Product marketing

Making complex things simple

I have covered product marketing before, with interviews with Jacob Hkeik, product marketing manager at Salesforce, and product manager Ben Wirtz (interview here), but it’s a topic that seems to be always popular and I myself just officially became a product marketing manager, so I wanted to revist the topic with fresh eyes!

I actually sent out a few requests for any questions people had about product marketing and got some replies that just indicated how much of a gap there is when it comes to what product marketing is.

Some of the questions included “how can I advertise my product”, “how can I get PR for my product”, and “how do I make a product page on my website”.

Side note: check out old Mehdeekas on getting PR, ad creatives, and landing pages.

Mehdeeka is all in the spirit of small teams wearing lots of hats, but I just want to be clear that while you may be one person doing all of the above, none of those actually fall into “product marketing”.

The outcomes of your product marketing exercises will be the tools that you use to achieve these goals - advertise your product, get PR, and have high conversion pages on your website.

OK so what exactly is product marketing?

Product marketing is crafting the messaging and positioning of a product, including pricing and packaging, i.e. how is the product sliced and diced (like bronze, silver, gold tiers), and what is the commercial or pricing model (i.e. per user per month, flat annual fee, based on product usage, etc).

Once you know how you describe what your product does and what value it provides, then your next job is to make sure that that messaging is consistently applied internally. This means your product team’s vocabularly matches what the marketing assets have, matches what the sales team are pitching, and matches how the customer success team speaks to customers.

A good SaaS example for this is, do you use the word application to describe your product, or do you use platform? Does everyone say the same word? Or is it sometimes application, sometimes platform, sometimes product, and sometimes software?

Once you’ve got this consistency, you can start applying it in all areas of the business (like a high converting page!), and you are the go-to whenever it comes to a question about how the product is marketed, sold, and serviced.

Think of when you were in primary school and you went on an excursion and had a buddy system; a product marketer is a product’s “buddy”.

There’s a lot of thinking work that goes into product marketing, a lot of coming up with assumptions and then testing them. That could be assumptions of what a customer’s needs are, the actual value of the product or feature, or even the overarching value of the company itself.

The good thing about this is that there are no expectations for quick turnarounds in product marketing, so you do get the luxury of really deeply digesting what’s going on.

Once you’ve launched a product, the work doesn’t stop there. There’s customer comms and feedback, new releases and updates, personas, and a lot of work internally as well, aligning all the teams that touch a product.

How do you find a value proposition?

To find a value proposition you need to repeatedly ask yourself “why would someone use this” and then keep digging until you get to;

  1. It saves money (or time, which is also saving money)

  2. It makes money

  3. It reduces risk

Now, the way that you express that value is the creative part. You don’t need to write “using this software will save you time”, but you need to convey that meaning. For example, you could do something like “automate your reports”. Personally I like to start value prop statements with verbs, because of the active voice, but also because there are so many creative ways to say “fast” and all you need to do is use a thesaurus to stand out.

As I’ve been doing this exercise myself over the past few weeks, one thing I found really helpful was to go to comparative products in different industries and look at their value propositions.

To give you an example of what I mean by this, one of the product managers at Willow (my day job) gave me an analogy using Google Analytics in place of the Willow platform, and Wordpress in place of one of our integrations.

As a marketer, I understood the value proposition immediately. Plug all your bits and bobs into GA, and I’ve got my go-to place. So of course I immediately went and started looking at the G Suite value props across Tag Manager, Analytics, and a couple of their smaller products too.

This research helped me see more paths to the same destination. With a better map of the possible routes, I was able to better understand the best route for me.

Last tips, and this is a personal preference but I like to start value propositions with verbs. It sets the expectation with an active voice, conveys confidence, and you can get way more creative with verbs (use!) than you can with phrases.

How do you align with a product team when you yourself are not technical?

My advice here is pretty limited, because so far I’ve worked with a really amazing product team that has been incredibly welcoming and good at communication.

If you’re struggling, or want to start off on the right foot, just really go in with an open mind and an attitude of “I’m a sponge, here to absorb and learn”. Ask a lot of questions, find where the product team is passionate, find where you can fight for them within the marketing team, and start getting your hands dirty.

Sometimes there’s really simple things that the product team has wanted, but they just didn’t know who to ask. You’re now that person, so make a really big, wide, six lane two-way highway the basis of your relationship with them.

How can I go about getting a job as a product marketing manager?

Look, the really good thing if you’re someone who is wearing many hats is… you’ve probably already done a bit of product marketing, and you just need to sift through all the work you’ve done and curate your work samples to show your strongest product work.

What you’re looking for is not so much how many pieces of press you got, but did those publications accurately and succinctly describe what the value of your product is?

Did you make a product brochure, flyer, or web page? Did you play a part in the sales proposal, deck, or verbal pitch? Find the common underlying thread behind all those things (the common messaging and positioning) and highlight how you crafted that.

Bonus points if you can show well written case studies, your customer interview skills, and if you’ve had any experience conducting product testing interviews.

If you haven’t done any of this and you want to get a job as a product marketer, that’s ok. One exercise I’d recommend doing (amazing if you can use your current product to do this as you’ll have better understanding and access to customer insights, but also ok to use a well known product out in the world) is to write customer facing product one-pagers.

A really simple, but difficult format to follow is:

  1. Header/H1 (often the name of the product, or a call to action aligned with your overall company value proposition)

  2. One line that is just a bit of a summary of what is going to be on this page, usually an outcome or catchy hook

  3. Value proposition header/H2

  4. Value description, one to two sentences

  5. Repeat 3 and 4 two more times, so you have a total of 3 values

  6. A customer quote

  7. A call to action

All up you’d be aiming for something under 300 words. That is incredibly hard to do. Being short and succinct means that you’ve cut every unnecesary word from the page though, so at the end you only have the best of the best and a very strong one pager.

Don’t forget the 5 B2B emotions to use as well!

Product marketing involves a lot of stakeholders, how do you stop that from becoming overwhelming?

This one is again for the people with many hats. You’ve got to learn to say no. If you have more than 3 priorities then it’s not a priority at all (check out this + the other lessons from Bob Iger’s Ride of a Lifetime in an old Mehdeeka).

One of the hardest things about product marketing is that you have to take in everyone’s thoughts, requests, and vetoes, and the gobble it all up like you’re Augustus in Willy Wonka, then spit out a beautiful golden ticket.

If you spend too long eating…. you’ll end up like Augustus did in the movie:

In my opinion, the way to stop this happening is having a deadline. Everyone would love to keep iterating and keep holding brainstorms when it comes to a value proposition. But done is better than perfect.

You can always iterate later, and I’ve found once it’s out there, most of the time everyone settles on it and there’s no (or very little) revisions anyway.

So yeah, you need to tell everyone you value their input and that the way it merges with the input of other team members may not be what they expected, but what’s more important is banding together behind a common message and being a team.

Linky dinks

A more traditional links section this week!

For an example of some great product marketing, you can read Slack’s blog introducing their latest features.

For some fun “I had no idea that was a job” reading, check out this New York Times features of people who put the plants in movies. Really fun, and one of their interactive stories.

Gina of Good Chat fame has started a new newsletter interviewing people about their Spotify playlists and interviewed me earlier this week for it! I showed her one of my Japanese playlists and, if I do say so myself, recommended some absolute bangers.

An additional link that would have been great in the landing pages issue a few weeks ago, here’s a web accessibility guide built on Notion!

And lastly, Mr Bingo (an artist) has created a bunch of super truthful Zoom/Teams backgrounds.