveraged internally for content, support and sales to ensure a consistent outbound message
- Develop and internally coordinate launch plans including outbound go-to-market channels and internal team coordination (e.g., paid marketing, PR, support, legal, sales) to ensure consistent messaging
- Define product pricing by working with product and finance teams taking into account pricing strategy and competitive dynamics
- Create and distribute content and collateral communicating product value such as website content, sales collateral, videos
Driving Product Distribution
Successful product marketing teams adopt shared goals with the extended team to drive the adoption and engagement of their product areas. While product development teams are focused on shipping brilliant products, product marketers play a key role in making sure these products reach their intended customers. Rather than applying a standard marketing playbook, strong product marketers develop and execute plans based on their unique insights about their product and target audience.
Many teams approach product launch by creating a comprehensive list of many potential channels and beginning to execute on them, often on the basis of interest or difficulty. The challenge is that budget, time and resources are scarce to launch and optimize distribution channels. Product marketers are critical to ensuring that they are spent wisely. The key role that product marketers provide in this arena is prioritizing these initiatives and driving their execution with the broader team. Based on their customer insights, they have a perspective on where customers spend their time and assess the feasibility of a channel. For instance, at Mochi Media we knew that our target audience of game developers was practically unreachable through PR and paid advertising, so we focused our resources on web forums and business development at developer conferences ultimately launching our own flagship conference. While building my contact management startup Connected, we were able to leverage SEO and app integrations, but quickly abandoned paid marketing because the cost-per-click for CRM-related terms against our LTV were too high. Often this is a rapidly changing environment with new data or market shifts happening on a day-to-day basis, and product marketers provide significant value in bridging this gap for product development teams.
Examples of a product marketer’s role in driving product distribution
- Investigate and prioritize potential distribution channels (e.g., work with online marketing to assess media buying, business development to assess partnerships, product for in-product virality)
- Provide ownership and accountability for overall performance of product distribution efforts, such as budget management, team/agency coordination and performance metrics
- Ongoing testing, analysis and optimization of distribution channels to drive higher performance, such as landing page tests or assessing feedback from PR and social strategy
- Execute marketing programs such as webinars, offline events, media buying, social campaigns, often in collaboration with other teams
While the day-to-day work of product marketing is varied and diverse, the focus is often the same. Ultimately, product marketers accelerate product growth by championing the customer, communicating product value, and driving product distribution.
Ada Chen Rekhi is co-founder & COO of Notejoy, a collaborative notes app for individuals and teams. She’s also an executive coach who works with founders and executives looking to scale themselves as they scale their teams. If you enjoyed this essay, subscribe to her newsletter or follow her on @adachen.