Product Marketing vs. Marketing Communications (and MarComm Must Die)

Traditionally really small software companies have Development, Marketing, Sales and that’s about it (Ok I am generalizing here – there might be a lawyer, a finance person or two, possibly an IT person, work with me on this one, ok?).

Once the organization has landed a customer or two, and have started thinking beyond release 1 and basic survival, they typically start thinking about forming a real product management group.  The idea is that these folks will focus on the product roadmap and future releases, competitive analysis and they will also do things like product demos, and a lot of more technical sales support.

Meanwhile there is the “Marketing” department which is really pure marketing communications and is focused on things like building the website, maybe creating a brochure, and writing press releases.  They might book an analyst meeting or set up press interviews but they would rarely be the spokesperson.

This set up is broken for lots of reasons but the main one is that there is this idea that marketing doesn’t need to understand the product.  In some cases, I have heard folks argue that it is better if marketing doesn’t get “bogged down” in product details and stays “creative”.

If I look at the Pragmatic Marketing Framework (you product management types will know this thing by heart.) where they break down the responsibilities of product managers/marketers and recommend something called “The Product Management Triad” to cover the larger product management and product marketing functions.

Here is what that looks like (here’s me crossing my fingers it is ok for me to reproduce this here – let me know Pragmatic Marketing folks if I’m breaking the law.  Click for a larger image):

Product management triad

Here’s the thing that I keep thinking every time I come across the Product Management/Marketing Communications setup.  Why wouldn’t you start with Product Marketing and add a marketing communications person later?

If I look at the boxes under Product Marketing – what else is left to do?  A solid product marketing person can do all of the stuff in the Product Marketing Manager boxes (a senior one can cover product strategy too) and probably most of the communications stuff too.  Can they write press releases and brochures?  Sure they can.  They are going to outsource graphics (or hire a graphics person), the same way the marketing communications person did.  Sure when you get big enough maybe you can afford to hire a person that just worries about the look and feel of the website but this person shouldn’t be the first marketing person you hire.  The first marketing person you hire should have a solid product background (or the ability to pick it up quickly) so that they brief analysts, build presentations, write white papers, do a competitive write-up as well as manage the vendor building the web site and execute a lead gen program.

Let’s face it, we are way past the days where the first marketing thing a company had to worry about was advertising.  Why are we still building companies that way?

24 thoughts on “Product Marketing vs. Marketing Communications (and MarComm Must Die)”

  1. I totally agree it’s nonsense to have both a product management and marketing group. In my world, marcomm is driven by strategy! Separate them and consistent implementation is next to impossible.

  2. April,
    I totally agree. Product have to be planned and strategy has to be set before there are brochures, events or other advertising.
    I’d only add, in a small to medium sized company, the role should report to the CEO.
    Great post.
    Rob

  3. The Pragmatic Marketing Framework represents 37 activities companies need to do to be market driven. When referring to individual boxes on the “grid” think of it in terms of who owns each box, not who does each box.
    The colorized version above is just one of many examples of how responsibility is assigned within the go-to-market team.
    Some of your readers may be individual contributors that do it all. 🙂
    The role of the product marketing manager is to be the expert on the buyer (note I didn’t say customer). Their problems, their buying criteria, the steps in the buying process, who is involved in the buying process and what is their role in the buying process. The PM is the expert on the product and the users of the product.
    Marketing communications plays a very important role in the promotional communication of the product.

  4. Hi David,
    Thanks for the comment!
    You make a good point about the framework and that the boxes are more about who owns the boxes rather than who executes.
    My point is more about the way smaller companies are generally formed. Almost every small software company I know has started by hiring a marketing communications person and then much later started to worry about product marketing. I think that process is backward. I think companies could move forward much more quickly if they staffed product marketing first and then filled in marketing communications later.
    April

  5. Hi Bobette – thanks for the comment!
    That is a great point. The separation of product management and marketing, particularly in a very small company, is probably the very reason there is so much ineffective marketing out there.
    April

  6. Rob – thanks for the comment.
    I couldn’t agree with you more on that one. Again, when I look at 90% of the small software companies out there, there is a marketing communications exec reporting to the CEO and often no product marketing at all. That makes no sense to me.
    April

  7. A very good reason this happens is that the founder (or founders) think ‘they’ are the product marketers.
    There’s a distrust of anyone who might want to meddle with ‘the baby’. It’s already a perfectly evolving product anyway, right?
    And you wonder why so many founders get pushed out : )
    On the other hand, a mar-com-er, even a senior one, is much more likely to toe the line and craft a marketing strategy that follows the contours of the founder’s genius.

  8. April, I agree with you. Getting the proper person in to direct the product is extremely important. It is probably one of the things that can make or break a startup. This is because a good PM will guide the product to benefit the customers while also utilizing engineering’s efforts to the benefit of the company.
    Since sales and marketing are often lumped in the same immediate family, the Marcom type is brought in to help with sales. What is not realized is that they should be cousins for the reasons you point out. What is needed is Marcom’s elder that can handle Product strategy and TPM functions with a little Marcom as needed. It is the proverbial three legged stool and finding the balance.
    After some time researching job postings, the TPM / Product strategy roles, I have found, are usually associated with more established companies. Which I would take to indicates a certain critical mass necessary for their introduction.

  9. Hi Larry,
    Thanks for the comment. That is exactly what I see as well and I wish it wasn’t true. I can’t help but think that smaller companies would be so much more successful if they had good a good product strategy person in place earlier rather than later. It seems so much more important to me than most of the pure marcomm things I see smaller companies executing.
    April

  10. In the realities I’ve been in, it’s common to have:
    – a product manager running these activities, of course not all of them well
    – a company that doesn’t realize they need certain roles
    – folks who try to put too much of this in place too quickly
    Marketing is something that always gets sacrificed. But it’s something (when viewed as a fundamental) that’s critical. Marketing does not mean brochures or sales training.
    The biggest issue in start-ups is a lack of understanding when it comes to creating a marketing mix. Heck, it’s even easier nowadays with Web products because more often than not you don’t have to wrestle with pricing – one of the more complex “P’s.”
    But the issue with sacrificing time spent on real marketing activities is:
    a) you lose out on properly positioning the product and crafting a real, honest to goodness value proposition; this takes a great amount of time and patience to get right.
    b) you lose out on additional, knowledgeable hands helping to gather feedback from your defined market inputs and manage the resulting opportunities.
    Yes, it may be ideal to have a “marketing” person report to the CEO. But I can honestly say that a product manager / director of product that knows what they are doing will actually help a PMM succeed even more.
    Of course, provided the role has top-down support within the company.

  11. Hi Adam,
    Thanks so much for your comment and I totally agree with your insights. Structure often gets thrown together too quickly. I also agree with your point on value propositions. It amazes me how many companies out there have either no value proposition at all or have one that makes absolutely no sense.
    April

  12. More and more companies are realizing that marketing people need to know the products and the markets rather than specific promotional techniques. That’s why we’re seeing companies large and small adopt the Pragmatic Marketing Framework with product managers gathering info from the market and product marketing managers taking the products to market. Product managers need to understand user persons and products; product marketing managers need to understand buyer personas and markets. The promotional specialists are likely to be performed by the product marketing managers or outsourced to an agency.
    Great post. Thanks for sharing.
    Steve Johnson
    Pragmatic Marketing
    Read my blog at http://www.productmarketing.com

  13. I know I’m a bit late commenting on this post but I also strongly believe that product management needs to be put in place before marketing communications.
    You need a great market-driven product before you can promote it.
    Although I am well versed in many marketing disciplines, if I had to choose one, it would be product management because it is the most proactive. Product managers drive requirements based on market problems and needs.
    In marketing communications, you have to sell whatever product is given to you.
    Great post.

  14. Hi April –
    I like your post — an interesting thought, why not product marketing first? I think marketing communications is frequently in place first because of what Trevor said – the founders serve the PM role initially.
    I would add that marketing communications is added first because it is frequently misunderstood by founders as developing a website, brochures, “buzz” and “sales support” — without appreciating how this requires an understanding of the customers. The founders want these things to sell the first version of the product.
    I agree with you that companies would frequently be better off hiring a PM who knows the market and customer needs, and who can also get the marketing communications infrastructure in place.
    I don’t look for this to happen because the founders will continue to want “marketing” to come in and design the website and sales tools prior to replacing themselves in the PM role.
    Steve Tennant
    See my blog at http://blog.tennantconsulting.com

  15. Outsource, outsource, outsource. The business of any company is its business, not “creative” marketing materials. As soon as that creative is in sourced, it immediately falls into inside out thinking.
    In small and larger companies, the people who know about the product, customers, and business need to create an ecosystem of communications service providers that can bring their expertise to the core messaging, branding, promotional strategy, and promotional materials.
    This group of service providers (in a B2B business, I start with a PR agency) brings a critical level of removed expertise to looking at your products or services. Additionally, it is a variable cost that can be managed based on revenue without the overhead commitment to internal creative.
    Even in much larger companies, the internal staff needs to be focused on project management. They need to work with Product Management on the substantive issues of features, benefits, pricing and positioning in order to provide the related communications agencies with crisp direction.
    So Marketing Communications needn’t die, it just needs to be outsourced.

  16. Hi Wilson,
    Thanks for the comment. I agree with you, particularly for smaller companies – sending this stuff outside makes a lot of sense. Like you say, it isn’t core to the business and there are more important skills that you need inside.
    April

  17. I love marcom teams. They have the time and the expertise to write collateral, to wordsmith press releases, to enforce consistency in trademarks and messaging, to buy and place ads, to do surveys, to manage the PR team, to make sure stuff makes it to the website, to collaborate with partner marketing teams, to organize shows, to work with speakers, to manage the thousand and one projects that are created when a company decides it wants to sell things, not just make things.
    Do you want product managers doing this work? Nope. You want them to consume market intelligence, digest it and then use their crafty skills to get the organization to build the products that people want to buy. At which point the marketing team takes over again to arm sales, to manage the launch, to do all of their magic.
    When product managers (who are adept at writing product-centric stuff and managing product-centric processes) begin to imagine themselves as marketing managers (who are adept at writing market-centric stuff and managing market-centric processes), we have a problem.
    This is not to say that product managers should not be market-aware, any more than marketing managers should not be product-aware.
    But they are two very different jobs, with two very different mind-sets and sets of priorities. They need to work together – and do it well – in order for the manufacturing-to-customer-to-feedback continuum to work. The best companies do it very, very well on both sides of the equation – the build side and the sell side.
    It is therefore unwise to trivialize marketing, but it happens because so many organizations tend to focus on their products first – especially organizations headed by “product people” who don’t want to be told what the market wants, because “they know what the market wants”.
    BTW – I’ve written elsewhere that the top-left part of the pragmatic grid is something that product manager “makes happen” in a transparent, collaborative way with the executive team. This is where the company truly comes to understand itself and where it wants to go in the marketplace, what it hopes to achieve, and how it plans to get there. The senior product manager is an agent of change, not the source of the change – it’s the organization that needs to own its direction and its future.

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