Product Marketing Is Dead. Long Live Product Marketing!


Introduction

Beware product marketers: Dave Wolpert (@SwordfishComm), in a guest post titled “The End of Product Marketing” on the “A Random Jog” blog, warns that the product marketing position is on its last legs. Wolpert writes, “The product marketing function in tech companies is heading for extinction. The work product marketers currently do will continue to be performed, but by different people.”

With due respect, Dave, I believe your report of the imminent demise of product marketing is exaggerated. Here’s why…

Outsourcing Can Have Downsides

Your thesis centers around the notion that a product marketer’s responsibilities can be outsourced (or insourced). For instance, product managers can synthesize the “voice of the customer”, thus combining both “outbound” and “inbound” product management roles. Content development is insourced to MarCom. Sales presentations can be handled directly by sales reps.

You have to ask, however, whether quality suffers. Effective product marketers have significant subject matter expertise within their industry. Who will provide this knowledge and know-how to the MarCom team who’s been asked to write next quarter’s white paper? Similarly, who will define and provide the messaging and positioning for Sales to include in their decks? Sales should focus on selling, not marketing.

You note, “most copywriters can write persuasive proposal content.” While I agree that good writers can write quality content, I point to the Wendy’s commercial from the 80’s that asked, “Where’s the beef?” Copywriters can provide the ketchup and the bun, but subject matter expertise is required to produce quality beef.

Functional Oversight Still Required

We don’t operate in absolutes, of course, so I’ll partially accept Wolpert’s notion that some product marketing responsibilities can be outsourced. Don’t we still need an overseer to coordinate the outsourced tasks, ensure the quality of the work and be held responsible for the overall deliverables? If a CMO outsources demand generation, event marketing, search marketing and SEO, should her role be eliminated as well?

A product marketer is responsible for delivering upon product marketing objectives, in the same way a CMO is responsible for delivering on the broader marketing objectives.

Focus Is Paramount

Wolpert does note that someone still has to “perform the bit roles product marketers play,” but goes on to say that “ancillary roles don’t collectively constitute a full-time job.” But what about focus? Tuning in to the voice of the customer means that you often need to “leave the building.”

When product managers are meeting with customers and prospects, will they still be able to make the daily Scrum meeting? Will they be able to maintain and update the competitive matrix while keeping the product roadmap current? Can they speak at an analyst briefing while ensuring that this month’s product ships on time?

I don’t think so. Sure, in smaller organizations, product management and product marketing may be the same person. But as organizations grow, product marketing should be distinct, in the same way that QA exists as a role distinct from the developers.

Priorities for Product Marketing (Strategic)

Wolpert writes that “only those with an exceedingly rare combination of talents” will survive the mass extinction of product marketers. I agree that product marketers need a rare combination to succeed, though I object on the “exceedingly rare” qualifier.

Strategically, product marketers need to deliver on more and more of the “E” in “SME” (Subject Matter Expert). We need to serve simultaneously as customer and industry advocates. Product marketers ought to be the leading voices that propel an industry forward on adoption and growth.

Priorities for Product Marketing (Tactical)

Product marketers should be comfortable and well versed with the following:

  1. Social media. While Marketing Communications or Corporate Marketing tend to manage an organization’s social channels, product marketers need to utilize social media as a listening platform. Your market is speaking. Are you listening?
  2. Blogging. Start blogging. Never before have you been able to both publish and receive market input so quickly. If you blog, be sure to allow comments, as two-way conversation is more powerful than the one-way street.
  3. Video. Learn how to effectively use this medium. Your market wants its content in this form.
  4. Webinars. Learn how to present via webinars.
  5. Events. Attend industry events to build upon your (and your organization’s) role as the industry advocate and voice.

Conclusion

As a product marketer, I’m confident that my role (and by “my,” I mean the role in general) will continue onward. Sure, it may shift and adjust, but eliminating product marketing, in my opinion, will bring harm to organizations far and wide.

Use the Comments section below to share your thoughts on this topic.

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9 Responses to Product Marketing Is Dead. Long Live Product Marketing!

  1. Giles Farrow says:

    Product marketing is not dead but the role has changed a lot.
    – customers have far more access to information
    – vendor have far less control over messages
    – social media opens up access between customers and vendor employees

    Product managers, technical specialists… all have to understand marketing

    Marketing communications, sales… all have to know product

    So there is definitely a squeeze as more people have to have product marketing skills. But as you say there is more for the product marketers to do.

    As marketing matures and prospects are in control, marketing has to seriously up its game
    – inbound marketing is all about content
    – we need to really need to understand customers, especially buyers

    And of course this means product marketing skills.

    My guess though is that the name “product marketing” will eventually die. It used to be descriptive when we marketed products, ranted about their features, droned on about the next release…

    … but instead we’re talking about our customers, their business, their challenges

    So maybe “product marketing” dies but in name only

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Giles: thanks for your comment. I agree that we used to market products and “ranted about features”. Today, prospects and customers can find out about your products’ features (and their worthiness) without marketers.

      If the name “product marketing” changes at all, I think a more appropriate name may be “content marketing” or better yet, “solutions marketing” – where the “solution” is not a product per se, but guidelines on how to tackle a business challenge.

  2. Owino Magana says:

    Great response! In life many techtonic shifts occur and one seldom sees the game change all at once. The key lesson from the thesis is that the techtonic plates of product marketing are shifting. It is, however, early days yet to copletely right off the product specialists and the value the bring to any operation!! Good shot and equally good counter!

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Owino: thanks for the comment. Not sure I buy the claim that a “techtonic” shift is occurring. But I do agree on the shift (just smaller).

  3. PM Hut says:

    It’s amazing how the priorities needed for product marketers has changed from 5 years ago. The top 2 priorities (Social Media and Blogging) didn’t exist back then!

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      PM Hut: thanks for the comment. Technically, social media and blogging did exist 5 years ago. But I agree, things change, technologies emerge and product marketers (among others) need to adapt.

  4. Marissa Schmidt says:

    Good discussion. From product mgmt perspective, where I do both outbound and inbound, I do see a shift where Product Marketing used to do the outbound, but now customers/acct teams request for the product managers to speak on the product because it is no longer just the product but discussing product roadmaps and making sure their investment will last for some time. This is especially true with Asia countries such as Japan, Korea, China where low cost is paramount and they want long product life cycle. However, I do still work very closely with our product marketing folks to ensure we are all aligned to the messaging and positioning of features as well as our specs. Overall, whether it is product managers or product marketers or doing hybrid of both, it is still about teamwork and execution as there are just too much to do! 🙂

    • Dennis Shiao says:

      Marissa: thanks for the comment. I see the very same thing in my line of work – customers (especially strategic customers) want to meet with product management in order to see the big picture product roadmap, to ensure they’re aligned with the right choice.

  5. […] Product Marketing Is Dead. Long Live Product Marketing! […]

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