What is Product Marketing & Where Should It Live?

A friend of mine reached out and asked me my thoughts on product marketing the other day. Little did he know that question would send me off on a tangent. Because it did (and I thought I would piece together that tangent for this post).

For one reason or ten, I am insanely passionate about product marketing. I think it’s because I have seen the shift over the years from “two teams” to “one team”, from “hands off marketers” to “all in marketers”, and I couldn’t be more stoked about it. Today product and marketing need to be so closely tied, you can barely separate them. I believe that with my whole heart.

But alas there is a problem. The intersection of  the two functions often causes more friction and deeper silos than we could imagine. There is a turf war happening at a number of companies, and it’s too damn bad. The companies that solve for how these two teams can work together are going to win. They are going to win every time. Luckily for us there is a traditional function that helps lace us together for a common goal — product marketing.

Enter the second problem — most marketers don’t know what the hell that means. [facepalm] So let’s run through it shall we?

What is Product Marketing?

Product marketing as it traditionally exists solves for – what to build, who to sell it to, how to sell it, and what to price it at. Its a four cornered web of awesome that helps companies build something valuable for the right people, sell it well and make money. Wait a minute — that sounds super important? Why yes, yes it is. I have put together a magical picture (ridiculous attempt at a pun intended) to stress its importance…

what is product marketing

So how come so many companies screw this up? Enter the where should it live dilemma.

Where Should Product Marketing Live?

You know what I love? Cold, hard truths. So here are a few of them: Most of today’s marketers suck at what to build and how to price it. While most product managers today suck at who to sell it to and how to sell it. Don’t hate the messenger. It’s true. FWIW it’s not their/our fault, marketers weren’t trained in product planning, and product managers weren’t trained in market research and acquisition/take to market strategy. Let’s all just blame the system and move on.

So if it shouldn’t live on either team, then what? This is where it get’s interesting. I think you’ll see the rise of growth teams, or product planning teams that try to really drive those core functions (this is a lot of what growth marketing was at Moz for me and what you see growth teams do at other companies – FB, Dropbox, Pinterest, etc.). I think these hybrid teams will hire in curious cats that don’t want to do one or the other. And I truly believe that in a few years we may just see the structured “two team system” as we know it — be uprooted altogether.

With today’s companies being more product driven than ever and offering more products than before on more channels than ever before, the cornerstone that is product marketing has become the inflection point between success and failure. I’m seeing it. You’re seeing it. It’s happening.

But What About Right Now?  

Change takes time. I think startups are paving the way on these hybrid teams focused more on the core four of product marketing. With that said – most product teams of today (meaning more traditional structures) are better set up to hire in someone to help them manage the customer segment analysis and product launch then marketing teams are set up to hire in someone to help build great products and price them. So if I had to pick one – I’d sway toward product marketing living on the product team for now.

I do think it’s a short lived reality. I believe, somewhat crazily I think, that companies that kill it in the future will have Product Marketing teams that do all of that above (maybe called Growth or Product Planning or Customer Success teams), and then staff around that team – community, content, communications (both marcomm and product comm), biz dev/sales, etc. that help keep leads coming in and amplify the message you create. You are already seeing this shift happen as product & marketing teams today try to find ways to work closer together.

Looking Forward…

I think we will see some big changes. For the past few years I’ve prepared to take this shift in stride by buffing up on my product marketing skills. I’ve tackled the following in some capacity: wireframing, UX theory, UI best practices, pricing models, competitive landscape analysis, market positioning strategy, etc. I’ve buddied up to the best product managers I can find, and I’ve tried to absorb their awesome like it was the future of marketing. Because the short of it is…I believe product marketing is in a lot of ways just that.

Best of luck to those marketers that think they can keep their heads down and ignore the product they are being asked to acquire customers and build loyalty for. And good luck to to the product managers that are shaping products but have no idea who will use it or where to find them. It’s going to be one hell of an uphill battle. My advice? Grab a coffee with someone from the other team, brain-share the hell out of your time working together, and forge ahead together instead of apart.

5 Comments
  • http://twitter.com/amritachandra Amrita Chandra

    Great post, Joanna. Interestingly, I’ve experienced both at companies where I’ve headed up marketing.

    1) Product Marketing doesn’t even exist as a separate function any more – it is just marketing, and it lives outside of Product Management or

    2) Product Marketing exists as a separate function and reports into the head of marketing.

    I’m also seeing Product Management moving mostly into the What to Build area and the other 3 quadrants being left to marketing. Having said that, I see this being more contingent upon the talent of who they hire to head up the teams than anything else.

    I agree with you that marketing/product management are going to have to be more collaborative. If they are, it matters less where the team lives.

  • http://twitter.com/JoannaLord Joanna Lord

    Hey Amrita! Thanks so much for the comment and for sharing your experiences. I love hearing both sides of the table in action. You make a really good point that if its functioning well – the where — really doesn’t matter. I think that comes down to processes, team members, and the organizational vibe of course, but if all of those are grooving, the “where” does seem less important.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • http://twitter.com/tresnik Timothy Resnik

    I think product marketing functions get unintentionally swept under the rug at startups that experience success. It makes sense. When startups are very small everyone is involved in making product, marketing and product marketing decisions. When the product becomes a market success the startup will just do more of the same and the focus becomes on iterating on the product itself and finding new channels for promotion. Unfortunately innovation takes a back seat…wait I think someone wrote a book about this once :)

  • dreaming of a latte

    any books you would recommend to a digital marketer getting into a marketing product role?

  • Tom Evans

    I’m starting to see companies put Product Management and Product Marketing into a common reporting structure, reporting up to a VP of Products or something like that. These companies have also clearly separated the role of Marketing and Product Marketing, where Product Marketing is responsible for developing the market strategy, product collateral, sales tools, channel support, pricing, etc. and Marketing is responsible for executing the marketing programs, corporate marketing, PR, etc. I won’t say this is always the right approach, but I’m becoming more convinced that this a a better approach for most companies.

    Also, Product Management must be involved in the Who to Sell to discussion, because how do you know what to build if you don’t know to whom you are selling. I know too often, things get built and then companies decide the to whom, value proposition, and positioning, but that is backwards. You have to figure out the target market segment, value proposition and positioning before you build the product if you really want to execute.