The Role of Product Marketing in a Startup

I get this question a lot, mostly from engineers: what does product marketing actually do? I've been doing this thing called product marketing for over two years now, at two high-flying Silicon Valley tech companies, so you would think I'd be able to give an articulate answer off the top of my head.

The truth is, it took quite some time to write it in only one sentence. Here's one definition:

The essential role of product marketing is to deeply understand both the dynamics of the target market and the motivations of the target buyer in order to speak to and for the market in a compelling manner.

Excellent product marketers tend to be obsessed with positioning - placing their product in the target customer's mind in such a way that they become predisposed to buy it. They triangulate competition, the relative strengths and differentiators of their product, the history of their target market, and at least a dozen other indicators to distill simple, clear, and compelling messages.

Positioning is the crux of the problem that product marketing solves.

Positioning is the crux of the problem that product marketing solves, and it's why many product marketers by way ofbackground come from outside of marketing. They tend to come from customer-facing roles, product management, and occasionally from sales.

With their positioning articulated, product marketers who work with sales teams usually translate the positioning into sales-ready materials. This might be website messaging, sales training playbooks, presentations, brochures, and so on.

Tip for product marketers : involve salespeople early in creating your sales enablement materials. You'll catch non-sticky things early and get the buy-in you're looking for.

Finally, in most organizations, product marketers will be an important input to the product development process. Because they know the market and the buyer better than almost anyone, product marketers can be an excellent smell check for engineers and product managers building new features.

If you can't get a product marketer excited about a new feature, chances are the market be lukewarm as well.

Oh, and one more thing: product marketing typically manages go-to-market strategy and execution for new products and features. Teams with tightly coupled product marketing and product management groups will almost co-develop new products and features, telling a compelling story from before a single line of code is written about why a feature is necessary, who it will benefit, how it will be positioned, and how much it should cost.

The outbound marketing component of product and feature launches is a major part of the product marketer's day. It's where the product marketer delves into the tactical details of what communication strategies and tools to use, how to promote the product, and so on. It's the area where the product marketer does most of their "traditional" marketing.

All told, that's probably about 70-80% of what product marketing does. The other 20-30% varies widely by organization. If you're a product marketer, leave a comment and tell me how this jives with your experience. I'd love to hear about it.

A version of this post was originally published on LinkedIn.