What is Product Marketing? An Interview with Greg Powell

There is a lot of confusion about the role and value of product marketing. So, I asked Greg Powell, head of brand and product marketing at Fundbox, who previously built a product marketing competency at Intuit to share his perspective on that question.

This was one of 50 interviews with startup leaders conducted for the new book, Beyond Product (now Available on Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook). Highlights are below:

What is product marketing?

Product marketing is about bringing the market to the product and the product to market.

Bringing the market to the product is about understanding who your target customer is, both who you’re currently serving and who you could be serving to help fuel growth. It’s also about understanding the competitive landscape and the other products out there that might be alternatives to your product, that people are currently using, so you understand the customer’s frame of reference. That, along with data about addressable market, can help shape what you build.

Bringing the product to market is more straightforward. Once the product is built, it’s about introducing it to your target population. It’s about figuring out how to talk about the product — what messaging you use, the visuals that go along with it, and the story you can tell so that the product comes to life in the mind of existing and new customers and meaningful. It’s also about partnering with other parts of the company to make sure that the right audiences see that message.

What is the relationship between product management and product marketing?

Often product managers are tasked with these responsibilities. That’s fine in the early stages of a company before a product launches, a product manager can wear that hat. It’s not always ideal, because usually they have a little bit more technical expertise than marketing expertise. So understanding the customer landscape might not be a core competency. But where it really starts to become problematic is after the product launches. Product managers tend to have more of a desire to focus on the existing customer population. They do a really, really good job listening to existing customers. But it becomes a little bit of an echo chamber. So, where product marketing can really help complement that product manager skill set is to look outside the company’s walls and figure out who you’re not talking to, your prospects, and figure out what they think. Because that might be a much, much different story.

In terms of the roadmap, I like to see collaboration between product marketing, the PMs, sales, biz dev, and customer support. But product marketing specifically needs to own that prospect view of the world. Who is not using the product? Why are they not using it? How could our company change if we did start to target those prospects? And what do we need to build in order to be successful in reaching and serving those prospects well?

When should a startup hire product marketing?

Product marketing can be a really good first marketing hire. I like to think about a product marketer as providing healthy skepticism for the technology, saying, “All right, but who’s going to buy this thing? Let’s think about it from the outside in instead of the inside out. That sounds like awesome technology, but what’s the market for it? How many people might buy this? And how are we going to go reach them?

A product marketer can be a really good first marketing hire if say the founder or the head of product, or whoever is creating that product, doesn’t have that natural tendency to think that way. If you’re building a product for enterprises, product marketing is a really good first marketing hire also because the story becomes crucial for the sales team to sell to potential customers.

What skill sets do you look for when you hire for Product Marketing? What type of person are you trying to hire?

There are five things that I look for in a product marketer. No one has all five so I look for someone who can complement my skill set.

  1. Data and insights. Someone who can either empathize with customers, get into the minds of customers and understand what makes them tick, understand their pain, and translate that pain into something that we can then turn into product or someone who’s really good with data, very analytical, can look at your website traffic or other product data and develop a story around what you need to then go do next.
  2. Strategy. Someone who can take a lot of data or a lot of different inputs and figure out a clear sense of prioritization amongst them all. Someone who can say, “All right, we know that we want to end up at this end state, so what are the key choices we need to make in order to get there?”
  3. Narrative building. I look for people that are passionate about writing, have a strong sense of voice, can tell a clear story, and present their idea very clearly. Sometimes good product marketers actually have a journalism background where they’ve taken a lot of different information that they’ve collected in their research, and then they present it very clearly in the form of an article. Sometimes they’re creative writers. Sometimes they’re just really awesome at building logical narratives.
  4. Execution. This actually is a lot different than the first three skills in that it’s about collaboration and figuring out how to get stuff done in an organization where you can’t do everything yourself.
  5. Measuring results. Typically people who are very data and analytics or insight oriented also are good at measuring results. This is about setting clear KPIs, clear key performance indicators, and measuring those.

I tend to look for three out of the five because no one is going to have everything. That’s where I look for someone who can compliment my skill set so that together we can meet all five, and make sure that we have a really smooth organization.

How do you measure success for product marketing?

Product marketing gets involved in so many different aspects of the organization that it’s really hard to isolate the impact that product marketing alone is having. When you launch a new product, think about all the different people that get involved. You might issue a press release. There is typically some sort of paid campaign and content that needs to be created. There are salespeople that need to understand what the go-to-market plans are and how they should talk about the product. There are biz dev people that need to be able to talk to partners about it…

I tend to set up key performance measurements for each launch and hold the product marketer, responsible for those key performance metrics. Figure out what you want the customer to do and hold the product marketer responsible for that ultimate outcome. All of the paths leading up to that may have dependencies on other disciplines, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the product marketer.

What are the common mistakes that you’ve seen or made?

At a lot of organizations, product marketers are under leveraged and become the launch experts. Launching features and launching products is only about half of the role. The other thing that I see sometimes is whenever people need any sort of copy, they turn to product marketing. Very quickly, that can become 80% of our day, so we become the copy experts and we don’t spend as much time thinking outside the company.

Most companies have a product marketer. But the definition of what a product marketer should do varies dramatically. The piece of advice I would have for product marketers is, regardless of what your company has asked product marketers to do, take a step back and think hard about the scope that you think product marketing should be doing, and where product marketing should be adding value.

Want More?

Listen to the full interview with Greg here:

You can also find Greg on Twitter.

For more from Greg and the other 50 startup leaders interviewed for Beyond Product, get your copy at Amazon.com, B&N, or one of your other favorite retailers.