Note: This post is the first in a series called ‘On Product Marketing‘.
Ask colleagues to define product marketing, and you’ll get a mix of long shrugs and meandering answers. However, most technology leaders can distinctly remember a PMM whose driven immeasurable impact. Unable to describe it, they know it when we see it.
Misunderstood roles beget ambiguous expectations. Ambiguity leads to organizational tension and sets product marketers up for failure. More importantly, companies miss out on the value that a world-class product marketing team can deliver.
I believe there are two foundational components which underpin a clear and robust product marketing mandate.
- A Full Spectrum Definition: Specific enough to bring clarity, yet full enough to support a high-impact scope.
- A Functional Model: A framework to understand the day-to-day work areas across the full spectrum of the role.
I’ve yet to find a definition of product marketing that feels right. So here’s mine:
“Product Marketers use deep mastery of the business’ product, market, and customer context to align and optimize the company’s go-to-market surfaces.”
Focus on mastery of the three key inputs (product, market & customer context) as the ante for affecting potent outputs (aligning and optimizing the full GTM configuration of the business). I like this definition because it’s input/output driven, and full enough to support a full spectrum mandate.
So what does that look like day-to-day?
The Functional Model
The above definition comes alive when paired with a functional model for product marketing that I’ve come to rely on. It structures how product marketers and their organizations think about the day-to-day application of the craft. It’s become the scaffolding that our team runs on.
Four pillars underpin The Functional Model. Each comprised of many components supporting a specific outcome:
- Go-to-Market (GTM)
The Context Pillar
The Context Pillar is deeply cerebral. represents a synthesis of the company’s specific product, market, and customer context. I believe that it’s the heart of product marketing, and the best product marketers have complete command of these dynamics (top 1% of their organization). That mastery is the bedrock under everything they do. Without it, product marketers are just guessing.
I’ve observed that the vast majority high-context people in organizations develop their context understanding in an organic, passive way over many years immersed in a business. I’ve been there. It’s abhorrently inefficient.
During a recent transition, I sat down to reverse engineer my past work and distill it into a framework to accelerate the process. The Context Framework below is the result of that work.
I applied it myself to a new market, and it worked. Then my team did too, and it also worked for them. A suddenly nascent, mystical art made accessible by a simple diagram (to those willing to invest the work).
The model consists of four layers: Consumption trends, distribution patterns, whole product requirements, and competitive landscape. The unique dynamics of each layer shape those of the layer below. When you view the resulting analysis through the lenses of time and segments, a clear picture emerges. A latticework of mental models against which to understand market trends, ecosystem behavior, customer needs, product strategy, competitive developments, and much more.
In practice, the model is applied by deeply synthesizing each layer one by one starting from the top and working downwards.
Here’s a bit more color on what that looks like. I’ll go into much more detail in a future post.
Layer #1: Consumption Trends
Start with the end customer and work backward. Understand how, where and when are people accessing and consuming the end product across geographies, demographics, and psychographics. Then identify which trends are emerging, stalling and declining? Why is this the case?
Layer #2: Distribution Patterns
B2B customers are insanely efficient at adapting to consumption trends to find new ways to reach consumers. They will reshape their businesses around changing consumption patterns. How are these businesses changing? What new business models are emerging and declining?
Layer #3: Whole Product Requirements
Customers adapt quickly to changing distribution patterns. As they do, their whole product requirements change. It’s critical to understand how whole product requirements are evolving across the broadest possible definition. The aim is to understand all of the people, processes, and technology that they rely on, and to identify how integration points are evolving through segments and time, and how our solutions can evolve to meet the changing needs.
Layer #4: Competition
The shape of the technology vendor ecosystem takes its form around the whole product requirements above. So only after that analysis is complete, have we done the work necessary to warrant taking an opinion on the competition.
Is it a lot of work? Yes. But establishing a robust mental model to understand the market yields huge for Product Marketers. And the layers of the model are in perpetual motion, so it’s work that is never complete.
The Foundations Pillar
This pillar is all about leverage for the rest of the organization.
Working with the Model
– we run all our planning
– Help others understand what it is. Especially helpful if lifting in – full spectrum PMM vs. Slim definition
– 1:1 and team meetings
– Year moves to a rhythm
I’ll deep dive into each of these areas in future posts.
Add inbound and outbound lines under the pillars.