Coffee with a Product Marketer #3 — Erin Hinson, Director of Product Marketing @ Pluralsight
I’m excited to introduce the next installment of Product Marketing Summit’s “Coffee with a PMM” series.
Name: Erin McNamara
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Title: Director of Product Marketing
Company: Pluralsight (past: Integrate, WebPT, Infusionsoft)
Education: Arizona State University
Social handles: Twitter, LinkedIn
Tell us about your path into the tech world and your product marketing role.
A few years after graduation from ASU, I landed a gig at a market research company project managing focus groups for Fortune 500 brands. We recruited and hosted focus groups about everything from feedback on dog food packaging to pizza taste tests. The downside was that I never saw the results from the research. As someone who tends to ask a lot of questions and loves to know why, it was a tease to be so close to the action. While I struggled with always being on the ‘wrong’ side of the two-way mirror, I found myself handling the technology and operations for the entire company. It was then that I realized what I’d been fighting/ignoring/denying all my life: I was/am a nerd. And so, I embraced my love of all things techy and nerdy and hurled myself into web development and software. After an operations role at a web development shop, I found my home in product marketing at a marketing automation company called Infusionsoft.
How did you know product marketing was for you?
To state it simply: Product marketing puts my entire brain to work.
Depending on the day, I’m exercising my creativity writing messaging; testing my project management skills through orchestrating product launch plans; knee-deep in spreadsheets going cross-eyed over target market and pricing data; putting my people skills to work herding cats teams, deliverables and learning from customers (finally on the ‘right’ side of the mirror). There’s no shortage of challenges to tackle and each day is a bit different from the last.
And it was like that from Day 1. Because if you feel stagnant in product marketing, you’re probably doing it wrong.
How did you learn about product marketing and gain specific skills?
I joined Infusionsoft as a wide-eyed product marketing newbie. I had no concept of what the day-to-day would be like but I knew I’d done aspects of the role in previous jobs. During my interview with my hero would-be boss, Lindsay Bayuk, she described the role of product marketing in relation to several other departments at the company as: Product marketing is the meat and potatoes to their whip cream and cherry. I questioned Lindsay’s sense of taste but immediately understood the concept. I learned the principles of product marketing from Pragmatic Marketing and Lindsay. But I picked up the majority of my skills by trying things and failing, and then trying again. Frankly, I found a lot of the product marketing content available to be sparse, outdated, and overly complex. That’s why I’m so excited to see the product marketing community come together to rewrite the rules with a modern, more agile perspective.
How would you describe product marketing? To a peer? To your parents?
Oh man. I’m pretty sure most of my friends and family believe I write code. And I’m pretty sure they picture the Hollywood depiction of a developer writing code, slamming the keyboard vigorously. I tend to say, if you were going to create and sell a product, product marketing helps you do that effectively. From defining your ideal customers to pricing your product and then highlighting all the awesome parts about your product for each different buyer and getting it in front of them so it’s easy to buy, that’s what we do. And sometimes if I’m lucky, I’m not met with a blank stare.
In your words, how is product marketing different from product management or traditional marketing?
I think the meat and potatoes and whipped cream analogy works well to describe the relationship with traditional marketing.
And I think the relationship with product management is supposed to be more like a sibling rivalry. We challenge each other but we’re aiming for the same goal, just slightly different perspectives and responsibilities. Product managers are generally more customer-driven and product marketers are generally more market and buyer-driven. Generally.
Tell us about your current role as a Director of Product Marketing for Pluralsight.
It’s a really exciting time to be at Pluralsight because we’re re-establishing the product marketing function. And unlike at some of my previous companies, Pluralsight actually understands what product marketing is (and isn’t), and values product marketing as a critical role to achieving our company mission. We have defined some very big, motivating goals and they’ve invested in our team to ensure we deliver on those goals.
What’s your secret to staying productive?
Lots of Spotify playlists to match the type of work I’m doing and my current mood. Here’s a link to one of my favoritesbecause you seem like good people.
What’s your favorite recent read?
Ready Player One isn’t recent but it’s one of my all-time favorite books. I just finished the first book in the Wool series by Hugh Howey. Both are nerdy dystopian future books.
What’s your advice to someone interested in breaking into product marketing?
Jumping straight into product marketing can be daunting. It’s fast-paced, and ever-changing. You’ve got your hand in everything going on in the business — sometimes all at once. Mentally prepare yourself for that.
Put yourself out there and try to learn about as much as you can — pricing, positioning, go-to-market strategies, product launches, branding, conversion, optimization, customer marketing, segmentation, total addressable market, industry analysts, leadership development, communication techniques… the list goes on and on. Try to be well-versed in as much as you can because you never know what you’ll tackle next.