Importance of Product Marketing Strategy

Product marketing is something that is often overlooked by many companies. But it is important to know the various roles of product marketing and how they can help a small business like yours. A lot of entrepreneurs overlook it because there are just so many other things to focus on. This leads to slow growth or even worse, no growth for your business. The nature of the internet today makes it hard for a business of any size to succeed without some form of product marketing.

Product marketing is such an important aspect of a successful company. We may not think about it as much as other areas such as sales, advertising, and product development, but we all know how important it is to have an effective marketing strategy in place. The easiest way to define product marketing is to look at the goal of a company: to sell products and make money. Product marketing falls directly in between the product and sales teams. The role of product marketing is to ensure that those products are positioned correctly for the appropriate target audience.

What is Product Marketing?

If you want the short answer, Product Marketing is defined as bringing products to market and managing commercial success.

If you are here for a detailed answer, let’s begin with where Product Marketing sits.

Product Marketing operates at the center of the product, marketing, sales, and customer success teams.

Under the general marketing umbrella, there are many teams that are dedicated to the tactical areas of marketing: PR, email marketing, PPC and paid advertising, social media marketing, etc.

But who creates the overarching strategy on how products are delivered to the market? Enter Product Marketing.

Product Marketing defines the positioning, value proposition, and messaging of a product. They educate and create tools to ensure internal salespeople and external customers understand the product that is being brought to market.

As well, Product Marketing creates the strategies and plans for generating the demand and usage of the product.

Product Marketing lives in both the B2C and B2B worlds.

However, some may argue that Product Marketing is more important in B2B. Why? The buying processes are typically more complex, there are more decision-makers involved (buyers), and the products/solutions are technically more complicated.

The role of the Product Marketing function is to translate complicated products/solutions/technology into simple messaging for customers to understand.

Why is Product Marketing important?

Whether your company is in the early stages of a startup or an established company, Product Marketing is important for any organization.

Here’s a scenario — your Product Management team has spent many hours with the Development team to build a new product. A lot of effort and money went into this product.

On launch day, the new product goes live. Internally at your company, everyone is excited.

However, the launch flops. There is no interest in the product.

What went wrong? One likely reason — the marketing awareness did not reach the right target audience.

This is where Product Marketing comes to play.

Without Product Marketing managing the commercialization of a product and leading the product launch, your marketing efforts will lack some key ingredients for success.

Product Marketing is responsible for learning and understanding the product’s strategy (at some companies, Product Marketing contributes to the development of the product strategy with Product Management). They also become familiar with customers and the different customer personas and create programs to help the company introduce the product to the right target audiences in the marketplace.

In addition, here are some important questions that Product Marketing can help the company with:

  • What is the product?
  • Why do customers need your product?
  • Why is your product better than the competition?
  • What is required to purchase your product?
  • What are the main product messages that will be shared across all your channels?
  • How will the company generate demand and new business from prospective customers? And how will the company generate demand and potential up-sell business from existing customers?

Product Marketing should be the command center for all product launches.

Internal marketing, sales, customer success, and customer support teams look to Product Marketing for all the information relating to the product, including the value proposition, features, positioning, and competitive differentiation.

Externally, Product Marketing is responsible for communicating the product benefits to prospective customers, the industry, and the general public.

The value of Product Marketing in the early stages of a company

Earlier this year, a startup founder asked me if an early-stage company should prioritize hiring a demand generation leader or a Product Marketing leader. My response was that hiring a good product marketer would help the company in many ways, for example:

  • Ensure product-market fit, with better understanding of customer problems
  • Hone in your perfect customer via segmentation, targeting and personas
  • Help the company understand competitors, alternatives, and validate competitive advantages
  • Ensure all communications, from PR to the website to sales conversations, are consistent in message and aligned with the value you bring to the market
  • Determine the best way to capture the value the company creates, in turn adjusting the pricing model
  • Build the programs to generate demand, based on how the customer buys, the CPCA, AOV and other key business factors
  • Determine the role content marketing, PR, analysts, influencers, partner marketing, community marketing or demand generation should play for the company, its priority and overall strategy

How to start creating your product marketing plan

Step 1: The easy part: Hire a marketer.

For Intercom, that was me, a product marketer to communicate to the world what Intercom was building and why people should care. Throwing money into ads to reach new customers is easy, but it’s likely a waste of money if you don’t get this part right first.

I started with Intercom’s homepage, the most obvious place because it’s the first, and often last, impression people get of the product and company.

Intercom's early product marketing

The majority of people who visit your marketing site don’t have the time to invest in learning what it is you actually do. If you can’t communicate that clearly on your homepage they’ll just bounce, quite literally, off your site – an opportunity is gone.

Step 2: Tell customers what you’ve been building

The next most important step is amplifying the things your product team is building. A lot of the time, product teams build entire feature sets without telling anyone about it. They’re too shy or too naive, or simply don’t know-how.

We’ve seen teams release huge amounts of work or improvements to the world in the hope that new or existing users might stumble onto them, only to find two years later people are still asking in forums for features that are already inside the product.

  1. It was hard and took a lot of time, so it must be important
    You might be working with some of the most talented engineers in the industry, who have spent six months refactoring your code to make the best app in the world. And they might be extremely excited to share what they’re working on with the world. Unfortunately, that’s no guarantee people are going to care. When it comes to announcing new features, don’t equate effort and importance with what’s appealing to your customer.
  2. Overpromising
    We’ve all read that big flashy blog post that promises something that is going to change the world, then ultimately (often eventually) it ships and flops. People will remember that for a long time.

Here’s an example: A big colorful company is going to change the way people see the world! They’ll call you an “explorer” from here on out, but it’ll cost you $1,500 for a pair of blurry glasses that make you look like a tech-weirdo from the 1970s. Don’t overpromise on something before it’s ready – or just as importantly, before the market is ready.

How to avoid making these mistakes

The key to stopping yourself falling from into either of these traps is setting the right expectations inside your company, from day one. For example, you’re not going to get TechCrunch to cover that insanely complex feature you spent months building, so your startup shouldn’t waste time building a landing page for it.

A good story captures people’s attention and motivates them to take action.

It’s not because the feature isn’t interesting, but rather because there’s not a good story to be told, which is typically the most important piece of effective marketing. As we saw earlier, a good story captures people’s attention and motivates them to take action.

Here’s a solid example from my earliest days at Intercom: When we finally released custom event tracking we could have just said, “Okay, you can now track custom events in Intercom”, but most people probably wouldn’t have cared. Yes, that accurately describes the feature, but that doesn’t tell anyone anything about why they would want to use it or how it’ll make their lives better.

The value in the Intercom Events feature was that you could send messages to customers at a perfectly timed moment, which wasn’t possible before. You could reach people when they logged in for the first time, or maybe when they canceled their account – so that’s the story we went with. I focused on highlighting the things people wanted to do, rather than the feature itself because people understood the value in doing them. This was a breakthrough. It wasn’t too long before the product managers realized that they should give us a heads up before they were ready to ship something, rather than after.

Your product marketing strategy should appeal to the market’s understanding

About two years ago, I wanted to launch one of our new products as Intercom’s “live chat”. The product team, however, was adamant that live chat was a relic of the past. Instead, they wanted to go to the market with a “seamless asynchronous messaging product.”

If the product team’s job is to innovate and build the product of the future, then surely marketing’s job is to dissect that to make sure that the market can:

  1. Find that product
  2. Understand it
  3. Be convinced they need it

Marketing needs to help build a bridge to the future.

While we were building this product we discovered there were 100,000 global monthly searches on Google for “live chat software” and almost zero for “asynchronous messaging.” Sure, the search term was less crowded, but nobody knew how to describe that future yet, let alone buy a product to solve that problem. If ever.

Similarly, when we launched our new knowledge base product in December 2016, it became clear that product and marketing were not aligned on what the product was, let alone how we should take it to market.

This small exchange between Paul, our VP of Product, and Raechel, a product marketer on my team, sums it up well.

Now, of course, there was a rationale to both arguments. Paul was (rightly) arguing that the product was more than a knowledge base and that we needed to help build a bridge to the future. But marketing had to get people to that bridge first. This is not about marketing dictating what product to build, but rather about determining what position you want to hold in people’s minds. Here’s a great article that goes more in-depth about the role of product marketing when building a product.

Correcting this misalignment delayed the launch of the product by a couple of months, but it was the right decision to give the product the best chance of success when it launched.

Alignment is key

Fast-forward to today, and Intercom’s teams now hold themselves to a new rule: If we’re launching a product and want to spend more than a week on it, the product manager and product marketing manager must align on the story we want to tell come launch. George wrote a fantastic article detailing how to determine the product marketing strategy through beta products.

This was a fundamental shift in how we build new products at Intercom. There’s always tension involved, and getting that story right is hard, but it creates a better outcome for everyone, including our customers.

We still hear “we’ve got a great product, now we just need to add marketing” all the time, but at least now we know that there’s a lot more to it than that. Don’t delay aligning your product and marketing teams. If you do, you’ll live to regret it.

Conclusion

Product marketing is an essential aspect of the success of a new business. The product marketing strategy and tactics for your business will set you up for success or failure.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *