Just what does a Product Marketing Manager do?

My title is Product Marketing Manager, but more often than not the word marketing in the title does more harm than good.

My colleagues in engineering and sales and even joined-at-the-hip-partner product management will often dismissively refer to my function as “just marketing” and accuse us of producing spin or, worse,  fluff. Friends and family not familiar with the business equate marketing with advertising – which most consider an ignoble profession, based on exaggeration and trickery.

I always thought marketing in general was an interesting kind of thing. I always liked commercials and billboards.

Carrot Top

In reality, no part of my job description includes advertising!

I recently attended a meeting of marketing professionals where I was making small talk with a man who told me he was an engineer who had been laid off a number of times because the company failed or his project was cancelled. He told me he started attending this meeting so he could more easily identify in the future when “marketing is screwing up” and take us to task.

So what is the role of a product marketing manager anyway?

Let me describe for you a month in the life of a PMM.

If you are not a product marketing manager, but think you might want to move in this direction, I hope what follows doesn’t discourage you. Product marketing is much like parenting – many people will weigh in with their opinion of what you’re doing wrong and few will tell you you’re doing a great job (that’s why having a great manager is critical!). But I’ve done many things in my high tech career: technical support, quality assurance, network administration, corporate marketing, product management, and sales enablement. As far as I’m concerned, this is the most interesting and exciting position I’ve held.

If you are already a product marketing manager, you may find that you do some of these things but not all of them. Perhaps you have activities I haven’t listed here. The role can be different with every company. Please add your perspective in the comments.

New product announcement

  • Prepared messaging document; socialized and obtained inputs from key constituents
  • Wrote announcement heads-up bulletin and Q&A document for sales and channel partners
  • Designed several sets of slides for various internal and external audiences (customers, press, industry analysts, bloggers)
  • Edited multiple drafts of the press release
  • Led numerous meetings with individuals and executives across the organization to brief them on the announcement and solicit their support
  • Collaborated with technical marketing and product management to define what we would like to showcase in the announcement demo
  • Prepared materials for executive briefings with trade press and industry analysts

Field sales and channel partner training

  • Reviewed, revised, and rehearsed training presentations prepared by my colleagues
  • Presented in person or by webcast to 5 separate sales and partner teams

Conferences

  • Reviewed relevant breakout session slide decks and participated in rehearsals (Even though these are technical sessions, it’s important to ensure the products are positioned accurately.)
  • Determined language for signage at demo stations showcasing my products
  • Worked with engineering resources to define demos for exhibition hall
  • Prepared and delivered (many, many times) high level presentations for my products designed to interest people in visiting the demo station to learn more
  • Did many hours of booth duty

Competitive

  • Collaborated with technical marketing on competitive positioning documents for sales

Administrative

  • Attended about 6 hours per week of product-related meetings
  • Read and responded to about 200 email messages daily
  • Participated in social media activities on Twitter, Facebook, internal and external communities

What’s the best part of my job? The variety – of people, of activities.

Does product marketing sound interesting to you?

If you’re a Product Marketing Manager, what’s in a day or month of your life?

Can you write?

The other night I was sitting in bed editing my daughter’s AP History paper. This was the first assigned paper and her teacher had emphasized that he would be unforgiving of poorly written papers, that spelling and grammar mistakes wouldn’t be tolerated.

My husband glanced over at the 12 point Times New Roman double-spaced under 3 pages with 1″ margins sheets that I’d covered in blue ink.  “Nobody has to write like that any more,” he stated.

Could he possibly be right?

In the current environment of PowerPoint and one pagers and email and Twitter, are superior writing skills necessary?

Arguably, we live in a time of “less is more.” If the email doesn’t cut to the chase it won’t be read. Sometimes a presenter never gets beyond the Executive Summary slide. Social media platforms encourage brevity.

But the reality is that business writing cannot be clear, concise, and impactful if the full idea isn’t first articulated.

Have you ever written an email and then realized from your recipient’s response that the meaning was totally misconstrued? Have you ever picked up a piece of collateral that you wrote and not understood exactly what you were trying to say?

A survey of HR professionals conducted by the National Commission on Writing (view the full report here, it’s very interesting) found that “remedying deficiencies in writing may cost Americans firms as much as $3.1 billion annually.” Additionally, half of the companies surveyed “take writing into account when making promotion decisions.”

And while today you may be producing primarily PowerPoint slides with no more than 4 bullets of 6 words each per slide, next year you may be writing performance appraisals or white papers.

If you don’t practice writing— complete sentences and well formed paragraphs—your writing becomes stale. Your vocabulary becomes limited,  you begin to use jargon, you are unable to support a position.

How can you practice your writing skills, especially if your day job doesn’t demand it?

Take a class. If you work for a largish organization, undoubtedly your company “university” offers a business writing course.  Don’t think that as a marketing person it is beneath you! If company resources aren’t available to you, take a class at your local community college or university continuing education (which will typically offer classes at night and on weekends) or even online.

Write blog posts. You don’t need to commit to the responsibility of publishing your own public blog. Look for opportunities to guest post or write for a company internal blog.

Write letters. Yes, personal letters. Of course even your mother has email now, but writing a pen-and-paper letter forces you to abandon shorthand, use complete sentences, and fully articulate your thoughts. And you’ll make your mother’s day!

Read good writing and read about good writing.  Learn from how others express themselves. Learn from bad examples and good. A few of my favorite resources here:

As a product marketing professional, your primary responsibility is communication – communicating benefits, communicating strategy, communicating success.  Are you setting the gold standard?

Before you write that datasheet…

…step away from the keyboard!

One thing I’ve seen happen too often is product marketing managers will begin creating marketing content – datasheets, presentations, web site copy – without first developing a messaging platform.

It’s easy to do, and at first glance your marketing collateral  will look pretty good. You’ll describe the important features of your product, perhaps include some graphics, and instruct the customer how to contact sales.

But look closer.

Are the product features that you describe important to your target audience?

Do you spell out how your product is relevant to them?

Is the information that you’re presenting — and the language you use to do so — consistent across all of your marketing deliverables?

Will others from your company (product managers, engineers, field marketing, sales people) who discuss your product (presenting at industry events, in conversations with press or analysts, talking with customers) tell a consistent story?

The underpinning of impactful product messaging is a lucid, thoughtful messaging platform. A messaging platform must drive the content of your internal and customer-facing collateral.

A good messaging platform does not have to be lengthy and complicated. You can customize it to meet your specific needs. I’m continually evolving the template that I use.

Below is a very simple template that I use currently.

A good messaging platform does need to contain certain essential information:

  • Features – What are the most important things that the product does? Most important to your customer, that is, not to you! It doesn’t matter how cool you or the engineers think a feature is, if it doesn’t provide value to your customer then it shouldn’t be highlighted.
    example: Provides ports on demand
  • Benefits – You might be surprised how many marketing people present features as benefits. Benefits are the advantages the customer will experience  from using your product, usually derived as a result of the product’s nifty features. Don’t make it the customer’s responsibility to figure out how the features you describe will help his business. That’s your job!
    example: Allows users and applications to remain productive without disruption
  • Messages – What are the most important differentiable statements you want to communicate? Your key messages will be your product’s mantras — the statements you repeat over and over until they are completely integrated with your product.
    example: Deploy cloud services faster
  • Proof Points – The evidence to support the key messages is absolutely crucial to establish credibility. Customers are suspicious of marketing, and with good reasons.  Too many marketers make wild, unsubstantiated claims, so any claim will be in doubt unless it’s backed up by quantifiable evidence.
    example: Operates at 20 gigabits per second, 2 times faster than competitive offerings 

What your messaging platform contains beyond this fundamental information depends on the types of marketing materials you need to create.

For example, your PR department or agency may benefit from your messaging platform stating where your product is first, best, or only. You may want to provide them with headlines or soundbites.

Or it may be useful to state competitive differentiators.

But once you get the messaging fundamentals down, the rest of this can follow.

What product teams can learn from Google+

Unless you’ve been under a rock, or busy watching the Tour de France, you are well aware that this month Google launched their new social networking platform Google+.

Access was, still is, by invitation only.  And the elusive invitation button comes and goes, making one’s invitation more prized.

In the blog post introducing the platform, Google made it clear that Google+ is a “field trial” only. In fact, they refer to Google+ as a “project”, which infers that it’s still an effort underway.

While many early adopters were  clamoring for invitations, building their circles, and posting link after link of Google+ tips and speculation (Will it crush Facebook? Twitter?), I was struck by Google’s openness. Not only was the company encouraging its first participants to help uncover problems and suggest feature enhancements, but individuals on the Google+ team were making themselves personally available. They were sharing tips and having “hangouts” with customers.

That’s right, not only did Google release a product in beta (or perhaps alpha) but the individuals responsible weren’t hiding behind the anonymity of the corporate curtain. They actively sought engagement with customers… using their own platform!

Product manager Frances Haugen, for example, led a hangout—essentially an impromptu customer focus group— and then followed up with this post:

Awesome hangout folks! We had 29 people hop in and out over about 80 minutes – it was wonderful getting to meet everyone! Thanks for giving feedback on how we can make Google+ Profiles better and for asking great questions – I’ll make sure to have more of these sessions in the future.

Vic Gondotra, engineering VP, posted the following which was shared 1,000 times:

Please accept our apologies for the spam we caused this afternoon.

For about 80 minutes we ran out of disk space on the service that keeps track of notifications. Hence our system continued to try sending notifications. Over, and over again. Yikes.

We didn’t expect to hit these high thresholds so quickly, but we should have.

Thank you for helping us during this field trial, and once again, we are very sorry for the spam.

and the very next day shared a link to a not entirely flattering TechCrunch review with the following comment:

Lots of criticism for Google+. We are listening and working to address. Stay tuned for changes this week.

Rohit Khare, another product manager, previewed an imminent new feature saying:

We’ve been listening to feedback from our users who want more flexible ways to find their friends on Google+. One of the most flexible tools is an address book uploader, and I wanted to share the good news that it will be rolling out to everyone over the next few days.

I’ve found Google’s approach to be so refreshing, in fact, that I’ve created a Google people circle so I can continue to follow their public engagement.

Of course Google+ is targeted, for now, to the consumer market, and their own platform facilitates customer engagement. And of course those of us with enterprise customers can’t roll out an unfinished product and ask our customers to guide how we complete it. And most of us are unable to make immediate product adjustments based on customer feedback, as Google has already done.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from Google.

Let’s not be afraid to put ourselves face-to-face with our customers. We don’t need to have formal, and costly, focus groups to obtain feedback. Most vendors have online customer communities and blogs today. We can use those forums in a personal way to engage customers in conversation. To let them know we’re listening — especially when their feedback is negative.

Google has raised the bar. What are you going to do differently?

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