What is Product Marketing in 2021? A Data-Backed Definition

We define the Product Marketing role, responsibilities, and KPIs after interviewing dozens of Product Marketing Managers.

Pulkit Agrawal
10 min read
What is Product Marketing in 2021? A Data-Backed Definition

The evolution of Product Marketing is one of the newest and most important trends in software marketing today, so it’s important to understand it and know how to apply it to your career or company.

Everyone is hiring Product Marketing Managers ("PMMs") and there is a great demand for expertise in this space, so read on for a strategic and tactical definition of "What is Product Marketing?".

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What is product marketing? #

We’ve seen others define Product Marketing; HubSpot says “it's the process of bringing a product to market”, while Drift breaks it into two separate roles: “before” and “after” a product launch.

We think these definitions are too one-dimensional because they’re focused on products going TO the market. Instead, Product Marketing should also influence the creation of the product, by taking insights FROM the market back into the product team.

A truer definition of Product Marketing:

Product Marketing is what connects the dots between the product and the market in both directions. This means that the Product Marketing role is responsible for two flows: understanding the market (demand/need), shaping the product, and communicating the product (solution) to the market.

what is product marketing

In (a) shaping the product, Product Marketers will undertake activities such as:

  • Customer and competitor research (to help identify unmet needs).

  • Persona development and segmentation (to better define the target audience).

  • Pricing updates (to better match value between product and market).

In (b) communicating the product, Product Marketers will undertake activities such as:

  • Content and collateral creation (to enable sales, success, support teams).

  • Promoting the product/feature (to educate the market).

  • Launch management (coordinating the whole team in the delivery process).

What are the main tasks of a product marketing manager? #

The confusion regarding product marketing comes from the fact that it's often difficult to distinguish what it does or how it's different from the job of other departments. But it is true that product marketing does a little bit of everything.

Like the sales department, the product marketer has to be in charge of getting business. They also need to be in synch with engineers and developers, deciding what to build, how to build it, and the most important thing: WHY building it. And finally, as its own name says, the marketing manager must make sure that the final product reaches the final customer.

The product marketer's responsibilities vary according to the type of company, especially when it comes to Saas products. In some, they are more of an engineer, in others a salesperson, and in some, a member of the marketing department. But it shouldn't be this way.

Product marketing is a discipline of its own that every day has more weight in companies, and that's why we have to distinguish it perfectly. In most cases, a product marketer has three main tasks:

  • Decides the positioning of the product, designs its roadmap, and identifies customer pain points.

  • Launch the product and advocates its use among B2B customers and vendors.

  • Increase the demand for the product and its use.

The visual representation of product marketing #

Tania Clark (Senior PMM at Atlassian) classifies product marketers in two separate “types”: Inbound and Outbound. This reflects the traditional bias of companies, but we believe the modern PMM needs to have the responsibility and capacity for both.

Product Marketing is very much the glue that brings together teams across the organization to enable the perfect matching between product and market, and thereby create success for the organization.

As part of our interview and survey series with Product Marketers (please add your perspective here) we found the following key metrics part of the PMM role:

% of Product Marketing Managers that indicated this as a key metric for their role.

As you can see ‘Feature adoption’ and ‘New revenue’ are the most important aspects of a Product Marketer’s job. These goals are intrinsically linked for all product-first companies because feature adoption should drive greater value for the user, and thereby increase their willingness to pay.

It also ties in perfectly with the definition above, because driving adoption requires the right feature to be defined and built, and then effectively communicated to the customer.

The importance of the product in product marketing #

Building the right product for the market is one of the first and most important stages of startup success, so it should be amply clear how critical Product Marketing is in creating Product-Market fit. Therefore we recommend that a PMM should be one of the first marketing/growth hires for early-stage teams.

And the first test of Product-Market fit is when new users are exposed to your product for the first time. If you’re able to connect a new user to value quickly such that they convert to paid, it is the strongest indication that your product is succeeding. Therefore helping your PMMs focus on user onboarding to drive better product adoption and new revenue should probably be one of their first key jobs!

Aside: our friends at Emergence Capital go into more detail on which type of marketer to hire at which stage here.

The State of Product Marketing today #

Product Marketing is like Customer Success was 5 years ago; misunderstood but easily thrown around.

Back then, Customer Success sounded cool, and more companies started to adopt the role. Often it was really still Customer Support, although there was a growing appreciation of the value that a true Success role brought.

Of the dozens of Product Marketers that we interviewed (from companies such as Gusto, Zillow, Front, Hotjar) one common complaint was: “colleagues don’t know how to work with Product Marketers”.

A common source of confusion was how Product Marketers differed from other types of marketers, and caused PMMs to be given under or mis-leveraged. Product Managers are amongst the most guilty of this, especially troublesome due to the close collaboration required between both roles.

In most cases, Product Marketing suffers from being loosely defined, having limited executive ownership, few decisive KPIs, and almost no software budget.

product marketing budget

Source: Chameleon Product Marketing interviews (sample size ~25 companies)

What this means is:

1. PMMs need to better show their impact and exert strategic influence

2. Non-PMMs need to know how to leverage Product Marketing to drive success.

We’ll cover both here so you may wish to help your colleagues by sharing this article with them!

How Product Marketing got here 🤔 #

Product Marketing isn’t actually a new role; it’s been around for many years. So why is it suddenly becoming so important?

This is down to two key differences in software today:

  • The delivery model has changed from licensing to SaaS.

  • We’re moving towards a product-first world.

In the past, technology products were sold through executive relationships and field sales teams. A new customer would receive a lot of sales attention (with demos and discussions) and once acquired, would transition to the onboarding/training and support teams (until renewal time). Sales were King and every function supported it, including Product Marketing.

Now Product is Queen, and customers value it more than relationships, services, or reputations. It’s the most important facet in a buying decision and it’s the battleground on which competitors fight, catalyzed by lower switching costs and plentiful options.

Other factors include a new stage in the buying cycle (‘product evaluation’), ‘PQLs’ as a sales qualification methodology and freemium models that encourage usage before purchase.

What does this mean for product marketers? #

Building the right product, and delivering it effectively is more important than ever before. We cannot rely on sales teams with inferior products, but we also cannot stop at just building great products.

Agile is now normal, and continuous development and delivery is the new standard. Product is changing and updating as fast as ever, but people find it difficult to keep up. The new challenge in achieving PM Fit and business success is driving adoption.

Product Marketing is the key that can unlock this, and accordingly, the role is changing. Responsibilities for product marketing managers are extending beyond launching, towards adoption, and there are questions on whether the function should continue to report to Marketing, or to Product or Growth.

product marketing managers report to

Today most PMMs are within the Marketing Org, but one-third are not. Source: Chameleon Product Marketing interviews (sample size ~25 companies)

Marcus Andrews (Principal PMM at Hubspot) even goes as far as to say that PMMs actually help create a product-driven company.

Regardless, we’ll see the Product Marketing role become more refined and more consistent over the next 5 years, and it’s a great time to be a Product Marketer!

The main differences between product marketing and regular marketing #

Sometimes we see teams treat their Product Marketers as an extension of their SaaS Marketing or Demand Generation teams, so here are some of the key differences.

the main activities of a product marketer

Product marketing vs. Marketing #

Marketing is a broader function responsible for communicating value to prospects. This includes content marketing, performance marketing, brand marketing, etc.

Product Marketing specializes in helping your product get adopted by the market, and of course, helping shape the product. Product marketers should be a core component of the product process and should work closely with product and product-growth teams.

Product Marketing vs. Product Management #

PMMs can more efficiently do some of the tasks that PMs currently do on the side. Firstly PMMs should bring the voice of the customer to the product team, who should then be responsible for translating it into user stories and features.

Secondly, PMMs should own product adoption. While this should be a collaborative effort with PMs (and should include UX improvements — why inputs from Product Marketers into product decisions are so important), Product Marketing should ultimately own the channels for communicating features.

In organizations that have created Product Growth teams, there is often a mix of product, product marketing, and design skills to help create and run experiments inside the product to drive adoption. Chameleon helps teams do this, and you can learn more here.

product marketing

Product Marketing vs. Sales Enablement #

Sales enablement is crucial in B2B organizations to equip the sales teams with the necessary resources and sales pitches to succeed. Sales enablement is one part of the Product Marketer’s role but it should not be the only part. Within sales-led organizations, product marketers will do a lot of sales enablement, whereas, in product-led organizations, they will do more product growth work.

Product Marketing vs. Customer Success #

Although Customer Success teams also care about driving product usage and helping customers extract value from the software, one key difference is that Product Marketing teams will care about new features, new customers, and new revenue, vs. supporting existing features, customers, and revenue.

Nevertheless, there are some overlaps here (e.g. driving deeper usage or upsell from existing customers). Traditionally we see product marketing using more traditional marketing channels to do this (e.g. email marketing) while customer success uses more traditional customer engagement channels (e.g. webinars, help articles, LMS, etc.)

Would you like to be a product marketing expert? #

Product Marketing connects the dots between the product and the market, in both directions. Product Marketing is a seminal role in the success of a product and startup, and will only grow in importance and value as we continue to embrace a product-first world.

To get ahead of the curve you and your company should clearly define the role and responsibilities of product marketing and empower PMMs with clear accountability/ownership, sufficient tooling, and executive visibility.

Chameleon is a software to help product marketers drive feature adoption and user onboarding, and we’ve written more about product marketing:

If you’d like to become a better Product Marketer, then take our short course on in-product marketing. 👇

Free in-product marketing mini-course. Get lesson 1 of 6 right now 💌

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What do you think? Do you agree? #

Are you a Product Marketer or do you work with Product Marketers? We and other readers would love to hear your perspective, so please add your comments below. Do you agree with this definition? Where do you see Product Marketing going? Top tip! If you want to find out more about product marketing and other product management topics, check out the articles from Product Focus here.

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