Why a Product Marketing Guide? Simply because it was missing. Or rather, it was missing as I imagine it. In fact, I believe that it is important to start from general concepts such as: what Product Marketing is and why it is important and then take a further step to the heart of the topic.
I don’t anticipate anything, but I promise you that, at the end of the reading, you will have a complete mastery of the basics. And, beyond that, I will begin to introduce some more technical and detailed notions.
What is Product Marketing: definition
What are we talking about? We are talking about Product Marketing, that is, a company function that is useful in the B2B business as in the B2C business. It is a transversal area that goes from the definition of a product to its marketing.
If you are involved in Product Marketing, your mission is: to know your target audience so well that you know exactly what they may want and satisfy them with the best product that only you are able to successfully bring to market.
The most appropriate definition of product marketing is, in my opinion, the following:
Product Marketing is a series of activities, structured in a functional methodological process to put the product on the market. How? By monitoring target customers, driving demand and responding with the most effective and efficient product.
To complete this mission, you need a Product Marketing Manager in charge of:
- Studying threats and opportunities (Discover): market trend analysis, competitor analysis, and customer research. This preliminary phase determines the methods of implementation of the subsequent phases.
- Defining the positioning (Positioning): what needs does the product intercept? What are the characteristics of your Unique Selling Proposition? The answers are those that your target looks for and determine the coordinates of the product with respect to the market. You can also consider them as the booster for impactful messaging.
- Creating messages to convey the product (Messaging): the story of the product enhances the value with a coherent voice through the various distribution channels.
- Launch the product and Go-To-Market: the launch plan gathers all the activities useful for marketing such as facilitating the transition from “on the shelf” to “off the shelf”. The launch phase concerns not only the external market, i.e. customers, but also the internal front, i.e. the organization’s stakeholders on which the launch has an impact.
- Enablement: facilitating sales is the final step. The sales team, as well as commercial partners and managers of distribution channels, must be put in a position to seize the business opportunity represented by the new product. And this becomes possible only if all team members are provided with information material, such as pitch presentations and brochures, and if they are trained to use it.
In summary, Product Marketing is a branch of corporate business that connects the product to the needs of the target audience. It does this by supporting the teams that develop and sell it so that in every moment of the process the product is correctly positioned on the market and consistently communicated to external customers and internal stakeholders.
In this image, the role of Product Marketing is represented, positioning itself at the intersection of Product Management, Marketing, and Sales.
Product Marketing: What Is It And How To Make It Work?
Product Marketing performs a fundamental connecting function. Be careful though! No Product Marketing strategy works without an alignment of the entire organization. In particular, the Leadership Team must be on the same page so that the target always receives consistent and accurate information.
What does the Product Marketing Manager do? He connects the efforts of the whole team and makes sure that the plan proceeds as planned by involving the Sales Team, the Marketing Team, and the Product Team in the Positioning and Messaging phase. The main information to be shared is the following:
- Definition of positioning and messaging of our product
- Definition of our buyer personas
- Any demos available
- Sales Enablement Opportunity
By doing this, we make sure that potential customers and current customers hear the product message addressing them with one voice.
For this reason, alignment between teams becomes fundamental. Especially in the launch phase, it is advisable to spend more time planning. This is where the synergy between product specialists, such as Product Managers and Product Marketing Managers, can make the difference: alignment is essential for the best possible launch. It is up to them to involve the product development team and the sales team so that the organization is ready and informed.
Do you know which methodology has alignment among the superpowers? Here is the answer.
What is Product Marketing and why is it important?
Product marketing is a fundamental part of the business strategy. Without it, the chances of your product reaching its maximum potential among your target audience are greatly reduced.
Conversely, a good Product Marketing plan helps to:
- Optimize the marketing mix of a product
Product Marketing helps in choosing the optimal combination of McCarthy’s 4Ps, the leverage factors of the product marketing mix, namely:
This is the traditional starting point that has evolved over time. Today, in fact, we talk about the marketing strategy of the 7Ps: where People, Process, and Physical Environment are further factors to consider for the marketing mix of a product. We will have the opportunity to talk more about it in the next in-depth articles.
- Uncover indirect competitors and control direct competitors
Comparing your product with that of competitors helps you improve your strategy and prevent any threats. In fact, if on the one hand direct competitors are easily identifiable, indirect competitors – while offering different services/products – could somehow intercept the needs of your audience.
- Monitor the Product Lifecycle
The product specialist follows the process from development to decline. This is what the Product Marketing Manager does in practice: from the moment the product is released and introduced on the market, it orients the phases of growth and maturity based on how the market moves. Based on the product life cycle analysis, decisions are made, for example, regarding the budget for promotional investments, pricing, and packaging.
What is Product Marketing for in the Product Lifecycle?
We focus on the product life cycle, at the heart of Product Marketing. The 4 traditional phases are:
Development and design: consists of research and design. It is the start-up of the startup that, on the basis of the business plan, attracts investors, developing prototypes and planning tests. Depending on the type of product, its innovation, and the competition, the first phase can last more or less long.
Product launch and market launch: preceded and accompanied by ads and promotional campaigns, the launch phase corresponds to the introduction of the product “on the shelf”. The marketing team and the product teamwork to test the different distribution channels and proceed with customer education on purchase and use.
Growth and Maturation: in the growth phase, demand and profits increase, more or less proportionally. The pace is hopefully rapid and constant over time, as the product enters the expanding market. At this moment, competition also begins to develop, indicating the success of the product. When sales stabilize, the product enters its maturity. At this point, the marketing actions are oriented towards differentiation rather than awareness. Revenues are higher because the margin increases as production costs at full capacity decrease.
Decline: Unless your product becomes the market leader and outperforms the competition in terms of target preferences and customer retention, you will see its decline. The competition will become fiercer and new trends will emerge. If a product is in this phase it can be discarded, innovated or reiterated in some way.
The product specialist intervenes with different tactics depending on the stage of the life cycle. The monitoring of vital parameters (sales, customer satisfaction, customer retention rate), gives the measure the state of health. In this way, decisions can be made, for example, regarding the type of marketing campaign: a new product requires awareness of the target. In contrast, a mature product requires campaigns to maintain brand awareness.
These are the main advantages of using the Product Lifecycle in Product Marketing:
- Modulate the wording of messages and positioning to better market the product according to the phase of life in which it is located.
- Optimize pricing. A brand new product may be more attractive at a competitive price, while in the growth phase the strategy may be upside.
- React to threats promptly, in order to lengthen the maturation phase and delay the decline phase.
How does Product Marketing produce results?
For an effective strategy, I recommend that you proceed according to such a structured plan, as per the Product Marketing manual:
- Define the buyer personas on which you will base the analysis of the data collected over time
A product released on the market without knowing who it is aimed at and how it addresses the needs of its audience is more likely to fail than to succeed. This requires a very deep understanding of the profiled target, so as to identify specific groups of buyer personas.
It is not only about knowing who they are, their age, and their interests, but also about establishing a relationship of empathy with them.
What challenges do they face in life?
What are their goals?
What do they appreciate in the products they choose?
Why do they buy your product or the competitor’s product?
What messages do they hear, motivating or emotional?
- Analyze the competition by studying direct competitors and indirect competitors
Competition analysis is not reduced to a formula, nor to the use of specialized tools: it is a systematic process of evaluating factors, such as threats and opportunities, which can be obtained with various tools such as SWOT analysis. For this purpose, benchmarking is useful, which allows you to evaluate the product in relation to the performance of the top players in the sector.
The benchmark is the comparison of performance indicators that are used to understand how your product is positioned compared to the best performance of direct competitors or indirect competitors.
The data give answers on the results obtained and indications on the improvement actions to be undertaken.
An example of benchmarking? The comparison between two top players in the fast-food market: McDonald’s and Burger King. In this case, a benchmark to monitor could be social performance, having as an indicator the engagement rate:
type of post (photos and/or links);
number of posts;
interaction rate (comments and / or shares).
- Place your product on the market
Positioning is the image that the ideal customer has of the product. When placing a product on the market you must pay close attention to its unique and distinct advantage over its competitors. What buyer personas perceive is the identity of the product.
To proceed, it is necessary to identify the market segment to aim for, defining the demographic data and the purchasing habits of consumers.
Let’s take a pair of shoes. How many market segments are there? Lot of! I’ll give you two simple examples. The shoes of an artisan shoemaker are positioned in a specific segment: medium-high spending customers who are looking for the value of handmade products and who appreciate the uniqueness of the product. Louis Vuitton shoes, on the other hand, are positioned in the luxury segment and are aimed at customers who find the brand the mirror of their exclusive standard of living. In all likelihood, shoemakers will not opt for the luxury brand and it will not be just a matter of budget.
These are deep motivations that lie in your audience’s mind and that you will need to discover in order to correctly position your product.
“Positioning is not what you do to the product. Positioning is what you do to your ideal customer’s mind. In other words: you position the product in the prospect’s mind “(Al Ries, Jack Trout:” Positioning. The battle for your mind”).
From ‘on the shelf’ to ‘inside the mind’.
- Communicate in a targeted way
It’s time to get your product voice out. You will have to find the right message and convey it in an appropriate tone and with effective tools. Reducing the message to a list of benefits and an explanation of the product’s features is too little. It is necessary, but it is not enough.
The goal at this stage is not so much to make it clear that your product works, but that it is the best and that it is because it is the answer to the needs of your ideal customer.
Product messaging is strategic not only towards the outside to reach the target but also as an internal communication tool. It can be used for PR as well as for Team Marketing and Team Sales training.
- Plan your launch and go-to-market strategy
The Go-To-Market (GTM) strategy is the plan that details the useful and necessary tactics and actions to release the product and go to market. The basic elements of a product’s GTM are:
- Customer journey roadmap
- Budget for product launch
- Tactics and sales channels
- Training tools and methods for commercial, sales, and customer service
The launch phase is also specified within the Go-To-Market strategy. The product launch is the moment in which you complete the work of the previous phases: the product is about to reach the target audience, with the most compelling message possible and at the right price.
- Sales Enablement
Sales Enablement is how Product Marketing becomes operational. It is a question of giving strength to the commercial, enabling it to sell effectively: by signing the largest number of contracts and decreasing the duration of the negotiations.
The key is to provide complete information and timely and valuable content.
This occurs when the marketing team and the sales team apply the inbound method in synergy, to raise the level of awareness about the brand and the proposals. The team will have the answers they are looking for and will be able to convey the message, through the sales techniques identified.
What does a Product Marketing Manager do?
After doing a quick rundown to explain what Product Marketing is, it’s time to turn the spotlight on the Product Marketer.
The Product Marketing Manager (PMM) is the person in charge of grounding the strategies from discovery to enablement during the entire life cycle of the product.
These are the areas of action in which the PMM uses its skills:
- Conversion and Retention
The product marketing manager is committed to people’s attention. In other words, he wants the product to become the center of attention of buyer personas. The effort is to develop the awareness of potential customers, through techniques such as SEO, advertising, and social media marketing.
With engagement, the PMM acts on both leads and customers acquired in order to develop an audience of fans, or rather a community. Brands that interact through events, special e-mail marketing campaigns, and targeted promotions, strengthen their reputation and make their product more accessible.
Conversion and retention
When things proceed according to the product specialist’s plan, the acquisition phase is followed by the conversion phase and the engagement phase is followed by loyalty. For conversion, the most effective tactics are those that aim at reducing friction: in-depth knowledge of the target audience allows the PMM to understand and anticipate possible objections, so as to eliminate any barriers to purchase.
The lead turns into a paying customer, and the paying customers stay loyal to the product.
The responsibilities of the Product Marketer go further, however. In synergy with the Product Manager (what he does differently from the PMM we will see shortly), he traces the future of the product and the direction of development. The marketing strategy will thus always be in line with the evolution of the product and will be able to guide it.
The product marketing manager also plays a management and leadership role.
The Product Marketing Manager defines:
- the vision of the product;
- the objective of the product;
- metrics to measure product performance;
- the tactics used to achieve the objectives.
As I told you, for a successful plan, the Product Marketer moves in alignment with his team and the others directly involved. From defining the strategy to implementing actions, each team member knows the answers to the following questions:
- Where is the product headed?
- How does he speak to his audience?
- Why is it different and important?
- What do team members need to do to contribute to success?
Difference between Product Marketing Manager and Product Manager
I have already explained who the Product Manager is. I will not go back to it, if not for the concepts that help me in establishing the boundary (not always very clear) between what the Product Manager and the Product Marketing Manager do.
What Product Manager does
The Product Manager manages the product within the company. It means that it becomes the voice within the product-centric organization and to do so it assumes the following responsibilities:
- It defines the strategic vision for medium and long-term development
- It sets the goals and sets the initiatives to satisfy the vision
- Manages and directs the Product Team
- Supervise the product life cycle
- Collaborate with the Development Team to address the usability factor
- Collaborate with the Marketing Team to analyze and understand the needs of the audience
A product Marketing manager who he is and what he does
The PMM takes care of communicating the product externally, telling its story, and highlighting its advantages. While operating within a product-oriented structure, its focus is aimed at the target audience and the reference market. That’s why it performs the following tasks:
- Conducts market and customer research
- Defines placement and messaging
- He directs the product marketing team
- Plan and follow the launch phase
- Establishes the go-to-market strategy
- Expand your reach by identifying new audiences.
Product Marketing Manager VS Product Manager
The difference between the Product Marketing Manager and Product Manager is made less clear by the fact that the two roles work in close synergy. Furthermore, PMM and PM have in common the characteristic of acting transversally in various areas of the organization.
I have prepared a simple diagram to compare the main differences:
The Product Manager operates inbound and the Product Marketing Manager operates outbound.
Within the organization, the Product Manager collaborates with developers and engineers while the Product Marketing Manager works hand in hand with the sales and sales department.
The PM listens to what the market is saying and the PMM knows what to say to the market.
The Product Manager creates new products and the Product Marketing Manager creates new market segments.
The PM studies the functionalities that satisfy the users and the PMM communicates them in the form of added value that converts to sales.
Examples to follow from product specialists
To find examples of successful Product Marketers we must necessarily look outside Italy. In our country, in fact, Product Marketing is still a poorly defined discipline. This is not the case abroad where the PMM is responsible for creating the product marketing strategy and its execution. A vital role especially in companies operating in highly competitive sectors and in saturated markets.
Here are some PMMs on the crest of the wave that I recommend you follow on LinkedIn:
Marie Burke is Director of Product Marketing at CloudHealth. In her experience, she held the role of Product Marketing Manager at NetApp, a company that has a precise mission statement on the official website: a more detailed view of customers is the best way to continually improve. The customer experience is therefore at the heart of product marketing, as per the Product Marketing manual. LinkedIn M. Burke
Jim Eup is Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce. His professional biography embodies the perfect job description of the Product Marketing Manager: “Responsible for product positioning, packaging, pricing and messaging based on market opportunities and the competitive landscape”. LinkedIn J. Eup
Syed Ali Haris is Vice President of Product Marketing at Zendrive and was previously Senior Product Marketing Manager at Appcues. He is an advocate of product-driven growth (PLG) and firmly believes in educating a passionate audience. LinkedIn S. Haris
Daniel J. Murphy has led some SaaS startups to success. Privy, for example, has become one of the fastest-growing companies in the US. Murphy has grown Drift’s marketing team eightfold in just two years. LinkedIn D. Murphy
Bozena Pieniazek is Vice President of Marketing at Maze and held the position of Product Marketing Manager at Typeform. In Typeform the strategy was to educate users and leads on online forms and surveys, so as to create a very loyal community. LinkedIn B. Pieniazek
Jeremy Thake was Senior Product Marketing Manager in Microsoft’s Azure division. His responsibilities? Ensure the product has the correct positioning and messaging in the market and raise awareness on a global scale. LinkedIn J. Thake
Product Lead Growth: at the heart of Product Marketing
It is not yet the time to delve into Product Marketing techniques and methodologies, we will be back soon and over and over again. As I anticipated in the title of this chapter, it is a question of progressively arriving at the center of Product Marketing, and to do so we will first have to touch on other topics relating to the strategy, definition, and action phase.
Here it will be sufficient to mention the concept of Product Lead Growth (PLG) as the initial atom of the discipline.
Technical Glossary “What does Lead Nurturing mean?”
PLG is not just a Go-To-Market technique, but a series of principles aimed at improving the user experience in relation to the product and consequently increasing the efficiency of the Product Marketing plan strategy.
The end-user guides every strategic decision.
It was first summarized by OpenView’s Blake Bartlett in 2016: “Product-driven growth is how you thrive. It is the era of the end-user.” Today, Product Lead Growth is the secret to the success of companies like Atlassian, Wix, and Slack: a scalable distribution model that uses the user experience and allows them to find, experiment, and appreciate the product independently.
Product-oriented companies go on a journey to become guided by the product. Along the way, the company learns to adopt the most effective techniques to improve user experiences and increase the efficiency of the go-to-market.
The improvement of the UX (User Experience) is the basis of the fundamental output of product-driven growth, that is the progressive path of the lead which can be summarized as follows:
- MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) is a qualified lead who has already interacted with the company in some way without having entered the sales funnel.
- SQL (Sales Qualified Lead) is a lead that has the characteristics of a potential customer, as it is already present in the sales funnel.
- PQL (Product Qualified Lead) is a user who has already used the free or freemium version of the product. It is a step forward in lead generation and nurturing compared to MQL and SQL because a PQL already knows the value of the product that it is able to recognize and appreciate independently.
What is Product Marketing in Italy? Present and future scenarios
In Italy, Product Marketing is still in the initial phase. But we are already witnessing a phenomenon that suggests a desirable change of scenery.
The Product Manager in the Italian entrepreneurial fabric (PMI) is almost exclusively dedicated to the development of high-quality products, certified by the Made in Italy brand. The time to study the market and identify the highly profiled target is reduced. With consequent risks to growth. In this case, a specialized figure such as the PMM becomes necessary.
Where it is already present, however, the Product Marketing Manager is not used to 100% of its functionality. It mainly deals with the launch and go-to-market phase, dangerously neglecting the discover phase. Or in smaller companies, it overlaps with the Marketing Manager in the creation of communication and sales tools, such as product sheets, white papers, press office materials, and the like.
Indeed, to add value and support growth, indeed to accelerate it, the Product Marketing Manager should deal with strategic activities such as knowledge of the ideal customer, positioning, and messaging. That is, it should be an active part of every life phase of the product cycle in such a way as to contribute to the strategic objectives of the organization with its own skills.
His contribution becomes decisive for:
- Make product improvements
- Introduce new references
- Identify new market segments
In a saturated market subject to constant pressures of change, even in Italian companies the need to find a product specialist dedicated to analyzing trends and studying customer needs is becoming increasingly evident.
In-depth guides on what Product Marketing is
Before closing, I would like to point out some books on Product Marketing useful for improving your knowledge and for learning from successful cases. These are editions in English because, as just explained, the authoritative resources in Italian are still very few.
- “Product Marketing Misunderstood”
Making the product understood and appreciated is the mission of the Product Marketing Manager, but without the recognition of internal stakeholders, this is not possible. The sore point in Product Marketing is precisely the definition of the role whose value is not fully appreciated. Still, this is not a new business function. The book starts from these assumptions and by introducing the principles of positioning, messaging, research, and audience segmentation, it highlights the role of the product marketing specialist. Without misunderstandings.
- “Crossing the Chasm”
The vast experience of the author, Geoffrey Moore, in high-tech markets is put to use in this comprehensive book on Product Marketing. By focusing on the life cycle of technology products, Moore shows that there is an abysmal space between the first innovative customers and the massive adoption of the majority. Companies must act on this, in such a way as to make the greatest number of users understand as soon as possible that their technological product offers effective and evident advantages over the others.
Accelerating product penetration in each market segment is a challenge for successful marketers.
The positioning is effectively described in the book through the metaphor of the Elevator Test. The product story explaining the who (customers), how (voice), and why (value) of the product must be unique, clear, and effective. In this way, the Marketing, the Product Marketing, and the Sales Team will be aligned. In practice, in the Elevator Test, you should imagine entering the elevator with a stranger. If you were asked to introduce yourself, would you be able to explain, in the short time of the climb, who you are and what you do? Would you be able to do this in an understandable and affable way?
- “Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love”
The latest book on Product Marketing I’m talking about is signed by Marty Cagan. In Inspired you will find examples of Product Marketing such as those of Amazon, Google, Netflix, and Tesla: big companies that innovate and change the rules of the market through the development and promotion of products loved by multitudes of customers. Case studies of global success told by giving voice to products and letting their language spoken.
Conclusions on Product Marketing: what it is and why I tell you about it
I have been dealing with digital products and software for many years. I’ve learned that there is no product that doesn’t need its audience, but there is definitely an audience that needs a product (more or less consciously).
Needs and audience are at the center of the attention of the product specialist. And not from now. In recent years, however, they have been in a very different way.
The customer experience becomes focal and Product Marketing takes care of it to support the growth of the organization. Its analysis is aimed at understanding the target, often through focus group research models.
In this way, the product will be positioned correctly, will meet the needs, and satisfy them. But it will go even further. He will make himself loved. Because its characteristics are enhanced in the storytelling of the product, it will have an impact on the life of the buyer personas.
The customer experience is a point to pay attention to in the Product Marketing strategy: the relationship with the customer and his involvement cannot in any case be neglected.
Show that your product is perfect for the preferences of each individual user: it talks to each of them individually and does it the right way. If you want to know how this is also possible in your business, contact me for advice.
I’m Luciano Castro, president of the Product Manager Alliance (the first Italian and European association of product managers). As Senior Product Manager and Entrepreneur I help companies grow through the creation of successful digital products. With my team of professionals, I support startups and managers in the path of growth and development from strategy to action.