If you’re not investing in product marketing, you’re probably not growing as quickly or as efficiently as you could be.
We’ll talk more about that later, but for now, let’s answer this:
What is product marketing?
Product marketing is basically defined as the process of promoting and selling a product to an audience, to drive demand and usage of that product.
There’s nothing wrong with that definition, but it massively oversimplifies what a product marketer does. A product marketer’s role revolves around the product, obviously, but the product is as much a tool that helps the marketer to market more effectively, as it is the thing the marketer’s trying to market.
Stick with me, and, with the help of this presentation from Hana Abaza, Head of Marketing for Shopify Plus, we’ll show you what product marketing is, and why it’s the growth secret weapon you absolutely must have.
How Does Product Marketing Differ from Marketing-Marketing?
To really understand product marketing, it helps to learn how it differs from more general marketing.
Marketing is concerned with growing a brand as a whole. To do this, your average marketing manager will be involved in everything from brand awareness and website traffic, to brand messaging and public relations. They’re also likely to look at the whole sales funnel and launching campaigns that target potential customers at each stage of it.
Product marketers, on the other hand, use the product as the catalyst for growing the brand. They must have a deep understanding of the markets surrounding the product or products in question (including competitor products). They also need to have an in-depth understanding of their audience – in particular, why they use the product (or products), where the product fails them, and how to talk to them in a voice they understand.
Product marketers also, unlike more general marketers, focus predominantly on the bottom of the funnel (although their insights should be fed back up the funnel). They typically think about customers more than they do prospects or leads.
These are the sorts of questions a product marketer needs to be answering:
“What are we building?”
“Who are we building it for?”
“How do we talk about it?”
“How do we go to market?”
They need to know:
- What the product does
- Who their customers are and why they would use this product
- What language their customers will understand
- How they get the product in front of the people that will use it
If they can do that, they’re not only in a far stronger position for marketing the product or products they’re assigned to, but they can actually enable the company as a whole to operate more effectively.
“Product marketing lives at the intersection of all these functions. It’s probably one of the most cross-functional roles you’ll see in an organization.” – Hana Abaza
But What Does a Product Marketer Actually Do?
We already know that the product is central to the product marketer’s role, and that they assist in growing a brand primarily by developing, improving, and promoting the product.
Despite this very specific focus, product marketers really do a bit of everything.
All of this:
Let’s talk about some of this in more detail.
Position the Product
They figure out where the product sits in the market.
“If marketing is about making it easy for people to find, evaluate and buy your products, then positioning is about figuring out what your product is in the first place.” – Hana Abaza
To do this, you have to understand the context that frames your product. Do that and you can define all of these things:
- Your pricing
- Your customers
- Your competition
- Your brand
- Your channel
- Your message
That will help you figure out things like this…
…which will help you target the right people, at the right price point, with the right messaging.
And on that note…
…They Figure Out Messaging
Product marketers figure out the language people use when they talk about the product. They then use this to create messages that are easy for their target audience to understand.
In her presentation, Hana used Dropbox as an example – specifically, Dropbox as it looked in 2010:
Hana spoke about the fact that her mother uses Dropbox, and that her mother is representative of a not-insignificant segment of Dropbox’s user base.
Back in 2010 however, Dropbox alienated that portion of their audience with the language they were using.
I’m talking specifically about this phrase:
It’s unlikely that Hana’s mother, and others like her, would have understood what it meant to sync files, let alone how to do it. As a result, Dropbox was limiting its target market to people with a certain level of technical knowledge.
Dropbox today looks very different.
To help target users more effectively, Dropbox split their welcome page in two – one page for businesses, and one page for individuals. Select the ‘individual’ tab, and you’re presented with this – simple, direct, jargon-free copy that describes exactly what Dropbox does and how it will benefit the user, in language anyone can understand:
This is the sort of thing a product marketer can help execute.
They Create Spec Sheets
Creating a spec sheet is essentially a data collection exercise, in which information like that shown in the diagram below is collated into a single, easy-to-digest document.
Spec sheets might not look that interesting, but they play a key part in enabling a product marketer to perform their role more effectively.
They Consider Internal Communications
When adding a new product to a company’s existing portfolio, product marketers will be responsible for deciding how internal communications will play out – namely, when other departments and staff members will be told about the product, what they will be told, and how it will be told to them (including the method of delivery – i.e. email or in person, who will deliver the message, and the language that will be used).
They Help Plan the Launch
Product marketers will figure out what kind of launch your product necessitates. While I’m generalizing a little here, “types” of launches can typically be placed in one of three tiers:
- Tier 1 – tell the world
- Tier 2 – tell customers and prospects
- Tier 3 – you probably should have had it anyway so just quietly add it in
They’ll then help formulate a plan for executing it.
And They Help Grow the Product Post-Launch
A lot of companies put all of their time, effort, and resources into developing and launching a product, and forget about the growth part afterwards.
A product marketer will help bridge that gap.
They’ll experiment with how to grow the product’s user base, and how the product itself can be leveraged to drive even more customers.
How Do You Know When You Should Invest in Product Marketing?
So far, we’ve offered up multiple reasons why investing in growth marketing is a good idea. That’s because, generally, it is. But it’s not for everyone – at least right now. In fact, get it wrong, and product marketing could actually do your business more harm than good.
“Bad product marketing can kill your company.” – Hana Abaza
So how do you know whether product marketing is a fit for you right now, and in what form?
You’re probably not quite ready for product marketing if:
- People don’t understand what you do
- Your employees don’t know how to explain what you do
- Your current marketing isn’t working
Thankfully, those are all things you can change pretty easily (once you understand that they’re an issue, anyway).
If these things don’t apply to you, then you’re probably ready to adopt product marketing. To what extent, however, depends largely on the circumstances surrounding your product and company. More specifically, the size of your company, the complexity of your product, and the landscape it’s part of.
- If your company is still very small, and your product or products are very simple, you probably don’t need to hire someone to work on product marketing specifically, but you should still consider the concept and what elements of it you can adopt using your existing resources.
- If you have a really simple product but your company is growing, it’s probably a good idea to hire someone to work specifically on product marketing.
- If your company is still really small but your product is really complex, again, it’s probably a good idea to hire a product marketer.
- If you’re a big company with a complicated product, product marketing becomes an entire function that necessitates not just hiring a product marketer, but a team of people that can support them.
You also need a product marketer – or at the very least, a knowledge of product marketing – if:
- You’re about to launch or start shipping something, but you don’t know how much to charge for it.
- Your product’s about to ship but you have no way of telling customers about it.
- Your sales team doesn’t understand the product they’re supposed to sell.
- Your customer support team is getting calls about a new product on your website but they have no idea what it is.
So, Should You Be Using Product Marketing?
While there are some exceptions, as a general rule, yes, you should be using product marketing.
Having someone (or a team of people) who have a deep understanding of your customers and their relationship to your product is, for many businesses, the secret to growth – and not just growth for growth’s sake. A product marketer can assist in driving growth that’s sustainable and that maximizes profit.
The key to using product marketing as a growth lever most effectively, however, is to understand that it’s never “done.” Even once your product has become a success, product marketing should be something that remains in the background and that feeds into a culture of continuous learning, improvement, and growth.
Do you have any insights to add on why companies should be using product marketing, or how they can use it most effectively? If you have a moment to share your thoughts, you’ll find the comments just below:
Sujan Patel is the co-founder of Web Profits, a growth marketing agency helping companies leverage the latest and greatest marketing strategy to fuel their businesses.