Is it time to rethink our definition of product marketing?

What is product marketing, and what do product marketers do? It’s not always easy to find a clear answer. Sometimes, it’s even hard to get executives to agree on a single definition of product marketing.

In our most recent CMO roundtable, Erica Morgenstern, CMO at Virgin Pulse, Erin Newkirk, Chief Brand & Marketing Officer at Caribou Coffee, and Michelle Denogean, CMO at Side, helped us to unpack the product marketing role. 

First, we had each CMO give us their definition of product marketing and then give their top tips on making product marketing more effective within your organization.

3 CMOs share their definition of product marketing

Since we had three CMOs who regularly work with product marketing online, we decided to make things interesting by having them each share their take on what defines a “product marketer.”

Sometimes it’s easier to define what product marketing is not

Erica Morgenstern says, “Sometimes it’s easier to define what product marketing is not in a given situation.” Erica continues, “For me, it’s defining everything from who is buying it, why the consumers are purchasing it, and how it’s getting packaged up for sales to take it to market.”

Product marketing is the glue between departments

“Product marketing is the glue between departments when rolling out a product or service. It spans from the concept stage through launch,” says Michelle Denogean. Her product marketing definition includes “being the voice of the customer and having a deep understanding of their problems, surfacing competitive intelligence, and helping to inform the product roadmap and the sales team.”

Product marketers blur the line between sales and marketing

Erin Newkirk expands on the definition of product marketing, saying, ”One of the biggest things I’ve found in the most successful product marketing is it blurs the line between product marketing and sales, in the sense of really thinking through the customer journey.”

“If we can think through what matters to the human that you are trying to market or sell the product to, it should be pretty similar, right? You work to have a blend, an almost uncomfortable blend of sales and marketing as you launch or refresh.”

What are a product marketing team’s day-to-day responsibilities?

In general, product marketers are responsible for the process of bringing a product to market. This can include planning product launches and go-to-market strategy, managing positioning and buyer personas, identifying target audiences, and creating messaging.

Remember that a product marketing team’s day-to-day activities can vary greatly depending on the company. Product marketers’ roles can overlap with sales, sales enablement, product management, and customer success. This can create confusion if responsibilities and ownership are not clear within an organization.

How does product marketing vary based on company size and type?

Much confusion about the role of product marketing comes about because the product marketing role can change tremendously based on company size or needs. As Michelle describes, “Product marketing is not an end-to-end marketing function, but it’s the glue that holds everything together. I think that’s why sometimes it’s confusing because the glue you need is different depending on the organization.”

Larger companies often treat product marketers like a mini-CMO for a channel and give them wide latitude to not just direct messaging but to hold events and run outward-facing marketing efforts for their particular product. 

Smaller companies work a bit differently, making a more apparent distinction between the outward-facing functions like running webinars or demand gen and the more product-specific focused functions.

Michelle explains, “There’s product marketing that’s very vertical, and there’s product marketing that’s very horizontal. And depending on the company and its needs, it’s either vertical or horizontal, and nothing’s wrong either way.”

How do you define success in product marketing?

Common product marketing success metrics include:

  • Overall product revenue
  • Product demand and usage
  • Customer retention
  • Win rates
  • Product launch metrics

You’ll notice that many of the above metrics are the same metrics that other teams might use to measure success. High win rates can be easily claimed by the sales team, high retention by customer success, and high product adoption by the product management team, etc. 

Even product launch metrics will be heavily affected by the general marketing team, who will likely be responsible for executing marketing campaigns and product launch plans. This is why product marketers can often end up feeling like unrecognized heroes or that they are used as scapegoats when things fail.

Ultimately these problems aren’t so much a sign of anything being wrong with product marketing but a sign of organizational dysfunction and poor communication. If product marketers are too locked into a specific set of responsibilities, they may not be able to play the key role of “the glue” that they need to be. 

When should a CMO consider building a product marketing team?

It is possible to hire a product marketer too early, says Michelle. “Too early is usually when the company is just getting off the ground. At that stage, you’re so close to your initial customers that if you have a marketing person on staff, that’s really all you need.”

So when is the right time to hire a product marketer? Michelle continues, “It’s when communication becomes a priority. When you don’t have one-to-one communication with your customers or employees anymore.” So the product marketing role then is something a CMO should consider when they are ready to start scaling. 

When is too late? From Michelle, “If you wait until you are fully scaled, it’s going to be too late. You’re going to have lots of issues at that point of ‘how do we bring this to market, how are we keeping our current customers up to speed, let alone our prospects or our sales team internally?’”

How to recruit and hire great product marketers

As someone who just had to hire 50 people on my team, I can attest that product marketing is the hardest position to hire right now,” says Erica. Fortunately, our panel offered a few tips for finding and recruiting high-quality candidates:

  • Internal hiring can be a good route, because new hires will likely have some knowledge of your product. Look for people with strong writing skills and customer empathy.
  • A marketer can be great at positioning but weaker at scaling and campaign execution. It’s essential to recognize the difference between the skills.
  • Talent churn is expensive. Make sure you support your team members and offer opportunities for training and mentorship.

Lastly, “don’t limit yourself to the framework that the person needs to be a product marketer,” suggests Erica. Consider hiring people with the necessary skill set and training them for the role if you’re having trouble recruiting candidates.

How do you set up product marketing for success?

Our panel shared several tips on how to set up your product marketing team to be successful:

  • The role of product marketing within your company will likely change over time. Consider looking at your growth in phases that recognize that these changes will take place.
    • Phase one – Auditing and defining your offering 
    • Phase two – Communications, product marketing strategy, and sales enablement
    • Phase three – Full lifecycle marketing, including customer success
  • When marketing highly customizable products, the product marketing team should focus on the core benefit that the customer will get. What are the core benefits that all customers see from the product, regardless of their use case?

“It’s really important to align on what is your objective and make sure you’re in sync with your leadership team” – Erin. 

Michelle agrees, saying, “Be really clear with executive teams on ‘this is what we are doing now’ and ‘this is what we are NOT doing now.’ Getting everybody aligned and agreeing to that plan is the number one piece of advice that I could give.”

We did our best to bring more clarity to the product marketing definition in this post, but we’d love to hear your take. Keep an eye out on The CMO Club calendar, and join The CMO Club to bring your questions to our upcoming events!

➡️  CMO Club members can watch the virtual roundtable replay here.
➡️  Join your peers for an upcoming CMO Club virtual roundtable. Check out the calendar of events.