The Role of Product Marketing

If you are just starting out in marketing, you may be trying to figure out exactly what type of career you want to pursue. Marketing is an incredibly broad field, with many different types of roles. In fact, it can be quite confusing to understand exactly how each type of role fits into an overall marketing organization. What is the difference between marketing communications and public relations? What is the overlap between marketing research and competitive analysis? Unless you really understand what each of these roles involves, it can be very difficult to make a career choice.



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One of the marketing roles that is perhaps least well understood is that of a product marketing manager. In part, this is because the role differs from company to company. In some cases, this is due to the history of how marketing evolved within a particular company, and in other cases it is because of the size of the company – product marketing managers tend to take on broader roles in small companies, and more narrowly defined roles in larger ones. However, the core role of most product managers is essentially the same – they are responsible for the commercial success of specific products or product categories, and work with other marketing functions to achieve this goal.


There are two main components to product marketing – inbound and outbound. In many organizations, the focus is on the outbound component – promoting products into the marketplace. However, inbound product marketing is an incredibly important part of the overall function, since this is what creates successful products.


Inbound product marketing is all about identifying market needs and determining what capabilities a product needs to have to capitalize on these. This starts with a combination of market analysis and direct customer input. For example, a product marketing manager might determine that there is a demand for a low-cost games console, based on consumer surveys from a market research company. However, their initial interest might be triggered by input from sales. It is the responsibility of a product manager to take this input, qualify how accurate it is, and determine the overall size of the market opportunity.


However, the job of scoping the opportunity does not stop at this point. Once the overall market size has been identified, the product marketing manager then needs to segment the market. This is done by subdividing the market using a number of different criteria that have a direct impact on potential sales.


A good way of illustrating this is by taking a hypothetical example of someone who is looking for a job in Kansas City. There may be 15,000 Kansas City jobs available – this is the total market. However, if the person is an accountant, then they might only be able to do 500 of these jobs – this is the addressable market. Next, they may only want a job if it is within a 15 minute drive of their home – reducing the number of jobs to 50. This is known as the served market – the total number of jobs the person could go after based on their skills and on where they are willing or able to travel. Finally, there is competition for these 50 jobs, which will determine the number of job offers the person is likely to get.


This same approach applies in segmenting the market for a product or service. There is an overall market, but the capabilities of the product or service limit how much of the market can be addressed. For example, in the video console case, 50% of the market might need the ability to run Android apps on the console. If this capability is not available, then only 50% of the market is addressable. Similarly, the concept of served market maps to channels – for instance, if you do not have a relationship with distributors on the East Coast, then you can’t serve that market. Finally, any product or service has competitors, and therefore will only win a percentage of the deals in the served market – this percentage depends on how the product stacks up against the competition, as well the effectiveness of the channel.


At this point, it should be clear that a product marketing manager needs to have a thorough understanding of market needs, channels to market, price points and competition. They may rely on other marketing functions for this information, such as competitive analysts, but it is the job of the product marketing manager to pull this all together and synthesize it into a business case. This business case also needs to take into account the physical cost of building the product or delivering the service. It also needs to include other costs, such as selling, general costs and administrative overhead (SG&A).


In many cases, the product marketing manager is also responsible for documenting the market requirements for a product or service. These may be high-level requirements which are then passed off to a product manager who converts them into features for development. However, in smaller companies, the product marketing manager may fill the role of a product manager as well – which means that they need to have a good technical understanding of the product or service.


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On the outbound side, a product marketing manager normally does not get involved in activities such as dealing with advertising agencies, planning trade shows, or working with web design companies. However, they are responsible for the product-related content that flows into these activities, and typically work with the marketing manager to develop this information. These inputs can range from high-level product value propositions through to more detailed feature positioning, customer investment business cases, and even white papers. The product manager will also have extensive engagements alongside sales in key customer opportunities, acting as an integrated member of the overall sales effort. This is important from the point of view of customer capture and revenue generation, but it also closes the product marketing loop – frontline engagements are one of the best ways of understanding customer needs and where the product or service needs to go next.