Product Marketing: The Complete Guide for 2020

product marketing header

 

Product marketers are focused on understanding and marketing to customers and positioning their company to sell to potential customers.

They drive demand and usage of products, which usually includes writing positioning and messaging, launching new products and features, and enabling marketing, sales, and customer success teams to be successful. For example, at Drift, our product marketers are integral to building the narratives that map to our integrated marketing campaigns.

Product marketing sits at the intersection of product strategy, sales, customer success, and marketing. While this demonstrates the huge impact product marketing can have, it does make defining product marketing a bit more challenging (especially when you start comparing product marketing vs. product management).

With that said, we created this guide to help define what product marketing is, what responsibilities a product marketer has, how to measure success in product marketing, and a whole lot more.

Table of Contents 📖

What is Product Marketing?

Google the term “product marketing” and you’ll see one definition after another trying to capture the essence of what product marketing managers do.

But most of those definitions are either from outdated marketing textbooks or offer contradicting explanations. One might tell you product marketing sits with the product; one might tell you product marketing sits with sales.

Many focus on what a product marketer must achieve or do while others try to explain it by its role within the company. But not a single one seems to offer a clear enough definition of the term.

So where’s the confusion coming from?

One reason might be the lack of understanding of what product marketers actually do.

what is product marketing?

Even with little knowledge about their day to day jobs, most of us can understand what outcomes the majority of functions within a company are responsible for delivering.

Salespeople bring in more business. Finance keeps the books in order. Engineers build the product. And support helps keep customers happy.

In some companies, a product marketer’s sole responsibility is positioning. In others, they focus only on sales enablement or they’re responsible for driving demand and adoption. And then at some companies, a product marketer is responsible for all of those things.

So, your next question is probably 👇

What Is Product Marketing Actually Responsible For?

In this section, we’ll run through the responsibilities that fall on product marketing’s shoulders. We’ll then look at how product marketing differs fundamentally from traditional marketing and product management.

Product Marketing: Pre- & Post-Launch Responsibilities

Before a product launch, product marketers typically own positioning, messaging, gathering customer feedback, and the overall go-to-market strategy for a product.

After a product launch, product marketers help with sales enablement and focus on driving demand, adoption, and the overall success of the product.

product marketing responsibilities

This definition is the best way we’ve found to explain the role of product marketing – by looking at what product marketers do before and after product launches.

According to Casey Winters, Chief Product Officer at Eventbrite, product marketing has gone through a bit of an identity crisis over the years. But in his experience, the role of a product marketer can be distilled down into three key responsibilities:

“Product marketing has suffered from an identity crisis as long as I have known the term. Product marketing, when done correctly (which rarely happens), is usually in charge of three things: First, deciding a soon to be released product’s positioning and messaging. Second, launching the product and making sure users (in B2C) or customers and salespeople (in B2B) understand its value. Third, drive demand and usage of the product.”

Casey Winters, Chief Product Officer @ Eventbrite

Knowing this, it’s important that product marketers have a deep understanding of the customer and the market, to ensure that:

  • A product and its new features are appropriately positioned
  • Sales and marketing teams have all the necessary knowledge and materials to attract new customers
  • The product will satisfy the target audience’s needs and overcome their pain points
  • The product remains relevant as the market evolves

The tangible results of a product marketer’s work typically include:

  • Buyer personas that provide structure and insight for a company
  • Positioning and messaging that attracts and converts prospects and leads
  • Sales enablement materials that help reps close more deals
  • Competitive intelligence that gives the team a deep understanding of the market
  • Go-to-market strategy and launch plans that outline how the product should be promoted and sold

Here we see that product marketers are again moving between different departments to help with go-to-market activities.

Product Marketing vs. Traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing – for example, demand generation teams – promotes a company, its brand, and ensures the consistency of the marketing message. Product marketing works in conjunction with these teams to position the company.

Specifically, product marketing supports marketing teams by:

  • Developing thought leadership messaging
  • Engaging with thought leaders to contribute to top of funnel marketing activities
  • Writing narratives that provide the backbone for demand generation teams to use in the creation of the outbound efforts across the funnel

Product marketing also focuses on marketing to customers, and driving demand and adoption – all with the goal of creating happy, successful users.

Product Marketing vs. Product Management

Product marketing and product management professionals are not responsible for the same things.

If a product manager’s job is to create and define new products and features, it’s a product marketer’s job is to bring those things to market.

As shown in the image below, the product marketer is focused on narrative and position, while the product manager is oriented around execution and solutions.

product marketing vs product management

Despite these two roles having different outcomes, they are still very much in communication with one another – particularly around roadmaps and communicating those roadmaps to the marketing teams so they can plan accordingly.

Why Is Product Marketing Important?

If the list of associated responsibilities and deliverables didn’t convince you of product marketing’s importance to a business, we’ll drive the point home here again.

Product marketing came into its own in response to the rise of marketing technology and, specifically, Software as a Service (SaaS).

The SaaS boom introduced a growing list of competition in the technology industry. This growth made it difficult for buyers to distinguish and prioritize vendors. In other words: too many lookalikes confused the market.

As anyone in marketing will tell you, positioning and brand messaging are critical to standing out in a crowded space. And that is the beauty of the modern product marketer.

Today’s product marketers help build brand narratives as part of their competitive strategy.

At Drift, we use integrated marketing campaigns to organize our go-to-market (GTM) motion. Product marketers are involved at the very heart of this process. Specifically, they create the narratives that guide the programs, offers, and strategy for these quarterly campaigns.

integrated marketing campaigns structure

Product marketers, after building the narratives for a particular campaign, work with demand generation to deliver program themes for the quarter.

product marketing campaign narratives

This is why product marketing is integral in the marketing organization: They provide context for the campaigns you run, the offers you create, and the GTM messaging you use.

Product marketing has continued to gain momentum over the years. Today it is a staple discipline on any product-based marketing team.

Here’s Founder & CEO of the Product Marketing Alliance, Richard King, on how far the product marketing profession has come. 👇

What Is a Product Marketing Strategy?

Now, let’s look at a product marketer’s responsibilities in each stage leading up to a product launch to get a better look at the life of a product marketer:

Customer Development

Pre-launch, a product marketer’s job is to define the target market and understand the potential customer.

Positioning & Messaging

After customer persona development, it’s the product marketer’s job to turn learnings into action. This comes in the form of a positioning document or a list of key messages. Product marketers try to answer these three questions with their positioning:

  • Who is this product for?
  • What does this product do?
  • Why should customers want to use it?
  • Why is this product different from what’s out there already?

Sharing Positioning & Messaging

Now that positioning and messaging have been developed, it’s the product marketer’s job to make sure that everyone at the company knows it. Positioning won’t stick unless everyone is on the same page. So it’s important for product marketers to get buy-in and teach key messages across the organization.

This type of activity is key to your larger brand positioning, where product marketers can work together with other marketing members to deliver a strong GTM message.

Creating a Launch Plan

Product marketers own the creation of a launch plan, which typically involves various teams from across an organization, including traditional marketing, sales, support, and more.

At the end of the day, most product marketers are measured on demand (whether it be new sign-ups, cross-sells, or feature adoption). So creating an effective launch plan is critical to a successful launch.

Creating Launch Content

Launch content is the glue to any launch plan.

Product marketers will work with multiple teams inside of an organization on launch content. This content includes everything from demo decks to product screenshots, sales materials, blog posts, landing pages, and website updates.

Preparing the Team

Internal communication is just as important as external communication for a product launch. It’s the product marketer’s job to make sure the entire team is prepped and ready to go before a product launch. This usually means everything from making sure the website is ready to go live to making sure the support team is ready to field calls and chats.

Product Launch

The actual product launch is the defining moment for a product marketer. This is when the rubber meets the road and customers start coming in.

Post-Launch

Finally, you’ll want to measure the success of your launch plan. Do this by monitoring customer and internal feedback. Track the performance of the launch based on key metrics like adoption, up-sell, cross-sell, etc.

What Does a Product Marketing Team Look Like?

As your company grows, so too should your product marketing team. In this section, we’ll look at what a best-in-class product marketing team looks like, and where product marketing should sit in a company.

Should Product Marketing Sit with Marketing or Product?

Before we dive into the team members within product marketing, let’s talk about where product marketing should sit.

The Product Marketing Alliance (PMA) surveyed product marketers to understand the state of product marketing. In their report, around 62% sat in marketing. But we were surprised to see a number of other reporting structures outside both product and marketing as well 👇

product marketing organization structure

 

Source: State of Product Marketing 2020, Product Marketing Alliance

In some organizations, product marketing sits with the product team. In others, with marketing.

We’re pro product marketing in marketing and found that it’s the best policy for an agile GTM strategy.

Jessica Iandiorio, CMO of Starburst Data, said for those companies undergoing rapid growth, or hypergrowth, having product marketing sit in marketing is ideal for getting them closer to sales. Here she explains why this is so crucial:

“If you’re in hypergrowth mode, put product marketing in marketing. When in marketing, product marketing’s goals are tied to sales. They’re tied to pipeline and conversion. They’re tied to bookings. These are the main drivers that affect hitting growth targets. They are the driving force hammering on the go-to-market strategy daily. They’re in the trenches with sales pitching prospects and focused on what message works best to acquire customers. They’re evangelizing your company to analysts, journalists, and partners knowing what’s getting picked up and not. They’re learning how to best sell your company & products.”

Jessica Iandiorio, CMO of Starburst Data

Due to product marketing’s importance in GTM motions and sales enablement, having this team closer to buyer-facing and customer-facing functions is ideal.

What Does a Modern Product Marketing Team Look Like?

A high-performance product marketing team will look different depending on the size of your company, the products and services you sell, the diversity of those products and services, and the expertise you have in-house.

That said, there are some standard roles and responsibilities you should look to add as your organization grows.

Here’s a very simple breakdown of what those key roles are within product marketing 👇

 

product marketing team

 

At the center, you have your head of product marketing. This may be a VP or Director-level employee – or perhaps even your company’s CMO.

You then have multiple product marketers who are assigned to different products or services. Each will serve as the DRI for that particular line of business. Outside the responsibilities already mentioned, product marketers are also involved in tracking competitors, as well as identifying industry trends and thought leaders. To do this, product marketers may collaborate with analysts.

Additionally, you should have at least a few content enablement folks to help create the one-sheeters, decks, landing pages, etc., for your products and services. These roles should be segmented by internal departments vs. a product or service. This ensures that product marketing is meeting the needs of the internal organization. (i.e., They aren’t creating enablement content for just sales or just customer success. The needs of the organization are being met across the board.)

Again, this is a generic overview of the roles often needed to run a product marketing function. Where these marketers sit in an organization will dictate much of what you see here. And, if you have a smaller team, these roles could be consolidated.

If you’re looking for more insight into building high-performance marketing teams, check out the toolkit below 👇

marketing team book

How to Measure the Impact of Product Marketing

Product marketing metrics will differ depending on the makeup of your team. For example, if enablement managers work outside of product marketing, their internal metrics won’t be tied to product marketing’s performance.

So, in general, how should product marketing measure their performance?

Databox surveyed product marketers to identify what KPIs they prioritized above all else. Broadly, product marketers are consistently focused on the customer according to the survey:

“Amongst the group of experts we surveyed, we found that product marketing’s main goal is sign-ups. Almost as frequently mentioned was active product usage and paid activations. Churn reduction and upgrades were mentioned quite a bit less frequently as primary goals. So, it seems that product marketing is mostly focused on getting users in the door and getting them to purchase and use the product.”

In addition to this, the team identified thirteen KPIs product marketers should focus on:

  • Frequency of high-value actions
  • Product usage
  • Number of contacts
  • Revenue
  • Assisted conversions
  • Qualified leads
  • Cost per acquisition
  • Sales close rate
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Net Promoter Score
  • Customer sentiment
  • Market share
  • Product description clarity

You can learn more about these metrics here.

Great Product Marketing Campaigns & Examples

There are a lot of questions you can ask to get to the heart of what makes product marketing great. For our purposes – and to help frame the examples here – let’s agree on a few key attributes.

Great product marketing…

  1. Puts the customer at the center of everything: Product marketers must have a deep understanding of the customer and the market. In other words: they need to put customers at the center of everything they do. Success here often happens behind the scenes through great customer engagement and internal enablement.
  2. Nails messaging: You might have a killer product, amazing services, and unparalleled internal support. But none of that matters if you aren’t doing a good job explaining what your product does and how it helps your customers.
  3. Is timely: Product launches should be well-executed and well-timed to the needs of customers and the market. Product marketing should work alongside business and product leaders to position messaging and releases appropriately.
  4. Focuses on bold and creative solutions: Today’s product marketers are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. For the examples in this section, we focused on brands that are leveling up product marketing across the board. Who got creative in the face of challenges? Who spearheaded new ideas and delivered for their clients?

With these best practices in mind, let’s dig into four brands nailing product marketing in their industries.

Spotify Wrapped – Your Musical Decade in Review

As we toasted the end of a decade in 2019, Spotify was making headlines for their cool, nostalgic approach to the “year in review” concept.

Spotify Wrapped is a dedicated, infographic-like page the company offers listeners at the end of every year. For 2019, however, Spotify upped the nostalgia factor, offering a beautiful, personalized page of a musical decade in review 👇

spotify wrapped product marketing example

Source: Spotify

Spotify not only shared the music that was popular over the last decade, but the stats around what music made an impact on individual listeners. They included shareable images of this data so people could post online and share the music that “defined their decade.”

spotify wrapped product illustration

Spotify checked all the boxes here by delivering a product experience that was centered around listeners and perfectly timed for the market. They’ve also built hype and anticipation around Spotify Wrapped at the end of every year.

Hey.com Simplifies & Humanizes Email

Flashy product shots can definitely deliver the wow factor. But compelling copy and messaging changes minds and creates action.

The folks from Basecamp took this to heart when they launched their email marketing platform HEY and hey.com.

When you drop on the HEY homepage page, you’re greeted not by a product shot, but a rallying cry for email marketers. Their message is simple: Email is still an incredibly powerful tool – but email marketing needs to change.

hey.com email invite

To promote their launch, HEY used the power of exclusivity to drive sign-ups and prompt people to engage and tell their own story around email 👇

HEY also used social proof and customer voices to highlight and explain their product’s value as part of their launch “manifesto.”

By engaging with the community and focusing on messaging, HEY delivered a truly unique product launch.

Zoom’s 2020 Boom & Why It’s an Important Lesson in Product Marketing

2020 flipped the world on its head in more ways than one.

Today, it’s almost impossible to talk about 2020 – and modern product marketing – without mentioning Zoom.

Zoom, a video conferencing software that saw success in the B2B world – even before COVID – was pushed into the spotlight as much of normal life went online.

In March 2020, first-time installations of Zoom’s mobile app rose 728%. Out of this pandemic, Zoom became the key player in connecting not only businesses and clients, but families, friends, teachers, students, doctors, patients, and so many others.

Zoom’s sudden growth in 2020 wasn’t without its obstacles. From security concerns to bandwidth issues, Zoom had to pivot quickly to help new and existing customers cope with a virtual reality.

This meant addressing customer feedback, scrutiny, and needs almost overnight. The pandemic also forced Zoom to rethink who their customers truly are, and how they can best be supported 👇

zoom messaging

 

In an interview with Bloomberg, CEO Eric Yuan was asked how he felt about Zoom’s rapid growth and role during the pandemic:

“Given the choice, Yuan makes clear, this isn’t the path he would have chosen for himself or for the company. But he says he no longer pretends he’s in control: “You can’t go back, that would not be responsible. For now we have to embrace this new paradigm and figure out how to make it work.” Zoom is “now owned by the whole world,” he adds.”

Zoom’s 2020 story offers a masterclass in pivoting in the face of uncertainty, and the need for product marketers to remain agile.

Apple’s Still Got It

You’d be hard-pressed to find a “great product marketing campaigns” blog without Apple on the list. Seriously – we tried to do it. But it’s impossible to talk about modern product marketing without mentioning Apple’s impact.

It’s because Apple combines the best of all worlds: A seamless web experience, copy that nails it every time, and comprehensive product information.

Apple often wins in B2C technology categories because it’s done an incredible job understanding who their customers are, what drives them, what pains them, and what they want now. They translate that knowledge into innovative products and marketing that focuses on benefits versus features. For those reasons alone, we expect they’ll continue to grace lists like this one for years to come.

Want more examples? Check out these five brands nailing product marketing in their industry.

Final Thoughts

Today, product marketing continues to be an essential function in the fiercely competitive technology industry. We hope this article helped paint a clearer picture of what modern product marketing looks like.

To end, here’s a quick recap of what we shared:

  • Product marketing should have a deep understanding of the customer and the market.
  • Before a product launch, product marketers typically own positioning, messaging, gathering customer feedback, and the overall go-to-market strategy for a product.
  • After a product launch, product marketers help with sales enablement and focus on driving demand, adoption, and the overall success of the product.
  • Product marketers help develop the narratives for integrated marketing campaigns and work alongside marketers to develop campaigns for the year.
  • Ideally, your product marketing team should be structured around your product and service segments with DRIs to help support each.
  • Great product marketing…
    • Focuses on the customer
    • Nails messaging
    • Is perfectly timed for the market
    • Offers bold and creative solutions

For those of you still wondering how to take your product marketing to the next level – we have a suggestion: Start by improving your website.

See how Drift can improve your website experience and elevate your product marketing by starting real-time conversations with buyers and customers.

Demo Drift Today

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on 12/03/2018 and has been updated 07/21/2020 to reflect new information and new examples.