You have a product that you think could do well, and that has a high-value proposition. How do you get that product into the minds and, more importantly, the buying decisions of the consumers you want to sell to? How do you turn what started as an idea, into something that gives you a high per annum return?
This is where product marketing enters the story. Product marketing is not only about delivering a message to consumers about new products. It is about understanding the market itself. It’s about knowing what the market wants or needs, or in some cases, convincing them of what they need. It can also be about shaping a product in development to meet those needs.
Once a product has gone through development and is the finished article, it’s about delivering the product and its message to a waiting market. Convincing them that this product is better than any competitors. Or, if something is entirely new, that this is what they have been waiting for, even when they don’t realise they have.
What is a Product Marketer’s Role?
The first thing to be very clear about when trying to define a product marketer’s role is that there is no single clear cut definition. The role they play can differ greatly according to the business and the product. And even when you hold this position within a company, you may find that your role radically alters and evolves.
Some of the roles you may be asked to fill will be different for each product. Some tasks may be interchangeable, and you may be asked to learn new skill sets. Before looking at the different skills and roles, a product marketer may need or undertake, let’s get to a clearer definition of the idea of product marketing itself.
At its core, product marketing is about bringing a product to market. This involves understanding how the market works and what the market needs. This can also include the notion of influencing the market to want something new. It may also be using new marketing strategies, such as live streams, to get your message across.
There is a lot of psychology involved in this. You need to understand the demographics you are targeting and their desires about a certain type of product.
For example, your company wants to launch a new vacuum cleaner. What is that market like currently? What products do your competitors offer? And, perhaps most crucially, what are the needs of people buying those products? Are there certain features that your product offers that outperform others and that consumers (through reviews or market research) have said they need?
If you are working in product marketing, these are some of the roles, tasks, and activities you may need to undertake at some point:
- Develop positioning of the product.
- Identifying what demographic groups your product is aimed at.
- Identifying direct competitors and product differentiation.
- Supplying sales and product marketing teams with required information and tools.
- Developing a strategy. This includes market strategy, product strategy, and go-to-market strategy.
- Looking at competitive pricing for go-to-market strategies.
- Creating a roadmap from development to market.
- Communicating with all relevant stakeholders in the process.
Perhaps one of the pivotal moments in any product marketing function is the point where you have identified your primary target consumers. This point may not come at the beginning of the process, but it is one of the most crucial stages. That process has seven primary and crucial steps from start to end:
Research is as important to the marketing of a product as it is to the development of one. It may be that the initial product isn’t ‘quite right’. Finding the finished version may involve a certain amount of testing with focus groups or people who agree to test the beta version.
This part of the process could take weeks or months, depending on the nature of the product and the desired level of functionality needed to make it a success.
The story of your product is an essential part of the journey from idea to consumer purchase. What does your product do (and what does it do better or differently to competing products)?
Does it fill a gap in the market or solve a previously unsolved problem? Why should a consumer choose it? What does it offer them?
Once you have the ‘synopsis’ of your story, you need to develop that into the story you tell to your demographic targets. This is where in-house or outsourced content creators come into the picture. Just as with the product itself, there may be a certain amount of testing to see what way works best.
It can involve advertising ideas, blog content, academic input where relevant, how to use website landing pages, etc. Having a good story idea is not much use unless you tell that story to connect with the consumer.
When you are launching a new product or starting a new marketing campaign for an existing one, you need a detailed plan. This will lay out each stage in chronological order from start to finish and clearly identify who is responsible for what.
Communications are crucial at every stage. Knowing deadlines for certain tasks, managing tasks, and how all these steps will come together is essential.
Regular meetings can be crucial, but the most important meeting is the launch meeting, usually held when the product makes its ‘public debut’.
Once your product is launched, engaging with channel partners, new customers, existing customer retention, etc., are essential tasks. Knowing what the consumers and the market are saying about you can also be about utilising what is being said on social media, by influencers, in reviews, etc.
As a product marketer, your job is not to sell the product. It is, however, important that you enable those responsible for selling it. This will mainly be your own in-house sales team, but can also include channel partners. It is about ensuring that product-related messages are consistent from the first message to the last.
To achieve this, regular meetings with sales teams, before, during, and after the launch, are essential to that consistency. On launch day itself, everyone involved should come together if possible for a launch day meeting. While there will still be work to do in the time ahead, this is the culmination of weeks, months, or even years of hard work.
Product Marketing vs Product Management
One thing that often confuses people is the difference between being a product marketer and a product marketing manager. Given some of the roles described for product marketing, that is not surprising, but there are clear and distinct differences between them. Depending on the business type, there can be varying degrees of intersection between the two roles.
It is also worth remembering that each role is clearly – or not clearly – defined can also vary from company to company and may depend on internal organisation, staffing levels, and what they need from the people they assign to these new roles. With this in mind, is it any surprise that people get confused?
While we may try to define those roles here, you set the rules for what those roles may be within your organisation. But having a general understanding of what those roles could be can be of huge benefit for your company’s organisational planning.
One way of looking at it is to think of product marketers primarily focused on the customer, and product managers are primarily focused on the product.
You can also think of the product manager as being a sort of babysitter. They have responsibility for the overall (not just sales) success of a product. They are there for the entire lifecycle of a product, maybe even from inception, looking after it, making sure that every step in the product’s progress is correct and leads to the next stage.
They will work closely with designers and engineers, tweak the product, fix any identified problems or faults, and guide them on how something should work or what needs to be done next. They not only help shape how a product functions or evolves, but are also responsible for maintaining communications with all relevant stakeholders.
To put as simply as possible, one of the primary responsibilities of a product marketing manager is to build or develop a product/service that solves an existing customer problem or need.
Ideal Product Marketing Manager Behaviours
While there can be some variation in the role, there are certain behaviours and skills that a good product manager should have
- An ability to research the market they work in and the customers who make up that market.
- They should be able to highlight relevant data that enables an understanding of both market and customers.
- High levels of objectivity. Must be able to ‘stand back’ at times, rather than making subjective decisions or forming opinions about what solutions may lead to positive outcomes.
- Have the knowledge and experience to be able to make sound decisions based on careful analysis of the problem, and to be able to identify critical trade-off and risk decisions.
- Listening skills and empathy. They should be easily able to listen to customers and communicate with them and to empathise with the problems those customers are experiencing. This should then lead, in turn, to a deeper understanding of those issues and of the customer experience journey as a whole.
- Great communication skills. Not only with the customers and the market, but also with all specific and cross-functional teams. They should be able to guide and lead the teams they work with to their set goal and help overcome any problems with strategies or timelines that arise.
Communications can take many forms, so managers must be prepared to utilise technology to achieve efficiency in this area. Where in-person meetings are not possible, look at virtual alternatives such as video conferences. Webinars, too, are a great way of communicating with affiliates and channel partners.
There are several areas where product management and product marketing will overlap. In some ways, the two manager roles are complementary, and at times, they may even be symbiotic.
The main overlap area is in understanding the customer and their needs. Some of the areas where they may work together (or separately, but with the same goal) include:
- Market research
- Market analysis
- Market sizing
- Customer interviews
- Demographic/ethnographic research
But though they may work together, it is the product manager who has the responsibility of identifying and deciding what needs to be built and how to do so.
What Skills and Qualifications Does a Product Marketing Manager Need?
In most cases, a product marketing manager will have a bachelor’s degree in marketing or a closely related field. Many will also have a master’s degree, which may be in a particular specialisation. Larger companies and corporations may also look for an MBA, though a good history of experience may be accepted as an alternative.
The average salary for this role in London is around GBP 57k (remembering that London usually has higher salaries than the rest of the UK). It is worth noting that it would be rare to go straight into a management role, and you would usually work in lower-level marketing positions for several years.
In addition to on-paper qualifications, several hard skills are a necessity if you are looking to fill this role, and that you will usually see listed in job alerts:
While you may not write all of the final customer-facing content, you need a high writing skill level. Many of your ideas and words will be what is communicated to the customer, so you have to disseminate the benefits of your product/service. Sales and success owe a lot to good communication and messaging.
Presentation skills and confidence.
Being a product marketing manager is not a job for someone shy or reserved. You are going to be doing a lot of presentations: to your colleagues, to executive-level management (C-suite), and channelling partners or affiliates.
This may seem like a glaringly obvious one to include, but having a wealth of experience and finely-tuned marketing skills are an absolute necessity for product marketing managers.
You should have in-depth knowledge of social media marketing, digital marketing, demand generation, storytelling, and project management.
Well-rounded business knowledge.
If you are in a management or leadership role, then knowing business basics is a must. You need to understand factors such as financial planning, business metrics, KPIs, revenue projection, etc.
Traits and Soft Skills
A potential employer will not just focus on qualifications or hard skills. They want the perfect candidate for their position. They will look for certain personality traits, too. The three main ones are curiosity, focus, and a determination to get things done.
In addition to those, which virtually all employers will see as a necessity, several soft skills can improve your chances of landing that desired product management role:
A good product marketing manager will not only view customer problems as a hurdle to overcome. They will have a real passion for solving those problems and a high degree of empathy for what those problems mean to the customers.
It’s about more than simply understanding your customer base or the market; it’s about having the vision to develop features and products that meet your customers’ needs and solve problems they were/are experiencing.
Independence and Oversight.
An efficient product marketing manager realises that their job duties may change daily. One day, you may be working and guiding your designers, and on another day, you may be working with your marketing team.
Your working environment may not be precisely structured, and you have to navigate that environment to ensure that any project makes good progress. You need to work independently of executive oversight and identify who – or what teams – work well together. You may also have to manage staff across multiple locations.
It may well be the case that you are working on several projects at once and that each project has multiple components to it. You must be able to prioritise your workload according to set schedules and company needs.
Identifying what tasks are time-sensitive and what things need your primary focus is going to play a big part in not only the success of individual projects but also in how successful you are in the role as a whole.
While listed as a soft skill, collaboration plays a big part in how well a project will come to fruition. The development of virtually all products depends on multi-team collaboration—designers talking to the engineering team, content writers talking to marketers, etc.
And it is not only about cross-team collaboration; it is about how you collaborate with all the human components of the development process. In some ways, you are the glue that holds much of the process together, so working well with others is necessary.
One of your jobs is to identify and define product positioning. That can include early stages of development, as well as bringing the product to market. It would help if you devised strategies that get a product from initial standing to optimum performance or appeal.
You will need a high degree of logic and knowhow and understand when to apply marketing theories and models to aspects such as competitive positioning.
Strong Decision Making.
You will need to be constantly making important decisions, so must be strong, decisive, and confident. You have to be able to take responsibility for making decisions on everything from messaging to targeting. You need to have the desired outcomes and goals set and decide how to get there.
You do not necessarily have to have actual skills in design or Photoshop etc. (though it can help), but you have to visualise ideas and then pass them to those who can bring them to life. You need to think outside the box, to come up with new ideas and ways of communicating your message to your customers.
The Burdens of Management
If anyone ever tells you that being a manager is easy, don’t believe them. No matter the size of the company, management comes with added burdens and stress. The phrase “the buck stops here” is one that especially applies to leadership roles. If you are in charge of product management and something goes wrong then, ultimately, the responsibility lies with you.
Leadership can also, depending on the structure of the business, be a lonely role. While you may collaborate closely with several teams or staff members, there is always a feeling of not quite being one of the team. Identifying your own ‘burdens’ and finding coping strategies can reduce the stress and make you a better leader.
As with other areas of your role, good communications can help lessen your burden. Regular meetings with anyone involved in your project can not only help promote collaborative working, but it can also help them see your leadership qualities and that you value what they do.
Be sure not only to talk to them but also to listen to what they have to say. Some great problem-solving ideas come from those at the ‘coal face’ of any product development.
Letting your teams know what needs to be done and give them a clearer sense of purpose. When they have a series of tasks to undertake and know required timelines, productivity is likely to increase, reducing some of the burdens on you.
Try to practice pull management rather than push management. With the former, you identify and assign tasks, tell that worker or team what the goals are and how success is measured, and then let them get on with those tasks. With the latter, you are micromanaging and not always revealing the whole picture. Pull management makes for a better environment and less stress.
Don’t just communicate with your teams. Communicate with your peers, both inside and outside the company structure. Informal discussions can help reduce any work-related stress, as you are talking to people who understand the same anxieties. Is there an organisation in your region consisting of people working in the same – or similar – roles? If so, join it.
As a product marketing manager, you may be senior management but not at the executive – C Suite – level. So in many ways, there is a higher level for the buck to stop at. If you feel burdened by any aspect of your leadership role, discuss this with your own managers. Make it clear that you are seeking support or guidance rather than expressing surrender.
Product marketing management and product management may be closely related, and may also feature often interchangeable roles. But knowing clearly the differences between them is perhaps more important than knowing the similarities.
To succeed in product marketing manager is no easy task. Depending on the size of the business you work in – or the project you are managing – you will require a solid knowledge base and a strong set of skills. And both of these will probably need many years of experience and some academic qualifications to develop.
But the role of product marketing manager is crucial, and one that is at the foundation of how successful a product may be. Without them, a product may flounder and disappear. With them working well, your product may well be the next big thing.
Originally published Jan 27, 2021, updated Apr 15, 2021