What 7 Years at Google & Meta Taught me about the Importance of Product Marketing in Scaling Products from 0 to 500+ million users

World class PMMs operate with high agency, are excellent communicators, understand and leverage data strategically, are masters of insights and effortlessly navigate cross functional relationships.

During my time at Google & Facebook, I worked on four products – Doubleclick, Google Fiber, Google Assistant & Facebook Portal. A common theme, with exception of DoubleClick, was each product was at the 0 to 1 stage when I joined the team and they were all consumer products.  Of the three stages of PMM, this is referred to as the “Entrepreneurial Product Marketer.” On Google Assistant and Facebook Portal, I was the lead consumer product marketer on the software side of the product which is built into hardware (Pixel, Google Home speakers, Facebook Portal devices). 

For each product, we were a newly formed team and I wore many hats as we worked to define product strategy, find product market fit and craft a killer marketing strategy to drive trial and adoption. The learning curve was steep and my impact was significant. Collectively, the marketing teams grew from ~3 to 60+, product adoption grew from 0 to 450 Million users and revenue grew from (sometimes) nothing to north of $100 million. 

In 2016, I was working on a stealth product at Google and my manager, who was amazing, was leaving to go work on a new AI Assistant product no one had heard of. When he shared the news with me, I immediately asked him to take me with him – first because he was an excellent leader and human and I wanted to continue working for him and second this product was the next most important priority for Sundar. Through a fortunate set of events, including a few ad hoc interviews, I joined the Google Assistant team. In my first week on the team at the company all hands, Sundar shared his vision for how this “Assistant” was going to revolutionize the way people got things done and shift Google from being search first to voice. He unveiled an ambitious multi year plan to build a true helpful AI Assistant. Recently the Google Assistant  merged with Bard (or now Gemini) but back then it was truly the buzziest and most interesting new product at the company. 

I was the third product marketer on a brand new marketing Assistant team, along with my manager and his manager. Over the course of the three years, the PMM team grew from 3 to over 40 and from zero users to over 350 million. It was a steep learning curve and an incredibly challenging role where I wore what felt like every marketing hat – I did work that was classic product marketing, brand marketing, partnerships marketing and growth marketing.  

During my time at Google, I also worked on other products. I started out in a product strategy role on Doubleclick where my focus was less classic marketing and more on enabling ad exchange partners to increase spend with Google and more B2B. Then I joined Google Fiber where my role as a product marketer was largely focused on driving user adoption. 

At Facebook, I joined Reality Labs to lead software product marketing for Facebook Portal, a video calling device. This was also a brand new product, a newly formed team with bold ambition and a very healthy marketing budget. In this role, I built the software PMM team, remit and operating cadence from scratch. My team’s focus was driving awareness and adoption of software features across the suite of Portal devices. I was also responsible for product partnerships such as Netflix and Spotify. 

During these 7 years, I learned the importance of marketing and specifically product marketing in helping products breakthrough with consumers and scale. Below are 7 lessons about what I believe make exceptional product marketers.  

1. World class marketing begins with world class insights

To uncover meaningful insights you have to deeply understand your audience. This means a foundational grasp of their needs, desires, pain points and daily routines. This is not as simple as reading a few research reports or conducting a survey and outsourcing this work to an agency to deliver customer personas. Yes, there is value in leveraging surveys and agencies. However, in my experience, in order to uncover groundbreaking insights, you must immerse yourself in the customer experience from beginning to end. This may look like many months in deep primary research – ethnographies, focus groups, surveys and if possible putting yourself in the shoes of these customers – recreating the experience your product solves. This could mean spending the day in the life of a customer. If you're designing an experience for an AI Assistant which provides help with daily routines, engineer your entire day around the use cases and spend it as if you are the target audience. Spend a few weeks with a research team going into the homes of these customers and actually observing firsthand their experiences. This work is not quick and it’s not easy. It is a significant investment of time and money and can feel painstakingly slow. However, when done thoroughly, it becomes the anchor of your marketing strategy and is a critical factor in architecting a breakthrough narrative. 

2. The best product marketers obsess over product.

An excellent product marketer must know and understand their product inside out. This means being a frequent user of the product, having firsthand knowledge of the user experience and a perspective on how to improve it. You should continually be testing and submitting bugs to the engineering teams. You must partner closely with the product team to provide your input on the experience and have a clear perspective on what is working and what is not. You are not waiting for the product manager to share their perspective on how the product is performing and simply taking that as gospel – you must be deeply ingrained as a user yourself. This not only arms you with firsthand knowledge from which to build a better marketing strategy and compelling positioning, it is one of the best ways to quickly build trust and credibility with your product and engineering counterparts. 

3. Powerful storytelling is an essential ingredient for breakthrough with press and users.

In order to breakthrough with an audience and market, you will need to get really good at storytelling. We hear this all the time yet it feels like a missing element in a lot of marketing I encounter today. Great storytelling is the ability to take the magic – the special element of your product, the thing that sets it apart from everything else out there – and translate that value into a compelling narrative which your target audience can easily understand, relate to and desire. It helps build that critical emotional connection with your audience. Think of the greats who have perfected this over many years such as Nike, Apple and Disney. In marketing, this is definitely more art than science but it can be methodical, informed and data driven. This can include things like testing permutations of positioning, value propositions, and creatives to understand what will resonate. Once you find an angle or positioning that is compelling and ownable – this becomes the anchor of your narrative and is the key element of your creative briefs.

4. Having high agency (aka owner mindset) will multiply your impact. 

In my experience, the most effective teammates or colleagues I’ve worked with, whether in marketing, product, engineering or other teams are those who have high agency and an owner mindset. When I’m leading a launch or a project, my mindset is do whatever it takes to move that project forward in a high quality, timely manner and often this means doing work or stepping into roles which are squarely outside of my job responsibility. For example, there have been numerous occasions where I’ve written press releases, mocked up user wireframes and written product strategy when the team either was at capacity, there wasn’t a headcount for the role or the ask was so timely that I stepped in and did what was needed to unblock the team. What I’ve found is this tendency and mindset is what sets apart those who operate with high impact vs. those who are simply keeping things afloat. Frank Slootman calls these people ‘drivers’ and contrasts them to ‘passengers.’ Drivers move things forward and get things done with a high sense of urgency and ownership and without needing to be asked or instructed to take action. 

5. Data drives clarity. Seek it. Understand it. Leverage it. 

Impactful marketing is data informed and driven. This does not mean an obsession with data to inform every decision or plan but it does mean leveraging data strategically and frequently to ensure decisions are grounded in logic, reason and thoughtfully made. As a product marketing leader, you must be able to understand, analyze and extract insights from data. The data can be raw and complex and you may need an analyst or team to query or distill it but you as the DRI must be able to read it and determine how to best leverage it to make an impact. Oftentimes, this can mean wielding it into a narrative to underscore a point you’re aiming to deliver with an audience or alternatively it can be used for internal audiences and executives to advocate for your perspective. In my experience, the best marketers are those that are not only comfortable with data but are actively seeking data to inform their perspectives and their plans.

6. Credibility and trust with product counterparts matter. Prioritize it and build it. 

Your success as a product marketer is highly correlated (and some would argue causally related) to the strength of your relationship with your product counterparts. You are the conduit between marketing and product and your success at your role is highly dependent on your ability to meaningfully engage with your product counterparts. A key responsibility of your role is to influence the product roadmap – leveraging data from the market, the audience, the competition and research to inform product strategy early in the product development lifecycle. This means having a thoughtful perspective on what the team is building and how to improve it and sharing that perspective early and often with your product counterparts and product leadership. Doing so will establish trust and credibility with the team and ultimately will be critical in ensuring your go to market plan is impactful.

7. To be a better product marketer, be a better writer. 

This point goes hand in hand with storytelling but I’ve found that my ability to succinctly and compellingly communicate in writing has been critical to every major launch I’ve led. Writing is crucial because as a product marketer your role is not only highly cross functional but your effectiveness is dependent on your ability to communicate your ideas. You are tasked with writing briefs, writing go to market plans, editing product roadmaps, writing executive emails, writing weekly updates and more. And I don’t mean you have to be a world class writer but you definitely have to have the ability to write clearly, succinctly and in a manner which is compelling to your audience. The good news is that writing is a skill that can be improved drastically with practice and with reading.

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