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But, what is it and how do you know when you need it?

Product marketing is the process of bringing a product to market. This includes deciding the product’s positioning and messaging, launching the product, and ensuring salespeople and customers understand it. Product marketing aims to drive the demand and usage of the product. (Hubspot)

Product marketing is the marketing discipline focused on a specific product, product line or product family, as opposed to brand or corporate marketing. Product marketing owns the reasons a customer should buy the product. and makes sure the sales team and potential customers understand message clearly. Product marketers make that happen by studying and understanding the market (as a whole, and down to individual personas) and defining the positioning and messaging, or how the company’s solution satisfies the needs or eases the pain of the customer. 

Product marketing is critical for any software or SaaS company, especially for startups, because often the company often only has one product. As the product goes, so goes the company. In many instances, the roles of “marketing” and “product marketing” are often used interchangeably.

Let’s break down the primary responsibilities of a product marketer:

Be the Market Expert

I received training many years ago from Pragmatic Marketing which was very helpful for me in setting the direction I should be going as a product marketing manager. Their well-known framework always begins with “Market Problems” as the top-left section of the diagram, and with good reason. If you don’t understand the problems facing the market, you won’t have any idea 1) what to build to solve the problems or 2) how you will talk about the solution with the market. 

If you don’t understand the problems facing the market, you won’t have any idea 1) what to build to solve the problems or 2) how you will talk about the solution with the market. Click To Tweet

I like to separate the responsibilities of product management from product marketing by saying that the product manager should be the voice of the customer to the company and the product marketing manager should be the voice of the company to the market. Obviously, they need to be singing from the same sheet of music so the product marketing manager reflects back the same voice that the product manager originally heard from the market. 

It’s up to both functions to work together to develop a deep knowledge of the market and those problems, needs and pain points. At many startups, the product manager is so busy working with the development team on forming those first product versions that it’s super helpful when a capable and intelligent product marketer can step in and begin the process of gathering market and competitor intelligence.

Product marketing also needs to be the expert on competition: who all the competitors are, how their offerings compare with yours, who they are targeting and what their messaging and positioning are, as well as how they are reaching their target audiences. 

Define Personas

Solid, useful buyer personas are critical throughout the company for marketing, product, sales, customer service and success and any other departments or individuals who will be interacting with customers and prospects. Detailed personas should be widely reviewed and agreed upon for best adoption within the company. Good personas become part of a company’s culture and startups who believe this will talk frequently about “their” ideal customers, how they will react to certain messages or announcements, what they are asking for when prioritizing development and what issues they may be facing in their day-to-day work lives.

Establish Positioning

Positioning establishes the position a company or product takes in the marketplace. There is the position a company or product currently occupies and there is the position it wants to occupy. Hopefully, those aren’t too far apart from each other, and it’s up to product marketing to move the company from one spot to the other.

Positioning has to do with how customers and potential customers see the company in comparison to its competitors, or how the company wants to be seen. When marketers are positioning a company or brand, they compare their position to where their closest competitors are, based on the variables that are most meaningful for their target audience. This position is often depicted in a two-variable matrix.

Positioning a product or service happens the same way as positioning a company, but now the process involves comparing the company’s own offering to those of competitors based on what are probably different criteria than what were used to position the brand.

Draft Messaging

Messaging is a an outcome of positioning, as messaging statements will be the way the company shares its positioning with the world, and reinforce that message in the minds of customers, prospects, partners and even employees. How a marketer decides to talk about product position (real or aspirational) is critical and needs to be documented and shared with the company.

Launch Products

There is a lot that goes into a successful launch of a B2B technology offering, and it is up to the person with product marketing experience to ensure it all happens, completely, successfully, on time and under budget. Launching a new product involves new positioning and messaging statements, possibly new market intelligence and personas, content strategies, social media engagement plans and a new go-to-market plan.

Marketers should know what the company is launching from a technical perspective, how, where, to whom, when the launch happens and what the expected results are. Product marketing plans and executes the launch, then collects metrics, reports on them, draws conclusions and refines the launch process for the next launch.

Make Pricing and Packaging Decisions

Pricing is a very powerful growth lever for SaaS companies and along with its partner-in-crime, packaging, there are a lot of opportunities to tweak these factors to achieve success. The pricing model will obviously be focused on what the company will charge customers for their solution, but product marketers need to decide if it’s a one-time payment, a subscription, or some other model.

Will there be a per-seat fee or maybe a price increase based on available feature packages? That’s the “packaging” part of the equation. There are almost infinite combinations of pricing and packaging, and it’s up to product marketing to find the best pairing and continue to test and tweak to go after even incremental improvements.

Enable Your Sales Team to Succeed

Most SaaS products don’t sell themselves, much to the chagrin of product-focused marketers. As the price point goes higher, B2B SaaS companies start to look at building a sales team, and it is the responsibility of product marketing to give them the tools they need to make sales.

Product marketing “enables” them to succeed by creating presentations, product information sheets and other content that they can use with prospects to tell the story of how the solution will solve the problems of potential buyers, and how the company differentiates itself from the competition.

The role of product marketing has expanded exponentially. You’re not just working on product pitches and discussing product value and positioning. You set strategy, oversee revenue drivers and, above all, are masters and evangelists of your market and the customers you serve. In partnership with product management, you inform what products to build, and whom to build them for, based on time spent in-market and with customer-facing teams. You also determine how to price those products in partnership with finance and leadership. Finally, you work with sales and marketing to determine how to sell them. (Pragmatic Marketing)

When Does a Startup Need a Product Marketer?

If a startup doesn’t already have someone with product marketing experience (like a good “First Marketer”), that person needs to be one of the very first functional hires a company makes. Product marketing is foundational to SaaS startups, due to the nature of the business, where the product IS the company, and this capability needs to exist as early as possible in the company life cycle.

Product marketing is foundational to SaaS startups, due to the nature of the business, where the product IS the company, and this capability needs to exist as early as possible in the company life cycle. Click To Tweet

If there is already a marketing generalist doing brand marketing, it will depend on that person’s technical skills. There usually comes a point in a tech startup when the interaction between the market, the product and the sales team needs to be better coordinated, or when the technical marketing requirements become to difficult for the brand marketer. That’s the time to hire a full-time product marketer.

Product marketing is not a function that can easily be outsourced; it is better to hire someone or use existing internal resources. It is important to have someone who can sit with the product group and the sales team and be the buffer between them. Can that be a contractor? Sure, as long as they have the focus and dedication to perform the duties of a full-fledged product marketing manager.

Where to learn more about Product Marketing

Pragmatic Marketing is a great source for product marketing and product management courses and certifications. (Article: Defining the Role of Product Marketing)

– Drift: https://www.drift.com/blog/the-secret-lives-of-product-marketers/

– Drift again; https://www.drift.com/blog/what-is-product-marketing/

– Medium/The Startup: https://medium.com/swlh/product-marketing-why-your-startup-needs-it-and-what-it-doees-b7824d94a55a

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