Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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How Do CMOs Define Product Marketing?

I was honored to be asked by the folks at Forrester to speak at their first ever Product Marketing Summit this week. Forrester runs a set of Technology Leadership boards that allow very senior marketers to network together and share best practices.  This meeting was unique in that the group consisted of CMO and VP level leaders at B2B tech companies that are responsible for Product Marketing.

We kicked off the day with a discussion around how we each would define Product Marketing.  To illustrate how poorly most people understand Product Marketing, the Forrester folks put up the Wikipedia definition:

Product marketing deals with the first of the “4P”‘s of marketing, which are Product, Pricing, Place, and Promotion.

Product marketing, as opposed to product management, deals with more outbound marketing tasks. For example, product management deals with the nuts and bolts of product development within a firm, whereas product marketing deals with marketing the product to prospects, customers, and others. Product marketing, as a job function within a firm, also differs from other marketing jobs such as marketing communications (“marcom”), online marketing, advertising, marketing strategy, etc.

This so-called “definition” is not only laughably vague but the idea that a tech product marketer doesn’t have to worry about stuff like “Place” and “Promotion” was enough to get some belly laughs out of a room of senior product marketers.

To facilitate coming up with a more complete definition we did an exercise where the attendees wrote down list of things they are responsible for and then we broke those up into categories.  The categories we used were taken from my Product Marketing Framework and for the most part those seemed to be sufficient to capture everything that the folks in the room listed.  Below I’ve captured the categories and the items that fell under each one.

What Product Marketers Do:

  • Market Knowledge: Segmentation, User Personas, Buyer groups, Purchase motivators, competitive intelligence, use case scenarios, and customer problems.
  • Business Strategy: Go to Market strategy, sales strategy, channel strategy, sales pipeline definition, market strategy definition.
  • Tactics: Lead generation plans, customer retention programs, branding, awareness, field marketing program definition, campaign definition, analyst relations and media relations.
  • Content: Sales support materials, whitepapers, brochures and data sheets, presentations, demos, web site content, ROI calculators, blog posts, forum content, case studies, press releases, FAQ’s, other special purpose content and video.
  • Optimization and Market Learning – ROI tracking, pipeline tracking, website metrics tracking, customer advisory boards, customer focus groups and user groups.

This seemed to work as a way to define what Product Marketing was all about. Now I just have to find the time to update Wikipedia…

Also – Forrester has recently launched their Technology Product Management and Marketing online community which is open to anyone including those that are not Forrester clients.  There are few places where senior product marketers can share and get questions answered so I’m looking forward to watching this community grow.

I’ve also included my slides below.

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  1. I like the group definition that was developed. However, I have a concern that CMOs, and other leaders, may use that as the definitive description for the role within their organization.

    As we in product management understand, the culture and team organization can play a large role in where certain items on that list live. While product marketing may play a role in providing information to the PR group, they are seldom the primary contact.

    I think what is important is to frame the discussion so that it is noted that product marketing is strategically about insuring the proper market positioning and messaging is achieved, which requires a deeper market understanding than any other in the company …and the other items are tasks to support the strategy.

    But, it is a good start and much better than the Wikipedia definition too many are using.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      Thanks for the comment. As I commented to Amrita, how the marketing team was organized really depended on the size of the organization. In the smaller companies, Product Marketing was marketing so they were managing PR and doing the branding work and all of the rest of it. At the larger companies, Product Marketing was more focused on what you would traditionally view as more “product” related stuff like messaging and positioning, segment work, etc.
      I think this also really depends on the market you are going after. In this case, the room was full of B2B folks. I think in B2C you might see very different alignment.

  2. There’s definitely a broad range of responsibilities depending on the skillset of the product marketer (team) and other marketing team members. At our company, Product Marketing and Corporate Marketing divide the responsibilities you’ve listed in your post, with product marketing doing more of the product/technical related items and corporate marketing doing the branding, programs, demand gen, business-message content, PR and customer experience stuff. Perhaps this works because we are a small team and work closely together.

    From your experience, if Product Marketing is doing all of the above, what do other marketing functions do, or does Product Marketing lead the marketing team?

    • Hi,
      That’s a great question and it was clearly something that the folks in the room were struggling with. The splits depended a lot on the size of the company. The larger companies in the room had product marketing defining segments, market strategy, messaging and were involved in the development of programs. They then had a separate group that owned and executed programs, did branding and look and feel stuff, and managed the agencies (PR and Advertising if they had one). The interesting shift I’m seeing is that at one point product marketing would report into corporate marketing. That seems to be shifting toward Product Marketing having the lead and corporate marketing being more of a service provider to Product Marketing.
      In smaller companies (at least the ones in the room but this jives with what I’m seeing in startups too), Product Marketing is Marketing – all of it. They may have a designer on staff that handles look and feel, they may have a writer (in-house or on contract) but that all falls under the broader umbrella of Product Marketing. Depending on the sales model they did or didn’t have programs folks (or field marketing) but that also reported into product marketing at the smaller companies.

      • I remember in earlier roles at tech companies, product marketing was more of a service provider to corporate/field marketing. Perhaps now that tech companies are becoming more market-driven or customer-driven they want their product marketing folks to broaden their role?

        Also wondering whether I need to start reconsidering my long term career options if this is becoming a trend… 😉

        • Exactly – that’s what’s changing in my mind. Product Marketing is becoming more important with the rise in importance of content and community marketing where corporate marketing I think is becoming less influential. Basically the folks with deep domain expertise are becoming increasingly critical to the success of marketing overall. If you have that (in your case you do!) then you should be in charge and the other folks provide services around that.

  3. Great post April! I’ve definitely been grilled a number of times on what is it I actually do in product marketing 😉

    • April,

      As usual, a great and timely post. I at times (in my organizations) seem to be tilting at windmills when I try to explain to Sr. Mgmt (Usually a VP/GM type who I report to) that Product Marketing and Product Management are two distinct roles.

      Even those who buy into the Pragmatic Framework seem to have this mistaken belief that the two roles are one and the same and can be effectively done by one person.

      Your definition above, and discussion align along many of the arguments that I consistently make and with mixed success. Usually, I am pleading for a plan to hire a product marketing person, a partner so to speak, that can pick up the quite arduous task of effectively handling the marketing of a product.

      The sad truth is that a product manager is often the product marketing resource, even at larger, better funded organizations. This leads to an overwhelming overloading of work for a single person, burnout, and high turnover.

      However, Sr. Mgmt will often gripe about how Product Management just isn’t “getting it done”.

      A vicious cycle that is mostly destructive to morale and the organization as a whole. Product Management becomes the scapegoat, not the unifier of the factions in an organization.


      • Hi Geoffrey,
        Thanks for the comment. I have really strong opinions about this. I don’t believe that great product managers make great product marketers and have seen almost nobody that was amazing at doing both. I know that at smaller companies you don’t have the luxury of separating the functions but in the ones I’ve seen that are really making it work, they have managed to figure out a way to do it. For example one company I’m working with has a sr. developer who is a very good product guy that is doing the product management role and their marketing person is handing mainly product marketing with some bits that I would call product management.
        I actually think that problem is more around the definition of marketing. Where there used to be a very distinct Marcomm function, I see this moving more and more into product marketing.

        • @April & @Geoffrey,

          I did a stint where I was both PM and PMM for a product. I used to joke that I had arguments with myself about what was going to be in the next version. It was an awful 11 months. Your mindset, even your personality, is so different for the two roles, it’s difficult to explain to others who haven’t been there.

          (Not sucking up here) I agree that the Pragmatic Framework has tremendous value in focusing on the discipline of knowing your market and buyers but it doesn’t spend much time on distinguishing between the two roles other than “the right side is more PMM and the left side is more PM.” April’s framework focuses more on the forward/outward thinking the PMM needs to be doing – and in a language that should resonate with senior management.

          • Hey Tim,
            Thanks for the comment. I agree. The Pragmatic is a great framework for what it does (I love those guys and I’ve done their training).
            My tool (and maybe I should stop calling it a framework to avoid confusion) is for a really different purpose and is completely marketing focused. In my mind the nature of product marketing is changing and trying to force product management and product marketing together is becoming increasingly awkward. That may not be true in every company but it certainly is for the ones I’ve worked with in the past year and it was for the room full of folks at Forrester this week.

          • Not trying to monopolize your time but I just had a chat with a friend who’s job hunting. He’s a PMM and comes from the silicon side of the world. Other than technical knowledge, are there any fundamental differences in tasks, thinking, output between PMM for software and PMM for chips? I don’t think so. What’s your view?

          • Hi Tim,
            We had a discussion in the Forrester meeting on how to hire a great Product Marketer. The key things you get from a PMM vs. a person who is in branding, comms, PR is deep market expertise and deep product expertise. We identified other characteristics that separated the good from the great product marketers – i.e. great communication skills, a strong sales orientation, the ability to distill complex things down to very simple things, etc.
            So in the case of your friend if he is a great PMM he probably has all of the things in the second bucket but he’s going to have to prove he can cut it in terms of his knowledge of either the market space or the technology. Since the technology is very different, he’s be wise to chase jobs where he can prove that he’s got experience in the market and understands the buyers and the market problems. If he can do that, then his lack of experience in the specific technology won’t matter as much.

  4. Bet it was tough giving back the muscle car. 🙂

    So did the audience have as diverse and unclear view of PMM as Wikipedia? What were your biggest ‘ah-hah’ moments?

    • The list that I’ve captured there came from the folks in the room. These folks were all B2B focused and the thing that they are struggling with the most is community engagement and social media. Notice how little of that hit their lists. I think that is changing.

      Yes, I’m a Dodge Challenger kind of girl – who knew? 🙂

  5. This is a great post. I’m a product marketer and I have struggled with things like the pragmatic marketing framework that doesn’t include a lot of what I do and is very, very focused on product. Not that product doesn’t matter, it’s just that as a marketer I don’t have a ton of control over that. Thanks for giving guys like me something to point to when folks ask what I should be responsible for.

    • Hi Justin,
      Thanks for the comment. Again, the Pragmatic Framework serves a different purpose I think but you are right that there doesn’t seem to be anything out there that helps product-oriented pure marketing folks explain what they do. Hopefully this stuff helps 🙂

  6. April – thanks so much for your great blog post! We’ve compiled the list and posted it online: http://community.forrester.com/docs/DOC-3370.

    It clearly hit a nerve with many product marketers and you’ve provided a helpful tool to categorize their responsibilities. In our Forrester community, the conversation continues…we’ve since had a thread about the best practices for product marketing. Thought you might want to take a look. You can find the discussion here:http://community.forrester.com/thread/2976?tstart=0

    Thanks again for sharing your time and insights with our Forrester community.

  7. April, This is a very interesting thread.. I am talking to a marketing VP about a move from Solution Sales into Product Marketing at an established software vendor, this follows 20 years in various sales roles. What do you think will be the greatest challenge for this move? Do you know of anyone that has undertaken a similar move and how did they fair? I am fairly marketing aware for a sales guy.. Any thoughts greatly appreciated. Regards Nick

    • Hi Nick,
      The biggest difference between sales and product marketing is the balance between tactical and strategic. Sales folks need to be more short-term focused, where the marketing folks need to be worried about laying a foundation for stuff that is going to happen across a longer period of time. You will probably naturally gravitate toward the more lead generation focused activities but be careful not to neglect the longer-term stuff like messaging, positioning, evaluating your overall go to market strategy, etc. The biggest thing I would keep in mind though is that almost everyone learns marketing by doing it so don’t be intimidated, just make sure you are tracking everything and you will be fine.
      Good luck!


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