Learn the main differences between these roles, plus how firms can bridge the gaps to create synergy between development, marketing, and go-to-market.
Take two similar-sounding roles, add variable company-by-company definitions and a shifting corporate landscape, and you’re left with a fair bit of confusion. What’s the difference between product managers vs. product marketing managers?
They’re two sides of the same coin, and there’s quite a bit of overlap between the roles, so no wonder people are confused.
Way back, both roles were handled by a single brand manager, a more all-encompassing role. More recently, product managers (PM) and product marketing management (PMM) workflows are often split up. Is this a good thing? You may wonder. Well, so do we. After all, don’t you need to understand the intricacies of your audience and the product positioning that may fit the market gap BEFORE product development begins? And aren’t these two functions fundamentally separated in the new PM/PMM split model?
It’s questions like these we want to address in this guide. We’ll also set the record straight on the current differences between product manager vs. product marketing manager roles and cover the changing product landscape that has led some firms, like Airbnb, Apple, and PlayStation, to merge these two positions.
A product manager is responsible for identifying a customer need, overseeing the development of a product to satisfy that need, and assembling a team to help that product succeed based on internal success metrics.
Both product managers and product marketing managers work on the conception, development, and commercialization of product lines. However, PM roles are usually more developer-facing, falling around 70% conception/development, 30% commercialization, while PMM roles tend to be more market-facing, with a ratio closer to 70% commercialization, 30% conception/development.
Product managers set goals for the products they manage and define what success looks like. Depending on the company, PMs can have a fair bit of autonomy as long as target KPIs for product management are achieved.
Martin Eriksson, a 25-year product veteran and curator of the popular Mind The Product conference, described product management as living at the intersection of tech, business, and user experience.
In a sense, it’s a hybrid role. Yes, it’s focused on product — but a good product manager should have a deep understanding of many areas of business and marketing.
Product managers have been described as the “CEO of product” by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz. That doesn’t imply that PMs have the authority (or the comp packages, unfortunately) of CEOs, but rather that they are similarly tasked with setting goals, defining what success looks like, motivating teams, and ultimately owning outcomes.
As the name implies, a product marketing manager is a more marketing-focused role. PMMs will own the positioning, messaging, branding, and overall marketing strategy of a given product.
A PMM is responsible for bringing a product to market, and their role is key at all stages of the product cycle — from influencing initial development to driving success at all levels of the marketing funnel.
Product marketing managers oversee customer acquisition through external marketing, blogging, social media, and more. They build engagement with existing and new customers through campaigns, events, and social networking and they work on customer retention strategies, customer success, and ongoing conversion efforts.
But PMMs are also intimately involved in the development of product lines (or at least, they should be).
PMMs should provide a marketing and consumer lens on new product development, ideally from the earliest stages of development. They should be heavily involved in product roadmapping and feature selection, just like PMs are. PMMs are vital for keeping a market-focused perspective in the arena: Without their input, development may not match market desires, or a product’s usability may not line up with the target audience’s skill level, budget, or preferences.
Like PMs, PMMs are focused on specific products rather than company-wide branding or marketing efforts. Depending on the size of the firm, they may oversee workflows for a single product, a line, or the entire company offering. PMMs work closely with product managers, as well as marketing and sales teams, to bring in revenue to the company.
If a PM owns the creation of a product, a PMM owns the Go-to-Market (GTM) for that product.
PM and PMM roles do have some overlap, however, and they can absolutely learn from each other. At some smaller companies, the roles may be merged into one. And different firms define the roles differently, which can add to the confusion.
The simplest way to understand the distinctions between product manager vs. product marketing manager roles is to learn about each position’s typical responsibilities. Here’s an overview.
Product manager key responsibilities and tasks:
Product marketing manager key responsibilities and tasks:
PM & PMM shared responsibilities and tasks:
If you’re a sucker for analogies like I am, here’s a simple way to wrap things up.
A product manager is like a master chef, developing recipes and preparing exceptional dishes.
A product marketing manager is the expert restaurateur who ensures there will be a consistent lineup of hungry patrons come opening time.
In both roles, competence and creativity — and ideally close cooperation — are necessary for success.
After all, there’s a hundred other places in town to grab a bite to eat.
In the modern corporate world, PM and PMM roles have more in common than not. In the past, these roles were often combined, often under the umbrella of “brand management” — even in large firms. Should they be merged again?
Some firms, like Airbnb, are doing just that (more on this later). But even when the roles are distinct, having PMM and PM positions move as one unified front can accelerate success.
Product managers can and should work closely to better align goals, workflows, and outcomes.
After all, failure in either role can beset failure in the other: A poor product is tough to market, while an exceptional product can still flop without the right messaging and strategy.
Here’s a thought exercise: Imagine an individual who could excel as both the PMM and PM at the same time. Maybe they’re superhuman, maybe they’re exceptionally caffeinated, or maybe there are some creepy Severance themes going on in the background. But whatever the case, this corporate superhero owns both roles, smashing targets and ultimately building and marketing revolutionary products.
Please excuse the buzzword usage, but think of the synergy!
This product superstar would know the ins and outs of the company’s product line and those of its competitors. They would deeply understand the target audience, their pain points, and the unique messaging that will speak to them most directly. And they would be a master advocate for all parties: The customers, the teams bringing products to market, and the company’s financial stakeholders.
Most importantly, there would be no barriers to efficient workflows. No information silos, no endless memos, no confusion between teams.
While we’d all love to hire said superhero, they probably don’t exist (yet? anymore?). Fortunately, much of those same synergies can be achieved with multiple people filling PM and PMM roles.
It just takes two key shifts:
#1 is mostly a management and HR task. Find the right people who can work well together, then give them the tools to collaborate effectively — as well as the flexibility to, at times, work outside of their “assigned” duties.
#2 has mostly been a hodgepodge of half-effective solutions. Until recently, with the introduction of Ignition.
Ignition is a Go-to-Market ops platform that excels at aligning product, marketing, and sales teams. The Ignition platform offers a centralized source of truth and a single AI-enabled suite for end-to-end planning, execution, and monitoring of GTM initiatives.
Ignition can help teams own their next launch — and create repeatable workflows for ongoing and future GTM. Learn more about how Ignition’s dedicated GTM platform can accelerate your business goals.
A trend we’ve observed is that product management has become more and more engineering-focused while product marketing has become laser-focused on external marketing. Both are important — but are teams forgetting the Go-to-Market portion in the middle?
GTM is often relegated to a mere checklist; a to-do list for the way you launch something. But the reality is that go-to-market is so much more than that.
GTM can be viewed from a micro or macro lens. A macro (AKA company-wide) GTM strategy is a continually evolving brand and company growth strategy. A micro GTM strategy covers the launch of a specific “thing,” whether that’s an entirely new product or a new feature, and its ongoing growth and development.
While they heavily influence both micro and macro GTM strategy, it’s in the micro realm that product managers and product marketing managers really call the shots. Here, the PMM is like the quarterback of your launch plan, while the PM is more like the coach who assembles and trains the team.
Just like on the field of play, both positions are vital and must work closely together to find success — and the competition is fierce.
And just like on the field, teams should create repeatable plays, monitor their effectiveness, and tweak strategy for the future. So, too, should they gather competitive intel on other teams to stay on top in a competitive game.
In spring 2023, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky made waves in the product world when he casually mentioned that Airbnb had eliminated the product management role.
This prompted a lot of “product is dead” buzz and perhaps a wee bit of existential dread from would-be product managers.
Chesky later clarified the role shift on Twitter, explaining that the move was more of a merging of roles, which saw a combining of traditional PM and PMM functions at the firm.
Here’s an excerpt from Chesky’s speech:
“The designers are equal to the product managers. Actually, we got rid of the classic product management function. Apple didn’t have it either. We have product marketers, we combined product management with product marketing, and we said: you can’t develop products unless you know how to talk about the products. We made the team much smaller, we elevated design.”
-Brian Chesky, Figma Config23
Reports of product’s death are greatly exaggerated.
Even so, the shift at Airbnb reflects a broader shift in certain corporate circles to re-examine the role of product managers. Some are choosing to merge the roles, not necessarily as a cost-cutting measure, but more to better align product management with messaging and positioning in increasingly competitive markets.
Perhaps they’re onto something.
We think they can be.
Although a product manager is often more of a full-stack position that covers aspects of product development, design, and commercialization, while a product marketing manager focuses more on product strategy and external marketing efforts, these don’t need to be separate roles.
At small firms, a single individual can own both sets of responsibilities. But even larger firms are realizing that these two roles operate better as a single unit. If they’re not the same person, product managers and product marketing managers can certainly improve outcomes by working as though they were.
With the right tools, teams can work more effectively together. Ignition is the ultimate Go-to-Market operating system, offering robust end-to-end planning, product roadmapping, research, and performance monitoring all in one. Try Ignition for free today.