An internet search for “what is product marketing?” returns an underwhelming series of Venn diagrams that all look like this.
The Venn diagrams show that product marketing interacts with other departments. Some versions add customers or customer success as though a minor tweak will help this picture deliver some insight. You could show the same image with product marketing replaced by finance, human resources, or legal. Remind me which department does not interact with other departments?
As John Kreisa pointed out in his recent PMM Hive Talk on Product Marketing Career Roadmaps, visual communication is a crucial skill for product marketers. Being able to communicate complex ideas in simple diagrams is a core skill for product marketers. As an example of empty visual communication, this Venn diagram is useful. It communicates nothing and thereby shows you what not to do.
So what is product marketing?
Product marketing is a subset of product management. Product marketing is the business of product management. It is the subset of product management that is most concerned with the commercial success of a product rather than its construction. It includes go-to-market and product strategy, roadmap, positioning, and launch. It excludes the detailed definition of features and requirements, release management, and day to day engagement with engineering.
It is useful to distinguish product management and product marketing as activities, business functions, from their namesake Product Manager (PM) and Product Marketing Manager (PMM) job titles.
Product management is a key function; you could argue the key function of any technology company. PMs, product marketers, product designers, engineers, tech leads, researchers, data, and financial analysts all perform product management activities. Sales engineers, sales staff, customer success, operations, demand generation, and branding teams all participate in product management.
In silicon valley, the CEO and executive team often take significant product management responsibility, rarely if ever fully delegating go-to-market strategy or product strategy to PM and PMM roles.
PMs do not themselves perform all of the product management work in a company. And PMMs do not do all of the product marketing work. Both roles deliver useful work and also act as orchestrators of the overall product management and marketing activities.
When you look at the content of PM and PMM roles, you see almost as many variations as there are companies. What is critical to the success of a technology company is that roles and responsibilities are reasonably clear and that they include the most essential product management activities. Areas of shared ownership are acceptable and may lead to better results.
The essential product marketing activities are strategy, roadmap, positioning, and launch.
Strategy requires a detailed understanding of customer needs and competitive offerings, mapping out competitive playing fields, and determining where and how you can win. Strategy is not only about what product you build, but how you win through the combination of product, sales, marketing, customer success, and everything else your company does that impacts customers. When companies have more than one product, go to market strategy becomes exponentially more complicated.
Your roadmap shows the direction your product portfolio takes over time. Good product marketers take input from multiple stakeholders, including sales, loss analysis, customers, and industry insiders, and ensure the roadmap is true to the identity and positioning of the company.
Positioning is not a simple marketing exercise. For a company with a single or small collection of products, product positioning should justify the existence of the company. It should communicate a fundamental advantage of your offering that your company commits to maintaining over time.
Launch is about making the world aware of your offering. It includes product messaging, pricing, supporting content, enablement for sales and services teams, and engagement with key influencers. It is about communicating and taking credit for what you have delivered to customers.
People ask about the respective roles and responsibilities of PM and PMMs, more than they ask themselves if their company is executing the essential product marketing and product management activities effectively, or at all.
Organizations often neglect areas of product marketing. Go-to-market strategies are often half-baked; positioning lacks competitive differentiation; roadmaps are boring and launches abandoned due to a misunderstanding of “continuous delivery.”
Perhaps the most crucial contribution of a PMM is to understand the full scope of product marketing activity, to benchmark themselves and their company against that standard, and to deliver a roadmap for gradual improvement.
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