Where Do You Belong?

(This article is cross-posted as a guest post at onproductmanagement.net)

Do you work in product marketing? Have you ever tried to explain what you do, to someone who isn’t familiar with product development and management? Ever want to pull your hair out after the conversation?  It probably goes like this:

“What do you do?”

“I’m in product marketing.”

“Oh, so you develop those flashy ads we see all over?”

“No. Product marketing, not advertising or marketing communications.”

“Oh. So what do you do?”

“I make sure that the messaging of my product is something the market will understand, and then work to communicate that to people who want to buy my product.”

“Oh. So you create the sales leads?”

“No. I create the product positioning, work on the launch strategy and help the rest of the marketing teams do their job better.”

“I get it. You’re in marketing.”

“No. I am on the product team.”

“Oh.”

It is established that product marketing is a vital and necessary role within any product organization. (I’d go as far as to defend that means that it is necessary in EVERY organization since every company is selling some sort of product.) Yet, too often, product marketing is forced to explain its own value. And, this starts with needing to justify its role and what it is that you do.

Start with understanding what you do

Taken at its core, the basic level, product marketing is about the work required to get the “products off the shelf.” … The role works with product management who are about getting the product on the shelf, with all of its features. And, it is a partner to marketing services, who drive the lead generation and marketing communication who design the various artifacts that support the product. Yes, these are very basic definitions, but they do separate the responsibilities. There are defined lines that are distinct.

Here is where the challenge comes though. It makes sense, in the majority of organizations, to have the marketing services and marketing communication in the same organization. They are dependent upon each other. And product marketing? Both of these teams depend on the product marketing team effort to do their jobs. So, some put the product marketing team within the marketing organization.

Bad idea. When you put the product marketing team with the marketing team, the role is challenged to deliver on its true value. Instead, the role becomes one of a tactical delivery vehicle responsible for data sheets, webinars and sales training.

It’s about adding the right value

In an ideal world, the role of product marketing should be aligned in the same team as the role of product management. The two are inseparable since they are both about the product first. Both of the product roles require an outward view to the market at large. Both roles need to work together on the product roadmap. There are differences too. Product management listens to the market. Product marketing talks to the market. Product management is about getting products ready to be available to the market. Product marketing needs to understand how to position the product so that the buyer is interested. Both teams add significant value to the product. Both teams are necessary to the success of the product. True, together, the work they perform flows to the partnership formed with their marketing brethren. But, separation from product management means splitting the product’s market voice.

Looking in from the outside, where product marketing sits as a role within the organization matters. It matters a lot! If you are seeking to add product value, then align the role to where it has a fighting chance. If you are depending upon the role to deliver a market voice about the product, then align it with the product.

3 thoughts on “Where Do You Belong?

  1. Jennifer,

    Great post, and timely as well. My thinking on this has evolved over time.

    I used to be int he camp that this role belonged in Marketing. In fact, I have, as a product manager, been often int he marketing organization. This works well if the marketing leadership is attuned to the product. Often, organizations like this will have two marketing groups, the communications group (which behaves like a service) and a very technical, functional marketing group.

    However, I am finding that structure to have become extinct in the recent past, and thus product management and product marketing are better served elsewhere. Unfortunately, too few organizations have a formal product group, and if it doesn’t land in marketing, it usually lands in development, and that is the worst case scenario by far.

    Where I am at now, I pretty much lead the product group (de facto, not in title)and I report directly to our group VP. Workable, but it does lead to some complications. However, our product marketing theoretically sits in marketing, but that is going to change in the near term.

    One other trend, and another reason why Product Marketing is a bad fit for the marketing group (and I see the early signs of it here), is the tendency to use the product marketers as sales closer experts. This is the worst sort of tactical pigeon hole to get stuck in. Not marketing, not product, but it gets to the mentality of a sales driven organization, and is usually the start of the end.

    Geoff

  2. I’m late to the party on this one but Great Post!
    There is a lot of angst around the role of Product Marketing in general right now. In my opinion there is a big shift happening where the types of tactics that “Marketing” is executing on are shifting from more brand-oriented toward more customer value oriented tactics. In a world where a lot of what the marketing group is doing is content marketing, and inbound marketing, I think Product Marketing is becoming much more important and in many cases needs to be driving what the overall Marketing group is doing.
    For that reason I believe product marketing belongs in marketing and product marketers need to be driving the non-product marketers (not the other way around).
    April

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