Monday, May 27, 2024
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Product Marketing vs. Brand Marketing

Most early-stage startups don’t do what I would call brand marketing simply because they don’t yet have an established brand in the marketplace.  The natural place for them to start is with product marketing.  As a company becomes more well-known in the marketplace and starts to expand to multiple offerings, generally there is a person or a group that concerns themselves with branding.

Brand Marketing focus areas:

  • brand messaging and image – developing the “brand story” and the messaging around that.  This generally consists of articulating the “brand promise” and the image of what the brand means to customers.
  • brand consistency – making sure the logo, trademarks, branding elements (fonts, colors, etc.) were used consistently across product lines and across multiple marketing and communications tactics and channels.
  • brand awareness and tracking – brand marketers engage in tactics the make the market aware of the brand and track changes in how the brand is perceived by the market.

Product Marketing focus areas:

  • Segments and prospect definition – this is my high level bucket for everything related to understanding the market that the product is a fit for and how you can identify the people in that market.
  • Product messaging, positioning and value proposition – this the is the language you use to describe the unique value that the product delivers to the segments that you are targeting.  This includes positioning against alternatives and addressing objections.
  • Customer acquisition, marketing and sales funnels – product marketing needs to be an expert on how prospects move through the process from not knowing about a product, to awareness, consideration, evaluation, purchase and retention.  Making sure that the flow of customers through this pipeline is optimized is also the domain of product marketing.
  • Product introduction and managing the adoption curve – This is sort of included in the above point but important enough to call out, particularly where we are talking about new products.  Product marketing needs to figure out how the product will be first introduced into market and how it will move from early adopters to more mainstream users.

I see growing companies naturally transition to doing more brand marketing over time.  Interestingly, I’ve also seen larger companies which have traditionally been deep on the branding side suddenly see the need for product marketing.  This would apply to service or retail companies looking at introducing something that looks more like a product.  For example a service or retail company that wants to sell its data or content as a product or a retail company that is introducing smart phone application would benefit from some product marketing working alongside their brand folks.

What do you folks think?  Does that line up with what you’ve seen?

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    • Very well articulated. In fact Product marketing role is little understood today but I hope that going forward more and more organizations awaken to the need for product marketing.
      In fact I have been working for months on defining the role of product marketing and putting down a process that is repeatable and successful. I have been focussing a lot on what are the marketing strategies along the product life cycle- Introductions, growth, Maturity and thereafter. May be you too can share your views some day on goals and strategies for each stage

      • Hi Bikash,
        Thanks for the comment! I’ve talked a bit about the stages of marketing for a startup in a talk I did last week called startup marketing 101. In that talk however, I didn’t go past the stage where a startup is just beginning to scale. There’s a lot that happens after that, including figuring out how you are going to manage the brand. I’ll see if I can dedicate an upcoming post to that.

    • Hi Tim,
      That’s a great question. In my experience for software companies it’s more of a gradual evolution than a trigger point. In my experience the need for brand management increases as the sales force and channels expand, as the company adds offerings and as the company becomes known in the market. Ultimately brand is something that the market determines for you but there’s work to making sure that you articulate that brand in a consistent way that people know, recognize and understand.

  1. Good post but I don’t think that this is a case of doing one or the other. A good marketer needs to be doing both.

    • Hi Denis,
      Thanks for the comment. I agree that in any given company there may or may not be clear lines between the two, particularly in a smaller company. At a startup I would see the marketing head focused mainly on product marketing and then focusing more and more on branding as the company grows. When the company is big enough, there might be separate people looking after the brand stuff. When I worked at IBM I did almost no brand marketing for my products, while the past 3 startups I’ve worked at I’ve done all of it but it was less of a focus than product marketing was.

  2. Hi April,

    First off, I really am enjoying your blog posts – thank you!

    I agree with the definitions and disciplines outlined for product and brand marketing.

    My experience with start-ups and high growth, even mid-size technology companies is they are heavily resourced in product engineering and product management and under-resourced in marketing – either product or brand.

    Partially because their genesis is based on technology innovation and R&D, followed by Sales driven resources to bring in revenues. Within this mix, marketing is circumspect.

    Unfortunately, this limits the same companies from higher growth and profitability. And without hiring marketing resources with requisite marketing disciplines they simply do not get around to proper brand or product marketing strategy or execution.

    Certainly, there are some decent examples – but plenty more poor performers.

    • Hi Michelle,
      Thanks so much for the comment. I agree that marketing is often an afterthought and frequently underfunded at startups. I see this changing though, particularly with the web-based startups I work with that are not so focused on technology and are more oriented toward customer service and experience. We still have a long way to go though.


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