The product marketing function is often misunderstood because its role isn’t clearly defined. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that the function is a huge contributor to the success or failure of a product – or business. Below, I’ve outlined five product marketing mistakes being made by companies.
1. Not clearly defining the role of product marketing
At the best of times, product marketing is a cross-functional mishmash of different roles and responsibilities. It is also highly dependent on individual organisational requirements. Every organisation is different, so the product marketing function must be developed to suit your company’s unique needs.
It doesn’t matter how good the product marketer you’re hiring is, it won’t be successful if your product manager feels like someone else is defining the product. It won’t work if your marketing team feels like someone else is telling them how to market, too. Your sales and customer experience teams will also feel like they’re being undermined they’re told how to talk to your customer.
A successful product marketer (or product marketing function) needs a clear mandate and a company-wide consensus. Like many other areas of the organisation, having a steady and coherent roadmap gives product marketing a foundation to work from.
Without these two key facets, the function will fail.
2. Hiring the wrong type of product marketer for your business
Products go through several life cycles and stages of maturity. Different skills are required for different stages of product or company maturity. The skills required in an early stage startup are very different to those required in later stage businesses with an established product offering. In fact, the only similarity between the two roles might be the job title.
Day-to-day responsibilities vary massively. Product marketers that are risk-averse or uncomfortable with uncertainty may find the startup product marketer’s role unappealing. Failing fast and iterating faster with little or no money won’t appeal to every product marketer. Equally, having an almost unlimited budget to conduct research, market testing and competitive analysis won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Particularly if they prefer doing the legwork themselves.
Most early-stage product marketers focus on validation in the market, and attaining some measure of product market fit. Later stage product marketers focus more of their time on crafting and delivering the message to the market.
3. Not hiring a product marketer soon enough
The best time to hire your first product marketer is around the same time you hire your first product manager. So many organisations don’t do this. They fall into the trap of trying to build a great product, rather than the right product with the right message.
The company focus will be on building a great product with engineers and product managers leading the way and no product marketer in sight. Your business becomes stagnated, with high customer churn or an extremely confusing value proposition. Your sales, marketing and customer success teams are extremely frustrated because their efforts are for nought.
The company may have started out with a simple message that was easy for prospects to understand. But as the product gets more complex, new competitors arrive, market conditions shift, and your buyer psychographic starts to change, differentiation becomes increasingly more difficult. This can lead to a slow demise or stagnation as the market out-positions you.
Other companies look for a magic bullet a few weeks before launch, but this is extremely misguided. There is insufficient time to complete adequate customer and market research. Nevermind having time to understand the competitive landscape. Or to craft a compelling value proposition with input from your customers and target market.
4. Confusing marketing and product marketing
Many companies don’t understand the difference between product marketing and a general or digital marketer.
A product marketer’s job is to understand the customer and market, validate the product, and then craft and deliver the message.
This enables the marketer to focus on activating the strategies developed by the product marketer. These might include demand generation, SEO/SEM, promotions, social media marketing, online/offline advertising, trade shows and email marketing.
If you’ve adhered to my first point and properly defined the role, the product marketer is a huge asset in driving the success of your product launch. They focus on customer research and developing the right go-to-market strategy. Meanwhile, they’ll work with a marketer to execute marketing activities based on the goals defined in the GTM strategy.
Where the product marketer helps is by bringing focus to the marketer’s campaigns. They now know exactly who they’re targeting, what need those prospects have, and how the product meshes the two together to create and deliver value.
5. Not hiring a product marketer at all
Last, but by no means least, is the mistake of not hiring a product marketer at all. Product managers and marketers can deliver on most of what a product marketer could bring to your organisation - up to a point. However, once your organisation reaches a certain size or your product reaches a certain level of complexity, not having an established wider product marketing function will be costly.
Your product managers and marketers will be too busy to cope with the product marketing responsibilities they shared. Inevitably, some will fall by the wayside. But the consequences won’t be immediately obvious.
Your teams will no longer be on the same page about your products’ features and benefits. Worst still, they will no longer understand the product because it’s too difficult to explain. This is particularly true if the product is changing or evolving at pace.
A product marketer’s job is to cut through the chaff. They must craft a message for your product that’s easy to understand and compels your target customer to buy. Without the cross-functional focus and skill set that a product marketer brings to the table, your business will lose sight of the value your product brings to your customers.