They live at the intersection of product, sales, and marketing. They’re busy before, during, and after launch. They wear a lot of hats and juggle a lot of balls (and flaming sticks, and chainsaws, and knives).
They’re product marketers.
So what does a product marketer do? The shorter list is what don’t they do (and the answer is ‘not much’). Their job is nothing short of bringing a product to market and all that entails: positioning, messaging, overall market strategy, sales enablement, driving demand, the general success or failure of the product over time, and more.
Products come and products go, but only those with a dedicated and knowledgeable team that has done the work make the cut. Consumers are happy to try new products, but that doesn’t guarantee their success. Think about this:
- Over half – 58% – of consumers have tried a new product in the past three months that either didn’t exist or that they hadn’t heard of a year ago.
- Roughly 30,000 new products are launched every year … but 80-95% of them fail for a variety of reasons.
- Up to 99% of tech startups will fail within 12 months (yes, you read that right).
And while that may look frightening at first glance, it shouldn’t scare you away from sending your brilliant idea out into the world. Even the biggest, most successful companies have had their fair share of failures. Think Sony Betamax, New Coke, Coors Rocky Mountain Spring Water, The Apple Newton, The Microsoft Zune, and many, many more.
No one is immune from product failure. Know that going in, do the work, and set yourself up for success.
Ready to up your product marketing game? Try these 5 tips for success in 2018 and beyond.
The Broad Skills
Before we get into the specifics, let’s take a quick look at the broad skills any product marketer should have in their toolbox (according to the Digital Marketing Institute): writing, presenting, marketing, and business savvy.
You can’t escape the importance of writing skills in marketing and sales. Even if your tactics lean more towards video, infographics, and podcasts, a strong script is the foundation.
You need to be able to ‘speak’ to your ideal customer in an appropriate tone and style while succinctly explaining the benefits to him or her.
The only way to get better is to do it. Write every day. Read every day. Take a class or online course designed for copywriters, marketers, and content creators. Practice, analyze, dissect, practice, read, study, and practice some more. Become a better writer, and you’re automatically a better marketer, product or otherwise.
Likewise, study the craft of presenting ideas. Look to the pros like Steve Jobs for inspiration and tips.
The product marketer spends a lot of time explaining ideas, tactics, strategies, and more to the rest of the marketing department, the sales team, the executives, and so on. The better you get at that, the faster your plans are understood and implemented.
This one is obvious. As a product marketer, you have to have your finger on the pulse of marketing: new trends, tools, best practices, tactics, channels, and more.
Are you familiar with influencer marketing? You should be. Are you up-to-date on the latest and greatest social media platforms? You need to be. Do you understand demand and lead generation, SEO, and conversion rate optimization? You must.
Your company or startup is a business, right? You don’t need an MBA, but you should have a general understanding of business principles and tenets to position yourself for maximum success as both a marketer and leader. Learn at least a little about financing, metrics, planning, and more. Everything is interconnected in the most successful companies.
If you have above-average writing and presentation skills, a solid foundation of general marketing, and (at least) a rudimentary grasp of basic business ideas, you’re better off than most.
Now, let’s get a bit more specific to your role.
1. Position and Persona
There are a lot of important documents, plans, and components within any business in any industry, but when it comes to product marketing, no two are more integral to success than a positioning statement and buyer persona.
The positioning statement explicitly outlines your target audience (i.e. your customers), your product category, your unique selling proposition (what differentiates your product from your competition?), and the payoff (how your product improves your target’s life in some meaningful way).
Even though it’s typically just a sentence or two, your positioning statement should never be the first thing that pops into your head. It’s going to guide and influence many other decisions, so it needs to be perfect (or as close to perfect as possible). It requires a detailed and intimate understanding of your customers and your product.
Likewise, your buyer personas are equally essential. A persona is a fictionalized representation of your ideal customer based on concrete, real data. A business may have several of them, but it’s best to go with just one for launch. Focus on that individual.
Using data collected from your analytics platform, market research, online reviews, customer feedback, and whatever other data you can get your hands on, you create a profile complete with demographics, likes, dislikes, hobbies, job title, education, goals, fears, motivators, priorities, values, and more. You want to intimately understand who your ideal customer is, how to speak (and sell) to them, and where to find them.
Have a written, up-to-date positioning statement and buyer persona for launch, share it with everyone involved, and look to them for guidance on decisions.
They may be relatively short and simple, but both punch outside of their weight class.
2. Scarcity and Exclusivity
Consider leveraging scarcity and/or exclusivity with your products, at launch and well after.
Both play to our fear of missing out (FOMO). When we believe we can’t have something, we want it even more. The concept of scarcity – and by extension, exclusivity – is so powerful it’s even one of Robert Cialdini’s seven weapons of persuasion and influence.
Want to generate massive demand? Let them know that stock is running low, or a product is only available for a limited time, or is only available to members, repeat customers, subscribers, or any other ‘exclusive’ category.
FOMO is a very powerful motivator. Don’t abuse it, of course, but utilized wisely it can deliver big results. Generating demand is one of the most important parts of the product marketer’s job.
3. Study the Competition
This is marketing 101, but the best product marketers in 2018 are going to take it further than ever before. Whereas in the past it was a very good idea to be aware of the competition and track what they were and were not doing, that’s no longer enough.
Today, you need to prepare a detailed and specific explanation for how your product is better than each of your top 3-4 competitors. And not as a group; individually.
Customers can comparison shop in seconds, so you need to anticipate that behavior and present your product’s advantage(s) over Competitor B, C, and D. Go beyond the standard SWOT analysis that every business should already be doing, and dig deep on each individual product that is a direct rival.
Ask yourself: how is our product better? In what ways is it an improvement? How is Product X better than mine, and how can I spin that to my advantage?
Once done, ensure that everyone – marketers, sales team, customer service reps, execs – can articulate the specific benefits of yours over each of the others.
Customers are not looking at the big picture. They’re zeroing in on product-by-product comparisons. Make sure you can steer them towards yours and only yours.
4. Validate Often and Early
You can research your market. You can develop a spectacular product. But you need to validate each early on.
Conversion Sciences uses a process they call the Maximum Viable Non-Product (MVNP). The strategy is designed to test and validate the product itself as well as the words, phrases, and images earmarked to sell it. Is it all as good as you think it is? Tools like UsabilityHub and Helio can help you confirm either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
Find out early and adjust accordingly.
5. Tell A Story
We’re hardwired for stories.
Fairy tales, fables, anecdotes, and more grab our attention and keep our focus more than data, stats, and features ever could. In fact, stories can activate the whole brain, while features and benefits light up only a few sections.
Tell real, emotionally-charged stories about your business, your brand, and your product to connect and engage with consumers.
Use stories to sell. Be authentic. Connect with your audience, and connect your product with them.
It’s a big job, but follow these tips, track the right metrics and you’ll be more than up to the task.
A Word From the Experts
5 product marketers share their top tips with us on how to be a successful product marketer in 2018.
April Dunford, CEO Ambient Strategy
“To be successful in Product Marketing you need to really nail the underlying fundamentals – have a tight segmentation with a deep understanding of who your “best fit” customers are, have a clear value proposition, and make sure you know and document your Positioning, including the definition of the market you specifically intend to win. If you get those right, the downstream results are always better.”
Natalie Lambert, VP of Marketing at Sapho
“Walk a mile in your customers shoes and understand what their challenges are. If a new product feature doesn’t solve those challenges, de-prioritize it. The product team will always want to highlight their new innovations, but if it isn’t solving a true customer pain point, it doesn’t deserve significant focus. You only get a few moments of a customer’s attention – whether that is in a blog, video, white paper, webinar, etc. – use it wisely!”
Matthew Zilli, Chief Customer Officer Marketo
“Sometimes, even good product marketers get so wrapped up in the story they want to tell, they forget what their customers want to hear; the best product marketers never go a week without having a real conversation with a real customer.”
Jeff Schaeffler, Director of Marketing at SEDNA Systems
“In 2018, a successful product marketer will find ways to distill the data lake from search, social, customer research, and competitor intelligence to find the key insight that drives the product team in developing an offering that breaks through the noise.”
Jeff Gadway, Co-founder at Galvanize Worldwide
“At the heart of product marketing is the ability to understand the magic of the product, understand the customer, and connect the two. The best product marketers understand how to distill the value of their product to its most essential form. This takes a blend of customer empathy, technical acumen, and curiosity. To become a better product marketer in 2018, spend more time interacting directly with customers to understand their personal motivations and focus on building stronger relationships with your product management counterparts to understand why they’re building the product the way they are.”
What about you? What would you add to these 5 tips? Leave your comments below: