Do You Need to Hire a Product Marketer?
there’s a lot of variation in the role, making it difficult for organisations to get maximum value.
Talia Knowles Rivas
This article is intended to help founders, product owners and marketing leaders design and recruit for better product marketing roles.
I cut my teeth as a product marketer at Facebook. The role was ambiguous and the remit was broad. There were no guardrails, no clearly defined ‘roles and responsibilities’ and different functions had very different expectations of what a product marketer should deliver for the business.
The way I came to understand, and ultimately define, my role was through working closely with a range of product marketers: on dozens of different products, across the family of apps. I observed their practices and determined what separated great product marketers from good ones.
Great product marketers were laser-focussed on the business metrics. They prioritised principles over process, sought out the right data to determine the right problems to solve and prioritised, ruthlessly. They were ardent storytellers and great organising forces, pulling disparate people together (often with competing priorities) to prioritise strategic, rather than short-term, goals for the company.
These principles and behaviours became guardrails for me. They helped me develop as a product marketer, mentor and train others into the role and effectively communicate my value to different stakeholders in order to set common expectations for the role.
Over the last few years, I’ve taken meetings with VC’s, recruiters, founders and product leaders in the tech industry who have asked me to develop or fill a product, marketing or product marketing function inside their organisation. What was common to all of these meetings was deep confusion over the purpose of the role. Rebecca Geraghty at @weareproductmarketing published a recap of the NY 2019 Product Marketing Summit that neatly summarised the problem: “we’re all defining product marketing.” As a result, there’s a lot of variation in the role, making it difficult for organisations to get maximum value out of this strategic function.
What do we mean by product marketing?
If you want someone to pick up bits and pieces of that marketing stuff that you’re not so keen on, hire a junior marketing coordinator. If you want a strong commercial mind to help prioritise what you build, determine how to take it to market and drive product growth, hire a product marketer and imbed them in your product group. At ConsenSys, we expect product marketers to ship work across these four core pillars:
Think of this role as an embedded strategy consultant to the product manager — but with additional accountability for the executional components. Working left to right across these pillars, they hunt for opportunity.
They surface critical insights through market intelligence, leverage these insights into opportunities to drive product revenue growth. They develop plans to deliver these outcomes and bring the right people across different functions together to execute. This function is often focussed predominantly on monetisation products.
If the product manager is the custodian of the product and keeper of the product vision, the product marketer is the custodian of the end-customer.
Key skills and behaviours that drive high-performance in the role
- Adept at using and interpreting data
- Compelling storyteller
- Sets and drives the most important business metrics
- Is empathetic
- Is resilient
- Is collaborative
- Is persuasive
Finally, the most impactful product marketers I’ve observed use data to help product groups challenge themselves; constantly striving to understand ‘What We’ve Actually Built’ and how it might differ from ‘What We Think We’ve Built’. That is: the ‘job’ that a customer hires our product for, rather than the job we’ve designed the product for.
Create space for the role by “giving away your legos“
In a high growth or agile environment, everyone is doing everything. There’s likely a lot of overlap between the product manager, product marketing and marketing functions. But as a company grows and pivots to monetisation, each function needs to evaluate what they’re doing and decide what to let go. Great companies don’t hire people to pick up the slack.
They create new roles to enable everyone to be more intentional about the work that they do and to do more of it, at a higher quality. In a best-in-class scenario, product manager and product marketer are an air-tight team.
Entrusting the product marketer to lead the growth planning for a product enables product managers to focus more deeply on building more stuff, shipping the roadmap and increasing TAM (Total Available Market) for their products.
Giving away ownership can be incredibly difficult. Early Facebooker Molly Graham has given a now legendary talk called Giving Away Your Legos (5 minutes, 32 seconds in). It’s a must-watch for anyone working in a rapidly changing environment. First Round published a great TL;DR of Molly’s talk that I often return to and highly recommend. It advises us to be open to new voices, to be challenged with data and to acknowledge that what got us here may not get us there.
In its infancy, a company might have built its customer base and their brand through the product experience alone. At some point, that customer base will reach critical mass, organic growth will slow and the market will become more crowded and competitive.
The company will attract the negative attention of large, established incumbents. Concurrently, it will inspire a host of new up-starts in its category and run the risk of being disrupted itself. What should the company be more concerned about? Being undercut by Amazon? Or shedding customers to a myriad of up-starts?
At the same time, it needs to establish, meet and grow recurring revenue targets, figure out how to retain existing customers through deeper engagement, set the strategic direction for the product, deploy marketing campaigns to acquire more customers… oh, and actually deliver the product roadmap.
The product marketer should bring strong commercial nous to the product group and work with the product manager to lead on positioning, prioritisation and growth. To pull this off, folks in the product group are going to have to review what legos they’re holding on to and honestly evaluate what they can let go to the product marketer.
I find Molly’s advice to be timeless and helpful for anyone working in a product-led organisation. We should regularly be reviewing what lego’s we might be holding onto and offering them to the right colleagues so we can all “build more and build better.”
Talia Knowles Rivas