What Do Product Marketers Do? Insights from PMMs at Facebook, Uber, Lyft, and Figma
Are you figuring out what role might be a good fit for you in startup tech? Has someone suggested product marketing? Are you still a bit confused about what product marketers do?
Great. This article is for you.
We talked to four top product marketers, including:
Product marketing @ Facebook. Previously Twitch, Udemy, Microsoft.
Head of product marketing @ Figma. Previously Radius, The Climate Corporation.
Product marketing lead @ UberEATS. Previously FiveStars, Apsalar, AOL, EA.
Head of Product marketing @ Teachers Pay Teachers. Previously Lyft, LinkedIn.
We asked them about their lives as product marketers, knowing there is a lot of variability in the role based on a number of factors (explored below).
From these our conversations, we’ve laid out an overview of the function based around competencies and stages of product marketing and then filled in the details of each stage according to our interviewees.
Product Marketing Overview
It’s hard to pin down exactly what product marketing is and what product marketers do.
Generally speaking, product marketers act as a translator between what the product does and what the customer cares about.
And generally speaking, PMMs are responsible for bringing new products and features to market. The goal of a new product launch is to acquire new customers or to cross-sell to existing customers. The goal of a new feature launch is to drive engagement or upsells with existing users.
Competencies and Shapes
To accomplish these goals, a product marketer will need some combination of the following competencies:
Marketing Strategy — Understanding the core mechanics of marketing, including frameworks like the 4 P’s
Project Management — Managing multiple stakeholders to a deadline
Strategic Messaging — Telling compelling stories based on positioning and messaging.
Customer Research — Deeply understanding the customer need and voice
Relationship-building — Building trust within the organization so you can get cross-functional work done.
Public Speaking — Communicating effectively at conferences, webinars, to executives, etc.
Asset Creation — Being able to create or influence the creation a wide variety of on-message assets.
Demand Generation — Formulating demand gen strategies and executing on at least some demand gen tactics.
The particular combination of competency levels they’ll need vary from company to company based on a few factors, including:
Is the company B2B, self-serve B2B, SMB, or B2C? The higher the percentage of revenue that comes from sales (e.g. B2B), the more product marketing will be closely integrated with sales. Conversely, a B2C product marketer might be closely aligned with marketing.
Does product marketing report to product, sales, or marketing? This is definitely shaped by the customer type, but can also be affected by other factors. Some companies are very product-centric and everything flows from product. Others are more sales or marketing oriented. Both types exist in B2B, and neither is necessarily right or wrong, but the org structure will definitely affect the day-to-day activities of the product marketer.
Is the company relatively early-stage, later stage, or a big public company? Like all roles in a company, a product marketer’s role will be broader in an early-stage company and more narrow in a later stage company. Whereas an early-stage product marketer could be heavily involved in asset creation and demand generation, a later-stage one would focus most of their time around launches.
One other factor worth calling out: how technical is the audience you’re selling to? In some industries, the buyer is so technical that it’s nearly impossible to be an effective product marketer without significant experience in the industry so you understand the customer context fully.
Thus you could imagine different shapes based on different scenarios:
This might be a product marketer at an early-stage company with a quite technical founding team. She’s strong on customer research, marketing strategy, and strategic messaging because she’s playing an instrumental role in shaping the story of the product. She’s strong on asset creation and demand gen because it’s a small team so she gets her hands dirty with distribution. And she’s lighter on project management and internal relationship-building because it’s a small team so there’s less need for heavy alignment meetings.
A product marketer at a more established company might look quite different. He might spend a lot of his time driving alignment with lots of stakeholders and managing toward go-to-market deadlines. It might also be an event-driven role, meaning he’d be doing a lot of public speaking. Because it’s a bigger company, he’d be relatively less directly involved in asset creation and demand generation.
There are countless shapes product marketers could take based on the particular circumstances of the role.
Below are the shapes of the PMMs we interviewed for this article in their various roles.
Four Stages of Product Marketing
The reality behind any conceptual framework is messier than the framework implies. Here, the main fuzziness happens between the product roadmap and messaging & positioning. It is both a practical and a philosophical divide. Is the story wrapped around the product or is the product wrapped around the story? How the work flows chronologically depends on the particular company, and in practice these two stages will often happen in parallel.
That said, the four stages are roughly:
- Product Strategy & Roadmap — What are we building, and for whom?
- Positioning & Messaging — How do we talk about the change it will create for our customers?
- Go-to-market — How do we tell the story of the product or feature to our prospects or customers?
- Ongoing Amplification — How do we continue to drive engagement with the product for both new and existing users?
Stage 1: Product Strategy & Roadmap
Goal: Partner with product to influence roadmap based on customer insight
Questions to answer: What are we building, and for whom? What are the pain points? How is our customer solving that pain today? What is our roadmap timeline?
Key Activities: Customer conversations, surveys, meetings with engineering & product
Key Artifacts: Product roadmap (owned by PM, influenced by product marketer), 3-year vision, customer strategy template
At the earliest stages of product development, product marketers use their intimate knowledge of the customer and market to influence the product & engineering roadmap.
The degree of influence they have on product management, which owns the product roadmap, depends both on where product marketing sits (sales vs. marketing vs. product) and specific relationships in place at an organization.
Katie councils that it can take time to build up credibility and trust with the product organization, and Irina believes it is critical to foster good relationships and trust between engineering, product management, and product marketing.
Mike believes shaping the product roadmap is a core piece of his job. Differentiation is key and extremely critical for strategic business decisions. He is constantly assessing how his products will be differentiated. What’s going to change in the world? Who are we building for? What’s making us different?
Given this, customer validation may happen before the product roadmap, or in parallel with engineering. This customer validation helps you understand how a customer will perceive the product before it’s even built. One advantage of this approach is you don’t yet know the features and functionality so you’re forced to focus on benefits.
During the product roadmap stage, the product marketer acts as the connection point between the roadmap and rest of company.
To accomplish this, Irina uses a simple go-to-market tracker which contains every roadmap item. This allows sales team to have (limited) visibility about what’s coming down the line, which makes it easier for Irina to set expectations with them.
There is also a future-planning piece of this stage. Cutting through market noise is all about positioning, and staking out the right position early is key. That’s why Mike creates a 3-year out vision: to align the organization around where they’ll be in the future beyond just the current roadmap.
He also creates a customer strategy template which is an input to the roadmap. This template includes all cross-functional input and is super valuable for creating alignment.
Stage 2: Positioning & Messaging
Goal: Get everyone internally aligned about how to talk about what you’re building and contextualize the product to make customers care.
Questions to answer: Are we replacing an existing tool or creating a new need? In what context will a customer use our product? What do our competitors say? What is our unique value proposition? How do I keep my message simple and in the voice of the customer?
Key Activities: Customer interviews, customer validation, market research
Key Artifacts: Personas, segments, user stories, competitive landscape, messaging & positioning document, product marketing brief
To establish messaging & positioning, you need to answer fundamental questions about the user, the need, the product, and its place in the market. In the language of Andy Raskin, who is your Hero and what is their Promised Land?
In this stage, Sheila partners with product, analytics, and design to make sure they’re building something she can take to market. She takes on this role because she’s the voice of the customer.
Katie spends this time developing a buyer persona, digging into not just their demographics but also their motivations, behaviors, and time uses. She also wants to identify and understand the early adopters among her target audience.
She then puts together both positioning and messaging statements.
Positioning is a tool used for internal alignment. It roughly follows the format:
For (target customer)
Who (statement of need or opportunity),
(Product name) is a (product category)
That (statement of key benefit).
Unlike (competing alternative)
(Product name)(statement of primary differentiation).
Messaging is an external tool which reframes the product in a context the customer cares about. To get her messaging language right, Katie talks directly to customers to hear the words they use to describe their pain and promised land. Messaging tends to highlight no more than three key benefits.
Mike works not only on personas but also on segments. As he explains, one segment can have multiple different buyer personas, but when you’re targeting somebody on paid media you aren’t able to target a persona. Instead, you can target segments.
To pull all of his work together, Mike creates a product marketing brief, which some people call a positioning document. He thinks this sells a product marketer’s role short. A product marketer is a business/marketing owner for the product. A product marketing brief should include research, customer segments, marketing goals and objectives, and the positioning.
Stage 3: Go-to-market
Goal: Launch the product to the market and amplify messaging to get new customers, drive engagement, or drive upsells.
Questions to answer: What size launch should this be? What other teams should be involved? How can we ensure messaging discipline?
Key Activities: Asset creation, cross-functional meetings
Key Artifacts: Marketing assets, go-to-market strategy & tactics, run-of-show document
After messaging & positioning is set, you need to bring the product to market. This is your opportunity to make a first impression and position your new product or feature in the mind of your customer.
While go-to-market is always a cross-functional effort, what it specifically entails varies depending on the size of the project.
Sheila has had go-to-market campaigns take days, weeks, or months.
When Irina was at LinkedIn, they had three launch categories:
- Major → Big product rollouts launched via PR, events, etc.
- Minor → Important feature enhancements announced via blog
- Incremental → Meaningful to customers, but likely to go out via newsletter
When Katie was at Radius, they had Elephant, Pig, and Chihuahua launches. She found that using creatively-named launch categories helped her colleagues remember which launches were happening when.
Katie maps launch sizes to the value they create for customers, not the resources it takes to build. It’s important to clearly communicate this to her engineering team so they realize the effort involved in building will not necessarily correlate to launch size.
Regardless of launch size, assets will have to be created. Assets could include emails, blog posts, FAQs, launch videos, how-to videos, ad campaigns, influencer campaigns, PR, or events. Creating assets from the shared foundational messaging ensures messaging discipline, which is critical.
Product marketers are not responsible for directly creating all of these assets, and may not even have authority over all these assets, but need to influence their creation by collaborating with both the marketing and design/creative teams.
Sheila knows that at launch, she’ll have a subset of these assets and then continue to build them out during the next phase.
Coordinating Major Releases
When Irina was at LinkedIn, major releases meant coordinating a global team. For such a massive effort, the “run of show” doc was critical.
Essentially the run of show is a master excel spreadsheet which lists every person involved in the launch and their specific roles. It gives a granular view on how the day of launch will proceed (e.g. 6am: product light up, 9am: embargo is lifted, etc.)
It’s also the source of truth for who is going to need what before they are ready for launch:
- PR needs an FAQ doc they share with media under embargo
- Social media needs marketing assets that will go live
- External comms team needs blog post
- Product needs to know when to turn on access
The run of show doc also has a Plan B: if product doesn’t get lit up, what is the contingency plan?
This doc is how everything comes together. Because of that, alignment is critical. Everyone in the document needs to own their piece, and sign off that all their assets are in place before launch day.
The Importance Of Sales
For a B2B product marketer, the sales organization is a key asset. Depending on the org structure, they might be your boss. Sales teams interface with your customer on a daily basis; they are your internal resource for finding the voice of the customer.
In some ways, product marketing is the bridge between product and sales. Product marketers help sales gain visibility into the product roadmap, and help product prioritize feature requests from sales team. Tools like Aha can be used to collect input from the sales team.
During go-to-market, it’s critical to understand what sales team will need in order to close customers or channel partnerships. What is the value prop for the person they’re pitching? Why should they buy your product / partner with you to distribute your product? Your job is to enable them to close sales by creating collateral like pitch decks and one sheets which clearly communicate this value proposition.
To hone in on this value proposition, product marketing often runs betas or pilot programs to test messaging and materials for sales. These betas also generate early case studies to be used in launch press releases. When Katie was at Radius, they had a rule that no press release should go out without one to two customer quotes. To obtain these quotes before a new product officially launched, she piloted it with key customers.
Irina runs these beta programs in collaboration with a small “tiger-team” of sales folks. Together, they will test scripts and messaging with customers. This partnership between sales & product marketing helps tighten up the messaging and ensures you’re not focused on features but rather telling a story about your customer and how your product can enable a better life. The learnings from this phase will help you develop the story, figure out how to handle objections, and make it easy to create content to onboard customers.
The partnership between product marketing and a small team of sales folks also helps when rolling out training to the larger sales team. Instead of product marketing tell sales what to do, both product marketing and sales have a shared stake in the approach that is being trained.
Before any new feature roll-out or product, product marketers ensure sales & customer success are enabled to talk intelligently about the new stuff. If you don’t train the sales team, you run the risk of messaging inconsistency, which muddies up your positioning. You also risk your sales team looking unprepared and thus losing trust with your customers.
Ultimately the go-to-market stage involves internal alignment, persuasion, cat-herding, etc. You are working with a host of cross-functional stakeholders and marching towards a hard deadline. Accordingly, you need to be good at project management.
Note: We’ve heard go-to-market includes pricing and packaging but didn’t get into details in any of our conversations.
Stage 4: Ongoing Amplification
Goal: Drive engagement with the product across all stages of the funnel.
Questions to answer: How do we reach our post-launch goals? How do we sustain momentum from the launch?
Key Activities: Sales enablement, content marketing
Key Artifacts: Sales decks, demos, and battle cards; full-funnel content
The launch of a new product or feature is just the beginning. The goal is of course to acquire and retain a growing number of happy customers.
While the goal of launch may be awareness, other goals become more important in the amplification phase, including metrics like sign-ups, upsells, conversions from trials, etc.
At some level there is also a transition here from product marketing to more tradition or growth marketing. The scope of involvement for a product marketer will depend on the size of the company and the way the organization is divided up. If the product marketer sits on the marketing team, they may be involved in this phase. If they sit with product and there is an established marketing team, the amplification work may be handed off largely to marketing.
To the extent that PMMs are involved in ongoing amplification, they are primarily creating assets fueled from the messaging & positioning work to drive engagement across the full funnel.
One channel that stood out during our conversations was sales, which product marketers contribute to via sales enablement. Artifacts associated with sales enablement to include sales deck, sales demos, and sales battle cards.
Whether sales enablement is a part of a product marketer’s job or not obviously depends on whether the company is B2C vs. B2B. But even if it’s B2B, the importance of sales enablement vs. other product marketing work will depend on whether it’s a product-driven vs. sales-driven organization.
Content marketing is another common channel for product marketers. For content marketing, Katie considers not only the content but also the channels she’ll be using. She needs the content to match the norms and tone of the channel. Considering SEO implications in this stage is also important.
For Sheila, this stage is about driving the entire funnel including awareness, consideration, adoption, and advocacy. She works with product management to figure out what in-product messaging can happen, and also works with growth, lifecycle marketing, etc. to figure out how to continue drive usage of the product.
She reminds herself in this stage that while channel marketers manage many different products, she is the sole advocate for her product.
- At big tech companies, product marketers spend the majority of their time on launch activities.
- Product marketers usually work on one product at a time.
- Product marketers generally drive toward the same KPIs as the product team.
- To be a great product marketer you need to be a great communicator.
- To achieve cross-functional alignment requires, a product marketer needs to be trusted by internal stakeholders, which in turn means they have to be deeply empathetic.
- Clear vision and strategy helps define what you need from your cross-functional relationships
- Ask yourself whether product marketing primarily exists to enable sales or product.
- Think about how technical your audience is, and if you enjoy working at that level of technical detail.
- Join a company that has reached product/market fit where your customers do your marketing for you.
- Product marketing is an intensely cross-functional role. Depending on company size, different stakeholders could include PMs, design leads, UX research, business insights, sales, sales enablement, front & backend engineering, compliance & legal, data analytics, senior level leadership, PR / comms, email marketing, and other PMMs.
- Because of cross-functionality, a lot of time is spent driving alignment and timelines.
- It’s critical to foster good relationships and trust between engineering, product management, and product marketing. Engineers are creating this product from scratch; to do your job well, you should be deeply connected to the artisan.
Special thanks to Kaitlyn Holstine for contributing to the outline of this article and setting up and conducting the interview with Mike Polner.
If you want to learn more about product marketing, here are a few other resources:
At Tradecraft we’ve helped people from JP Morgan Chase, McKinsey, the U.S. Air Force, The World Bank, Google, Yahoo, etc. transition into roles at Clever, Doordash, Dropbox, Facebook, Medium, Optimizely, Segment, Uber, Udemy, and many up-and-coming startups. If you are interested in working with us, drop us a line.