What many consumers don’t realize is that nothing is random about any of the products sitting on shelves in any store or online. Some may see the colors on the packaging, the font, and how it’s displayed and may choose to buy it without thinking about any of these factors. They may think that the choice to buy products is entirely their own, never stopping to realize that these choices are influenced by a separate force entirely. The essential link between marketing and product development in any company is product marketing, a hybrid department with an irreplaceable role in the launch cycle of any product. But what is product marketing and how does it work?
The product marketing manager handles everything about how the product is presented to the customer. These decisions are based on experience, research, and industry trends. The goal of product marketing is to ensure that a product is noticed by consumers, then once it’s noticed, the consumer chooses to purchase it. This may seem simple, but with competition in all categories sky-high and climbing, the role of product marketing has become more challenging than ever. Consumers are informed, concerned, and spend alongside their values and worldview. Products need to align with political, religious, environmental, and social beliefs. Where once a shopper only worried about price, the market has become a lot more complicated as more and more countries become wealthy enough to shop and spend alongside their values. In the market we now live in, companies either take product marketing seriously or get crushed by the competition and forgotten by consumers.
What is Product Marketing?
For many reading, they may be wondering what product marketing is. Product marketing is the process of bringing a product to market and keeping consumers informed. Once a product is created, and before the marketing department knows what materials to create, the product marketing team creates the consumer-facing brand and image for the product that will become its identity.
They also work closely with the marketing team to ensure marketing materials stay loyal to the image they’ve created. This is the mission of product marketing.
Why is Product Marketing Important?
Product marketing is incredibly important not only to get consumers excited about the product and for building an image and branding, but it’s also vital to inform people both inside and outside the company about the uses and benefits of the new product.
One of Product Marketing’s key responsibilities is to learn and understand the product’s strategy. It may even develop this strategy together with Product Management. To do so, Product Marketing has to become familiar with customers and their preferences, develop customer personas, and conceive strategies to introduce the product to the right target audiences.
Furthermore, Product Marketing helps the company to create clarity and understanding around the following questions:
- What is the particular product? (think of different levels of products and product classifications)
- Why do customers need our product?
- Why is our product better than competing products?
- What does it take to purchase our product?
- What are the main messages that will be shared across all our channels to promote and sell the product?
Essentially, Product Marketing together with Product Management should be acting as the command center for all product launches.
Many internal departments, including marketing, sales, and customer support teams refer to Product Marketing for information relating to the product, including the product’s value proposition, its features, positioning, and competitive differentiation.
Meanwhile, externally, Product Marketing has the responsibility to communicate the product benefits to the marketplace.
The Role of the Product Marketer
Who is the product marketer? Product marketing is all about being both an expert on the product you’re selling and its greatest cheerleader. There are many components to product marketing, including the following. Read through them to get a better understanding of what product marketing is.
The product marketer needs to be the predominant expert on the product being sold. This is critical not only for the purposes of informing and exciting the audience but for answering questions and troubleshooting concerns. It’s also important for building an image that’s accurate, reliable, and doesn’t cause confusion.
Finding the Fit
The product development team may have created the new product simply to fill out the company’s SKU offerings for functional reasons or because they’re paid and obligated to put out new products every year. None of these reasons are compelling enough for a customer to pay money for the product. Customers buy into a story and give up their money for something they believe in. Just because your company wants to sell something, it doesn’t mean that people are going to buy it on reputation and availability alone. They need a message they can believe in, something that compels them to make the purchase.
Planning a Launch
The moment a product launches is the most critical event in its lifecycle. Everything that exists online and in the public consciousness is relevant for a finite amount of time, and capitalizing during this time is everything in determining how successful it will be. If your product launches to no fanfare, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to pick up momentum as time goes by. This is why launch parties exist and why opening weekends for movies are all that matters to film executives. You’ve got to capitalize while you’re hot, and this means making sure that the product launch goes spectacularly. If you can make sure of that, then you can extend the life of your product and increase the window of time that people are talking and staying excited about it.
Once a product launch is over, it’s time to keep your product alive and being talked about for as long as possible. For many companies, this could mean paying influencers or maintaining a healthy social media presence. Recently, Radio Shack (under new management) re-emerged and began selling cryptocurrencies online. They wanted to launch their new products and declare their new place in the world, so they began a series of harsh and offensive tweets on Twitter. Their strategy was to create a buzz that would ensure they were being talked about by the younger demographic that buys cryptocurrencies, and they were right. They made headline news on many sites and vlogs targeted at Gen Z and millennial viewers. Some believe their tactics were reprehensible, but the major point was that they gained enough attention to become part of the conversation.
Sometimes, especially in the tech world, a new product is a feature of an existing product. Perhaps it’s a new operating system for a phone or a replacement for an app. It can be incredibly complicated to explain the product in technical detail, and tech developers rarely have the communication skills to properly explain what they’ve made and why. Even other people working for the company can be unaware of the importance of the new product and be slow in adopting it.
If the product is a new feature for an existing product or an upgrade, it’s important that consumers adopt the new product quickly. It could be a security issue if it’s a technical fix and developers are outrunning hackers. It could be a financial issue if a quarterly report is coming up and customer adoption of new products is being discussed. In these cases, product marketing is responsible for condensing the complicated language of product developers into easy and compelling language that will make people realize the value of the change or upgrade. They will ensure that people inside the company are also aware so that they make the change and do their role in spreading knowledge and excitement about the product. Sometimes, clearly laid out information is just as important as building a brand.
Thinking about Entering the Game?
Once you’ve fully understood what product marketing is, you may be considering to enter the game. Product marketing managers have a unique set of skills that make them excellent at their job. This industry is incredibly competitive, but this means that salaries are high and the potential for reward is great. Those that are excellent are highly sought after and even fought over by massive companies. This is because this type of work is incredibly important, and companies rely on their product marketing departments to keep them afloat. The downside of competition, however, is that you’ll be pushed out and replaced if you don’t have the skills.
Product marketing managers are incredibly focused, dedicated, and hardworking people. They commit themselves to a campaign and won’t relent until the job is done. This means becoming experts on new products as quickly as possible, working hard designing campaigns, stories, and visions for the product, then working with various teams on the packaging, messaging, and marketing. This means that product marketing managers are also very organized and able to keep multiple tasks, missions, and campaigns in the air at once. They won’t allow one side of the marketing process to suffer while attending to something else. They also won’t forget a task while dealing with another.
So for those that are hard-working, dedicated, focused, organized, and self-motivated, you may find a decent career as a product marketer.
If you’re deciding whether you need product marketing, it’s important to remember the story your product is telling and to ask yourself whether it’s a story anyone wants to hear or, more importantly, pay for.
Examples of Product Marketing
What is Product Marketing and how does it look like in practice? Let’s consider some examples.
A great example of excellent product marketing comes from Spanx, created by Sara Blakely in 2000. Blakeley’s goal was to create women’s shapewear that didn’t show creases underneath tight clothing. This was the product, but it wasn’t the image or the brand. As a talented product marketer, Blakely created branding around Spanx that screamed fun and excitement. Her goal was to make women feel comfortable and attractive while wearing shapewear and would show it off at in-store demonstrations. Before Spanx, underwear brands were all marketed with mute colors and were careful about being quiet and inoffensive. Blakeley’s product marketing strategy was to be offensive and loud, to make women feel excited about their bodies. This strategy angered a lot of stores that refused to sell her product, but nevertheless, she sold millions of products and made billions of dollars. Blakeley could never have made billions selling shapewear; she made the money by selling a vision that the audience and customer base believed in. Blakeley changed the way women thought about underwear and revolutionized an industry just with her messaging and branding. If you’re someone that developed a product, do you have the communication skills to effectively get your message out and ensure that others understand your product and its benefits? A product is dead if people are buying it, and no one will buy something they’re not excited about. Planning, launching, and marketing a product is as important as the creation of the product itself.
Let’s go through one more example to strengthen our understanding of what product marketing is. When Bob Iger took over The Walt Disney Company in 2005, shares were selling for $23.80 each, and the brand was in the toilet. His predecessor had focused on making cheap, direct-to-video sequel movies and had made a lot of bad choices in which movies he produced and how he marketed them. Disney had lost its shine and may have gone bankrupt after a legacy that spanned decades. However, Bob Iger had the discipline of a product marketer and immediately set to work on preserving Disney’s brand identity. He cut all marketing that cheapened the Disney brand and stopped allowing the company to make cheap or demeaning movies. He purchased other companies that would improve the image of the brand, including Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel. When he left the company, shares were selling at $117.65, and the brand had a higher reputation than ever. It doesn’t matter how good the product is when brand integrity is lost. What product marketing is can be defined as the protection of your brand. Product marketers protect the image of the brand and convince the market to take notice and buy, which is the most critical component of all businesses, big and small, and why product marketers aren’t going anywhere.
So, what is product marketing, why is it important and what does it take? Let’s sum up the key points.
- Product marketers are responsible for the branding and messaging of products being released into the market.
- Product marketing is the middle point between product development and marketing that provides clarity and clear communication between the two.
- Excellent product marketing can mean all the difference in ensuring a successful launch of new products.
- Product marketing managers need to be hard working, determined, focused, and extremely well organized to do their jobs effectively.
- Those who aren’t sure if they need product marketers should consider whether their product has a voice and whether it can compel consumers to spend money on what they’re selling.
 Lakhani, Salman, A Brief Guide to Building Successful Mobile Apps, Forbes, 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/04/07/a-brief-guide-to-building-successful-mobile-apps/?sh=4cb11ce2654c
 Uncredited, What Skills do I Need to be a Product Marketer? Digital Marketing Institute, 2017, https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/blog/what-skills-do-i-need-to-be-a-product-marketer
 Holmes, Nate, Product Marketing Guide, Widen, 2021, https://www.widen.com/blog/product-marketer-guide
 Masterclass Staff, All About Sara Blakely: Behind the Spanx Founder’s Success, Masterclass, 2022. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/sara-blakely-founder-of-spanx