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What is Product Marketing? A Fresh Perspective on GTM

Learn the essentials of product marketing, understand its impact on business success, and master its evolving landscape with our comprehensive guide.

Product marketers are often drowning in executional marketing efforts like content creation. They don’t have time to dig into strategic activities that will impact a product built.

The problem? 

A disconnect between the essence of what product marketing should be and the convoluted mess it’s become. 

Plus, nobody seems to know where product marketing ends or begins, and how product manager and product marketer roles differ. A shocking 35.8% of product marketers don't even have a budget.

In this article, we'll break down what product marketing is, why it matters, and how it's changing, giving you straightforward tips to keep your head above water.

What is product marketing? 

Ask any product or GTM leader what product marketing is, and you’ll probably get a canned answer like this:

Product marketing is the process of developing positioning and messaging to promote a product’s features and benefits.

While true, this view of product marketing is like saying sales is the process of negotiating the price of a deal. 

It's only a part-answer. As a definition of product marketing, it's misleading. 

Actually, it’s wrong

Here’s a better definition:

Product marketing is the discipline of commercializing new products by identifying what markets to target, positioning the product for that market in a way that compels the market to buy, and driving the strategy for introducing that message to that market and ushering those prospects through the journey to becoming customers. 

The core objective is to ensure the overall commercial success of the product.

What is product marketing in simple terms? 

The above definition is true enough, but maybe not so easy to digest for the beginner.

Let’s try a simpler one:

Product marketing venn diagram

Product marketing is about making sure a product is commercially successful.

To achieve this, product marketers have to own the entire go-to-market (GTM) process — everything from competitor research to positioning to user feedback and roadmap development,

Yes, telling the story of those products and messaging themes is part of product marketing, but it’s only one part.

Let me elaborate.

Product marketing vs marketing vs product management: deciphering the differences 

The whole product marketing vs. product management divide is, in our opinion, blown out of proportion.

The typical conversation goes like this:

Product management is about creating and executing a roadmap for product development — product marketing takes what the dev team creates, spins some messaging around it, and pushes it on potential customers.

Many companies actually work like this. Companies like HubSpot even recommend it.

Product manager vs product marketing manager

We call that a problem.

Our take on the matter is that the PM (product manager) and PMM (product marketing manager) roles are actually one role that got split up for some less-than-ideal reasons and ended up creating more problems for product teams than they solve.

The product roadmap should be informed by market research and analysis, customer interviews, and user analytics and behaviors, all things that product marketing owns.

This means the PMM should own the roadmap, steering the product and GTM teams.

It's fine to have multiple roles (with as many M’s as you want), but what’s important is that all related roles operate as a single unit through the entire build > launch process and that there is no divide between product and marketing.

One more question remains, though:

What is the difference between marketing and product marketing? 

We can clear this up pretty easily.

Product marketing is strategic marketing. It includes who to target, wider GTM considerations like pricing/packaging/positioning/etc. The language used for "marketing" these days is more executional marketing, such as managing campaigns and choosing specific tactics.

Why is product marketing important?  

This question has a pretty obvious answer:

If you don’t market your product well, people won’t know it exists, how to use it to solve key problems, or how it differs from competitor products.

3 problems great problem marketing solves

A better question is what problems great product marketing helps to solve.

Nailing product launches

It seems pretty apparent that a good product launch (a key aspect of product marketing) is essential for traction. At least 26% of a product’s sales happen within the first 90 days of being brought to market.

In one study, 73% of respondents reported an adoption rate under 50% for new launches, indicating that, for many, the challenge lies in getting that initial market traction. 

Differentiation in a crowded market

With so many software verticals today being incredibly crowded, positioning and differentiation are crucial product marketing responsibilities.

A great product marketing strategy that extends beyond messaging and word tracks and integrates deep customer and competitive research will help you carve out a niche in a saturated space and capture customers that match your ICP.

Driving revenue growth through retention

Inadequate or poorly planned marketing efforts can lead to poor user engagement, low adoption, and high churn rates. All of that bad stuff.

A well-aligned product marketing team — one that works across the full GTM process — takes responsibility for feature adoption and user retention. 

User data and qualitative insights from customer interviews are used to inform UI changes, feature development, and improvements to onboarding processes and marketing materials, all to improve retention. 

What are the goals of product marketing?

The below goals are the core responsibilities that ladder up into the PMM’s ultimate goal:

To ensure the product is brought to (the right) market effectively, in a way that ensures it reaches maximum potential revenue.

This comes through effective management of the GTM process, which is the PMM's primary responsibility.

1. Understanding the market 

Product marketers should know more about the company’s target market than anyone on the GTM team.

They combine third-party market data and trends with first-party customer research to get super clear on who it is they’re communicating with. 

They fold this in with a detailed survey of the competitive landscape. Hence, they know who they’re going up against, how competitors are talking to the target customer, and how to successfully differentiate. 

2. Positioning and messaging 

We’ve talked a lot about how product positioning and messaging aren’t the entirety of the product marketing role.

Product positioning venn diagram

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater:

Positioning and messaging are critical responsibilities and are important parts of successfully bringing a product to market.

The most effective GTM teams will allow the PMM to own the strategic aspects of positioning and messaging while outsourcing the execution of content marketing plans to specialized roles and content creators.

In this paradigm, the PMM will use customer research and behavioral insights — such as engagement with existing marketing and sales collateral — to determine how to position and product and to provide guardrails for creating feature marketing communications.

3. Creating an effective product marketing strategy 

PMMs build out the entire go-to-market strategy. 

Product marketing hierarchy of needs

They determine which channels to focus on, how messaging might look different across various channels, and define customer targeting across marketing campaigns.

4. Enabling customer-facing teams 

PMMs must work closely with sales and all customer-facing teams:

  • Customer success
  • Demand generations and executional marketing
  • Support
  • Sales

This collaboration goes both ways.

For instance, the product marketing team advises sales on how to position a product and compare it against competitors. 

They’ll also take insights from the sales team on what customers are engaging with, and the challenges or objectives they’re regularly bringing up, which can be fed back into the product roadmap or inform messaging.

5. Mission control 

As the captain of the GTM team, the product marketing manager must stay on top of KPIs and OKRs, orchestrate the creation of content assets by executional marketing ops team members, and keep the team informed of changes and updates (such as product or feature pivots).

Ignition reporting suite

6. Informing future decisions 

Product marketing measures how existing customers engage with and adopt product features using a mix of surveys, interviews, and behavioral data.

This feedback drives new developments and decides if and when to sunset products or features.

Pursuing the goals of product marketing

From in-depth market research to ongoing planning and optimization, product marketers must be on top of their game in various disciplines.

The next section will discuss what it means to be a great product marketer and the skills required to achieve the six goals outlined above.

What does a product marketer do? 

Short answer:

The product marketer owns the GTM process.

Their role is broad, stretching from initial research and validation activities to diving into analytics and optimizing product marketing efforts for adoption.

Some key tasks on the typical product marketer’s plate include:

  • Coordinating the GTM process: Making sure the product is launched without issue, plus coordinating and controlling key activities and communications throughout the product lifecycle.
  • Market research: Understanding customer behaviors, market trends, and competitor product marketing activities.
  • Defining the audience: Identifying and targeting specific audience segments.
  • Developing positioning and messaging: Using their deep understanding of the market and buyer needs to position the product, differentiate it from competitors, and communicate benefits concisely.
  • Internal communication and collaboration: Product marketers work with team members across sales, marketing, product, support, and success. This includes gathering information and feedback as well as distributing resources created.
  • Demand gen: Creating and implementing product marketing plans to drive demand before, during, and after a new product launch.
  • Launch planning: Preparing for upcoming product or feature launches to ensure initial traction.
  • Continuous monitoring: Reporting, analysis, and optimization activities to maximize engagement and adoption while minimizing churn.

What makes a successful product marketer? 

A successful product marketer understands all parts of the business: the market, customers, competitors, sales, and so on.

5 important characteristics of a successful product marketer

They are great at understanding customer needs, crafting compelling messaging, and driving demand. They’re talented at diving into market trends and buyer behaviors and figuring out how best to communicate how their product solves buyer needs.

A great product marketer steers the ship, driving the product development roadmap based on user behaviors and customer feedback so that your organization creates products that truly serve customer needs (achieving product market fit).

A good product marketer is motivated by:

  • Working with customers
  • Being an early, foundational member of a fast-growing team
  • Influencing product, go-to-market
  • Working very cross-functionally
  • Tackling big, audacious challenges
  • High growth, scale-up environment

They actively collaborate with cross-functional teams rather than working in silos, ensuring alignment across the board and making for successful product launches. 

The best product marketers avoid stagnant strategies, constantly develop their marketing skills, and are experimental. 

They adapt to market dynamics, competitors' moves, and insights gleaned from customer surveys, feedback, interviews, and usage data.

The most important characteristics of a successful product marketer include:

  • Strategic. Clarity of thought, long-term view, holistic approach, ruthless prioritization
  • Empathetic. Reads between the lines to extract real insight re: customers & partners
  • Leader. Organized, and able to inspire cross-functional teams to action
  • Creative. Skilled writers, who solve problems in creative and engaging ways
  • Analytical. Data-driven, able to filter signal from noise

What skills do I need for product marketing? 

While every product marketer will have their strengths, the most important skills to focus on across the board are:

  • Market research skills. Engaging in research and surveys to understand customer needs and market trends.
  • Competitive analysis. Uncovering how your product is better than those of competitors and using messaging to convey that.
  • Communication skills. Conveying product value to both internal teams and external audiences.
  • Data analysis skills. Understanding the story behind the numbers to enable more effective data-driven decision-making and measurement of marketing efforts.
  • Teamwork. Working with cross-functional teams, including product and sales, and managing up (aka manage your manager).
  • Project management. Understanding how to delegate work, manage timelines, and direct projects ensures the successful execution of product marketing plans.
  • Relevant product knowledge. Knowing how the thing you’re marketing actually works and how it tangibly solves customer problems is required to position and promote the product effectively.

By developing the skills and attributes discussed above, you’ll consistently improve your abilities as a product marketer and earn your place at the GTM table.

Of course, you’ll also need to know how to handle new and emerging challenges… 

Coping with contemporary product marketing challenges 

The biggest challenge for PMMs today is that the role's strategic influence has been lost.

They've lost their place as the center of gravity. They're underresourced, overworked, and misunderstood. 

PMMs often get sucked into where the biggest go-to-market gap is, usually positioning or sales enablement.

By getting pulled too deep into the hole, they lose their ability to have a holistic impact on the GTM strategy.

They're often the only ones in the company who can effectively articulate the product and are given no resources to offload that work to trusted resources internally or externally. They get pulled into being content shops and doing sales enablement rather than being strategic and drive planning. 

They can do anything, so they get asked to do everything and have time to plan nothing — despite the fact that planning is the primary way they can deliver value to the organization.

The solution is to reframe what PMMs are. Rather than acting as the “hands” of the marketing team, writing copy and making decks to keep campaigns fueled, they should be encouraged to engage with the product and provide useful insights to drive road mapping.

In our opinion, the ideal PMM team is:

  1. The "brain" of the marketing team, driving all planning
  2. Able to act as a SWAT team to drop into specific problem areas of the GTM motion and fix them.

They’re what pushes your product into the future.

The future of product marketing

The future demands more than traditional strategies for product marketing. It's high time for a tool that cuts through the clutter and reconnects us with what matters — delivering genuine value. 

Ignition product reporting

That's where Ignition steps in. 

It transforms the chaos of GTM and product launches into streamlined, efficient processes. By centralizing product marketing strategy, communication, and workflow in one platform, Ignition helps you focus on what's essential, ensuring every launch is as effective and clear as possible.

See the difference for yourself – book a demo with us and witness firsthand how it can transform your product marketing journey.

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