204. Product Marketing Playbook 👖

The inside scoop on the marketing role that will rule 2021

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Hi there 👋

Funny timing that so much has been going on with Gamestop and Wall Street this week, the same week I am finishing a book on investing. If you missed it, here is a good overview of the stock saga. The book I read — I Will Teach You to be Rich — suggests saga-free investing (e.g. don’t buy individual stocks) and ergo wouldn’t touch the Gamestop stock with a 10-foot pole. How about you?

Wishing you a saga-free week,
~ Kevan


Product Marketing Playbook: Inside 2021’s hottest marketing role

Product marketing is taking over the world.

Everyone seems to be hiring a product marketer. (Including me — I’d love to have you apply.)

And for good reason.

Two good reasons in fact:

1 - Product marketing covers a broad set of skills that are instrumental to the growth of a business at any stage. Product marketers are generalists; and a team can never have too many good generalists. A great product marketer can cover a vast array of different areas (critical business ones, at that) and can flex into a number of needs, be it strategic or tactical. If you’re going to hire your first marketer or a broad-impact marketer, then hire a PMM (product marketing manager).

2 - Product-Led Growth (PLG) keeps gaining more and more momentum as a popular go-to-market motion. A great PLG engine requires a great product marketing team to run it.

But what exactly makes a good product marketer?

There are a few folks who have done a fantastic job outlining this:

I’ve learned a ton from these articles — and many more (see below) — over the years. Here is my distillation of what product marketing looks like to me. I hope it’s helpful if you’re hiring a product marketer or if you’re looking to pivot your career in that direction.

The four hats of an awesome product marketer

When I’m hiring for a product marketer, I’m looking for skills in four main areas:

  1. Research

  2. Positioning

  3. Go-to-market

  4. Messaging

If there’s only one product marketer in your company, chances are they will be doing all four of these things. If you have a team of product marketers, you could divide these attributes among them.

Across these four areas, there is one constant theme:

Product marketers aspire to know the customer better than anyone else.

(Ideally, there’s some friendly competition for this mantle between product marketers and product managers.)

With each of the four “hats” of a product marketer, you’ll find that some people skew a bit more in one direction or the other. At times, your business needs might skew in that direction, too.

You may have a person whose primary strength is GTM and doesn’t enjoy messaging as much.

You may have a positioning fanatic who could take or leave research.

The best is when you have T-shaped product marketers with complementary skills.

Here is a bit more on each of the four hats …

Research. This is the foundation of so much of the work that a product marketer will do. And research can come in two forms: 1) quantitative, where you’re digging into customer data, usage data, and 2) qualitative, where you’re doing customer research and market research.

  • Conduct regular customer research across a variety of customer segments: potential customers, existing healthy customers, churn risk, and customers who have switched.

  • Analyze these customer insights and work with product teams to define the product’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, positioning, and messaging.

  • Research and track overarching market trends and patterns

  • Report product marketing performance and insights to the team

  • Support competitor research to better understand how to position the product in a rapidly changing market.

Positioning. I covered a bit of this in the previous newsletter, talking about branding. Positioning should be led by your product marketing team, based on the data and research they’ve compiled and on their knowledge of the category and the market.

  • Own the positioning and category creation for your product solution.

  • Partner with brand marketing, lifecycle marketing, product management, and design to evolve th eproduct’s position in the market and to execute on high-impact repositioning efforts

Go-to-market. In other words: launch! 🚀

  • Develop strategic, insight-driven go-to-market plans for new product initiatives

  • Demonstrate a deep understanding of the desired marketplace and industry trends

  • Demonstrate a deep understanding of current marketing channels and distribution methods for our products, based on product marketing best practices and customer insight of where, when, and how people want to hear from us

  • Represent and advocate for the needs of users within the go-to-market plan and throughout the product lifecycle.

  • Launch new things well — be strategic, data-driven, and responsible for outcomes. Work cross-functionally with teammates across the company to deliver marketing launches on time and at a high quality bar

Messaging. As a product marketing organization grows, this attribute may be one of the first to split off into its own specialty role: lifecycle marketing. Either way, it’s important for the product marketer to have awareness about lifecycle messaging and to think strategically about how to implement smart messaging strategies — messaging is one of the top ways to achieve PMM goals.

  • Craft the story and narrative you want to tell and the proper channels and timing for delivering that message

  • Work with email and in-app messaging to build recognition and awareness for the core aspects of what makes the product experience great and valuable

  • Dig into the data to find ways to optimize messaging and timing

  • Create messaging in order to drive product preference and customer adoption and ensure it is reflected in all communications, including website, case studies, whitepapers and sales pitches.

Goals: What is a PMM accountable for?

A major focus of any product marketing role should be adoption.

This can be measured a number of different ways. Adoption is part of a healthy subscription business, and it influences revenue metrics like retention, churn, and MRR / ARR. Because of this, you may see product marketers tasked with an MRR contribution or a churn reduction. In other cases, the goal may be pure adoption: did users use the product.

Goals may differ quarter-to-quarter and are likely to be based on an evolving product strategy and product management goals.

Some favorite PMM goals I’ve used before:

  • Activation rate of new signups

  • Feature adoption for both newly-released features and core, pre-existing features

Helpful skills and experience

Much of the below is true for many different marketing roles, but especially helpful for product marketing.

  • A T-shaped marketer with core competencies in a handful of areas but also with baseline skills across a multitude of marketing disciplines.

  • Thrives in an environment where market and customer feedback is essential

  • Writes exceptionally well (including go-to-market materials and customer case studies)

  • Manages conflicting priorities from various stakeholders across a number of teams and communicated well with internal teams

  • Desires to continuously test and learn. Willing to be disciplined and precise with data-informed learnings and takeaways

  • Loves to translate complex concepts into clearly articulated messaging

  • 3-5 years in product marketing roles or related experience

Additional resources

Check out some of these PMM job descriptions for even more detail into the role:

The Power and Impact of Good Marketing by Tamara Grominsky, Unbounce

The 6 Lessons We’ve Learned About Product Marketing at a Startup by me :)

ClassPass’ CMO on How and When to Invest in Product Marketing by FirstRound

Product Marketing Lessons Learned Inside Wistia, Hubspot, Localytics & Foursquare by Forget the Funnel


About this newsletter …

Each week, I share playbooks, case studies, stories, and links from inside the startup marketing world. If you enjoy what’s in this newsletter, you can share some love by hitting the heart button at the top or bottom.💙

About Kevan

I’m a marketing exec who specializes in startup marketing and brand-building. I currently lead the marketing team at Polly (we’re hiring!). I previously built brands at Buffer and Vox.


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