Don’t Be the Misunderstood Product Marketer

In today’s competitive environment, every company faces the pressing question: How do we give our products the best possible chance of achieving sustained success?

It starts with effective product marketing. It starts with developing a detailed understanding of the buyer personas, building an insight-driven go-to-market strategy, developing an effective launch, and then working to enable sales, encourage adoption, and drive customer success.

Product marketing strategy is a roadmap for how you position, price, and promote your product or solutions in the market. It tells you where your biggest fans are and how to reach them.

Yet while product marketing is one of the most crucial marketing functions, it’s also widely misunderstood.

One reason for this confusion is its relatively recent appearance within organizations. Another comes from product marketing’s existence at the intersection of four critical departments: sales, marketing, product, and customer success.

As a standalone function, product marketing’s primary focus areas are positioning, the voice of customer research, buyer intelligence, messaging, pricing and packaging, customer segmentation, and product launches. And, yes, there’s a lot to unpack there. But effective product marketing should integrate with the product  life cycle to inform how you market your product from development to growth. Its creation and implementation require input from product managers, product marketing managers, marketers, and sales teams. That will result in strong buyer intelligence.

A strong product marketing strategy helps customers perceive you as a better product for their needs, and, through a constant feedback loop, you become perceived as the best solution. Strategic product marketing is the difference between “also-ran” products versus products that lead. It not only includes segmenting customers, positioning your product, creating product collateral, and supporting sales teams, but also great product marketing achieves much more. It directs the best way to bring your product to market. It shapes what the world thinks about your product and category. It inspires others to tell your product’s story.

These are extraordinary times filled with stress, change, and uncertainty. We are starting to see a number of growth models emerging by companies. These include marketing-led, sales-led, and product-led models. We won’t cover the nuances between these growth levers here, but the key to understand is that the strategy is not about which option to select but rather when and how to sequence them all. A product marketer can help influence how an organization thinks about its growth levers strategically – not just transactionally. There are three areas you can focus on to demonstrate your strategic prowess.

See the big picture. Because of the amount of work we face and the pace we are required to get it done, we often take a “heads down” approach and fail to “lift up.” That means observing both internal and external trends. Too often, we can miss the key information that could help us focus, prioritize, and be proactive in addressing the key go-to-market areas. In order to be strategic, you need a solid understanding of the industry context, trends, and business drivers. An intellectual appreciation of the importance of bringing in current data and seeking trends isn’t enough. You also have to:

  • Make it a routine exercise to explore and synthesize the internal trends in your day-to-day work. For example, pay attention to the issues that get raised over and over within your organization and synthesize the common obstacles your colleagues face.
  • Be proactive about connecting with peers both inside the organization and in your industry to better understand their observations of the marketplace. Then, share your findings across your network.
  • Understand the unique information and perspective that your function provides and define its impact on the corporate level strategy.

Ask the tough questions

With a fresh understanding of trends and issues, you can practice using strategic thinking by asking yourself, “How do I broaden what I consider?” Questions are the language of strategy. Understand the “why” behind the decisions and gain a better understanding of the varying viewpoints internally and externally. By becoming more curious and looking at information from different points of view, you are able to reduce the tendency toward being myopic and seeing different possibilities, different approaches, and different potential outcomes. For example, when working on a product launch or a product marketing strategy plan, consider asking, “What does success look like in Year 1?”  “What does it look like in Year 3?” “What could impact the outcome in a negative way?” “What are the early signs of success/failure?” 

Make time to think

Our days are jam-packed, running from meeting to meeting. It’s often difficult to contribute strategically without the time to reflect on the issues and to ponder options. Manage your schedule! Stop going to meetings where you’re not required. Block out thinking time on your calendar and honor it, just as you would for other meetings. But, use the time effectively and work on key areas you need to address. This isn’t a time to catch up on work!

The quest to build your strategic skills can be uncomfortable. At first, you might feel like you’re kicking up sand in the ocean. Your vision will be blurred as you manage through the unsettling feelings that come with challenging your own assumptions and gaining comfort with conflict and curiosity. Once the dust settles, however, you’re able to contribute at a higher level. Even more importantly, you’ll be glad you took the risk.

I discuss other ways to become a strategic product marketer–identifying flags from that initial interview process. Check out my discussion with Louise from Product Marketing Hive here.

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