What 7 years of product marketing taught me about it

What is product marketing? I’ve been a product marketer for almost seven years and I wasn’t able to give a succinct answer to that question for the longest time. 

Some say that it is the process of connecting the product and the market. While others say that a product marketer’s job is to enable sales teams to sell the product better. Product marketers are also seen as ‘launch planners’ who are responsible for doing all the marketing activities that follow the launch of a product or a feature.

All the above definitions are correct but limiting.

I put a lot of stock in learning by doing (and so does Freshworks). My evolution as a product marketer has been a learning process. Initially, my only job was to write blogs and emails about the product and its features. Doing competitor analysis and writing feature pages came next. I started working closely with the product and the sales teams, understanding customer needs, collaborating with general marketing much later. And every new responsibility I took up was based on the needs of the company and the customer.

So it makes sense that the definition of product marketing varies from company to company, growth stage to growth stage, and even one product marketer to the other. 

For me, the best way to think of product marketing, the definition that fits all the different responsibilities I have as a product marketer, is this: 

Product marketing is the process of telling the story of the product to the customers, the prospects, and the whole world. A product marketer is, fundamentally, a storyteller.

Product marketers also help teams like sales tell the story to prospects. Therefore, a product marketer’s job involves framing the story and getting it out through as many channels as possible, through a variety of deliverables.

What are the responsibilities of the product marketer:

A product marketer’s responsibilities can be broken down into four stages. In a perfect world, a product marketer will have the time and resources to work on all the stages, end-to-end. But this is not possible if the product is too big for one person to market. In such cases, the product marketing team should be assembled in such a way that different members can take care of different stages. Another way to tackle this is by dividing the product into multiple modules and assigning each module to a different product marketer. 

In any case, to be a good product marketer, you need to be able to: 

Stage 1 – Do Research: 

To frame a good story about the product, a product marketer needs to know the product, the customer, and the competition. This means spending a lot of time understanding the product, seeing how customers use it and learning if similar features are available with a competitor product. 

The research stage is a learning stage that has no deliverables of its own. But you can collate your research to make: 

  • A buyer persona: Create an ideal customer(s) for your product and build a story about the product for them. The entire company can use this to understand whose problems they are solving.
  • Competitive research documents: An extensive source of truth document that has a functionality-to-functionality comparison between what your product has compared to the others in the market. Again, the whole company can make use of this to know what to build next, which competitors you should watch out for, and how to implement existing solutions in a better way.

Product marketers can also co-own research with product managers. Especially the parts that influence not just the product story but the product itself.  For example, pricing research can be something both teams can conduct together. While product marketers can decide what price point will be appealing to customers, product managers can figure out what needs to be built to provide customers the best value for money. 

Product managers who involve product marketers from an early stage in the product development process will build products with a better story.

Stage 2 – Frame the Story:

Your research feeds into the creation of the product story. A product story explains the value your product provides to the audience. Knowing the audience is key here. You might have to tell your story to your customers, internal stakeholders, and analysts, who all expect different value from your product. So your story needs to change accordingly. 

From the product story, you will be deriving:

  • Product messaging, which is a succinct description of what your product is. The shortest version usually goes up on your website. For example: Slack’s messaging is “Slack replaces email inside your company” right now. The messaging also forms the basis of your company’s first interaction with your customers and prospects.
  • Product positioning, which showcases how your products fare compared to the rest of the market and why customers should choose you. Positioning also defines who your competitors actually are. For example, when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said sleep is the competition, he positioned Netflix as a part of people’s lives that is at least as important as sleep. It also showed how Netflix dominates the streaming industry to such an extent that it does not consider other streaming services its competition.

Stage 3 – Distribute the Story:

This is the stage where the ‘marketer’ bit of product marketer really comes into play. It’s not enough if you come up with the story, you have to help it reach far and wide. Usually, the distribution of the story is what we call Go-To-Market, which comprises everything a product marketer does when a product or feature launches. This is where product marketers usually have tons of deliverables like: 

  • Product or feature related blogs, videos, decks, email campaigns, and in-product marketing, are some of the content pieces that can be used to generate awareness, educate customers, and also to drive sales. 
  • Customer education activities like webinars and how-to videos.
  • Sales training through sales enablement docs (battle cards, pitch decks) and internal training days.
  • Customer reviews and case studies that capture the story of the product from the customers themselves. 
  • Attending/organizing community events to spread the story, to name a few.

In smaller companies, this is the stage where product marketing teams double down as the content teams. But as the company grows, the product marketing team should co-own these deliverables with a dedicated content marketing team.

Stage 4 – Measure the Impact of your Story:

The next stage is to analyze whether your story has been effective in convincing people to sign up for the product or adapt a feature. Product marketers should seek answers to questions like:

  • Is the messaging striking a chord with the customers? 
  • Have deliverables affected the bottom line, which is usually revenue or customer acquisition? 
  • Is the story keeping customers from churning? 
  • How should the story be tweaked to increase adoption of the product?

If the product is not performing as well as expected, this phase helps product marketers deep dive and figure out if the problem is with the product or the story.

Ideally, product marketers should own all four stages. But in a lot of companies, product marketers end up owning only the second and the third stage (framing and distributing the story), while research and measurement falls squarely on product management’s shoulders. Sometimes, even parts of the distribution like sales enablement are owned by the sales organization. 

While there are many reasons why things are set up like that, product marketers need to co-own if not fully own the various stages for them to be effective. For example, if product marketers are not involved in research, they end up coming up with product stories that are ineffective. If they don’t have visibility into the numbers or be held accountable for metrics like churn or adoption, they never get to find out that the story was ineffective.  

Owning these four stages to-end is necessary for product marketing teams to deliver the value other teams expect of them.

A product marketer’s role is not defined precisely but that’s a wonderful thing. It means we can identify the problems that prevent customers and prospects from seeing the value of the product and take ownership of the solution. It’s fair game as long as it helps you tell the story better!

I’ll cover some of the most common challenges and assumptions that a product marketer faces in my next blog post.

Do you agree with my definition of product marketing? What stages do you own in your organization? Let me know in the comments!  If you are already a part of Freshworks Academy, you can take our Marketing Masterclass course as well. Register now!

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