Why Product Marketing is the heart of tech marketing

Product Marketing is the most critical marketing function for successfully launching and scaling a product.

This post is the result of over a dozen interviews from folks who work in product marketing, marketing and product management at Apple, Google, Meta, HubSpot, Square, Pendo.io, Instacart, and Discord. A special thank you to Marcus Andrews, Jenny Blair, Apurva Luty, and Bogomil Balkansky for their collaboration and input! 🙏

The rise of Product Marketing 

Over a decade ago, Marc Andreesen’s famous essay “Why Software is Eating the World'' became one of the most widely read pieces of writing in the tech community and more broadly the professional world. The thesis of this essay is truer today than it has ever been. Technology is the foundation of global economies, markets and industries. The most valuable companies on the S&P 500 – Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Nvidia – are technology companies. In fact, the largest five companies on the public markets rarely come from the same sector, but tech achieved this in 2023. And as of January 2024, the market cap of tech companies accounts for almost 29% of the value of the S&P 500, up from 6.3% in 19901. The rise of tech, not just in Silicon Valley, but globally has fundamentally altered how we live and do business.

With this rise, the discipline of marketing as practiced in technology companies, has evolved to adapt to the unique needs of technology products across hardware and software. Marketing at technology firms is unique and while foundational elements of the craft are similar, key elements are different from those of other industries such as CPG, healthcare, or energy. Marketers in technology companies are not directly responsible for a P&L for example, a central responsibility of Brand Managers in CPG firms, but rather are responsible for delivering end to end go to market plans which drive broad product adoption. Ultimately, the goal of marketing in any industry or company is similar – build an emotional connection with customers to elicit behavior change and thereby deliver business impact (revenue, profit, usage) but the playbook for execution is unique at technology firms.  

At the heart of technology marketing sits Product Marketing. 

Product Marketing at the center

Product Marketing is arguably the single most critical function for driving product adoption and scale. With origins in B2B technology firms, product marketing in today’s modern technology companies is a key engine for growth and adoption. It is a counterpart to product management and chiefly responsible for bringing products to market. A product manager needs a constant flow of information from the market and potential users to build a great product. A product marketer is a key conduit to this information. And more importantly great product marketers can translate a technical product roadmap into a compelling user narrative which is essential to a product breaking through with press and users. In start-ups, product marketers are often the first marketing hire because they are uniquely positioned to help the founding team navigate foundational product strategy questions. 

Product marketers generally fall into one of two categories: business to consumer (B2C) or business to business (B2B). In simplest terms, consumer product marketers are the quarterbacks of a go to market strategy and key counterparts to product managers whereas business to business or enterprise product marketers also interface with sales and accounts teams to ensure these teams are well equipped to sell the product to customers and represent their feedback to product teams.

What does a Product Marketer do? 

A product marketer’s role can vary substantially depending on stage of company, stage of product, type of customer (business vs. consumer) and how the product marketing function is organized at each company. For example, a product marketer may be the first marketer at an early stage SaaS company and is directly interfacing with an executive team in defining audience and market strategy vs. a product marketer who is leading a new feature launch on a mature product such as Google Search will spend significantly less time on inbound responsibilities such as problem definition and product strategy and more on developing marketing strategies aimed at growth and engagement of that product  

While there are distinctions to product marketing responsibilities based on the company and product stage (more on this later),the foundational responsibilities for the majority of product marketers can be categorized into three buckets: 

  • Shaping the product 

  • Telling people about it 

  • Getting people to use it

Depending on the organization, these three buckets can also be referred to inbound product marketing, launch or go to market product marketing and growth and engagement marketing. In reality, a great product marketer is capable of delivering against all three. And in some organizations, different marketing teams are responsible for each area. 

1. Inbound Product Marketing: Shape the product

A product marketer is a counterpart to a product manager. One of the most important responsibilities of a product marketer is to influence what is built. This means having a seat at the table early in the product development cycle and an influential opinion and thesis on product strategy. This means a product marketer is leveraging data, user insights, market research, sales, customer success, competitive analyses and their own perspective of the market and problem area to directly help define what product or features should be prioritized on the product roadmap. This translates into a spectrum of outputs and includes things like problem definition, audience definition, product positioning, market sizing, competitive analyses, pricing and more. Typically, a product marketer will partner with  market research, UXR, data science and brand or product designers early in the product development process to shape and define what gets built. This responsibility is critical because it ensures an early and mutual understanding of customer or user pain points and how a proposed product will provide a compelling solution  to position, message and market the product, the outbound marketing clearly reflects the product value proposition and mitigates disconnect between what is built and what is sold. 

2. Go To Market: Tell people about it

By telling people about it, we mean a broad set of go to market activities which introduce the product to the consumers and the market. This means executing an end to end go to market plan including positioning and messaging. The product marketer is responsible for crafting and bringing to life this plan in partnership with key cross functional teams including performance and brand marketing, communications and product. The anchor of a robust go to market plan is compelling insights – about the market, the audience and the business. 

A product marketer is responsible for partnering with insights teams and data science to align on foundational insights which underpin the strategy of the go to market plan. In concert, they partner with brand and performance marketing teams to define a paid media plan, with comms teams to define a launch and press strategy and with product and lifecycle teams to define an owned media plan. Collectively, these components are architected to arrive at a single go to market plan which guides the external launch of the product. This process is lengthy, iterative and requires multiple checkpoints with executive and leadership teams. When done well, go to market moments are critical for driving awareness, trial, adoption and market leadership for the products and company. 

3. Growth & Engagement: Get people to use it

Finally and importantly, a Product Marketer is co-responsible for the adoption and usage of the product. This means the set of activities required to acquire, engage and retain users. While a product marketer is a key driver of this plan, the responsibility is shared across product and various marketing teams. This responsibility includes partnering with product to ensure user onboarding and in product promotions are effective, partnering with performance and growth teams to iterate on paid marketing  including media, creative, messaging and audience  and partnering with lifecycle teams to ensure a targeted owned plan is delivering the right message to the right user at the right time in their journey with the product.

Product Marketing scope by company stage

Company stage and product maturity have a significant impact on the PMM responsibilities, resources, and priorities. While PMM is a highly strategic role, its impact is even more acutely visible in early stage companies and early stage products as foundational operating decisions are fluidly being made. If a company is  pre-product market fit, it is iterating rapidly to figure out the right  target customer, what a minimal viable product looks like, how that product solves the customer pain points  in a differentiated and better way, the product positioning,  pricing, and so much more. Alternatively, If a PMM is working on a mature product such as Google Search, foundational questions such as audience, product feature set, positioning etc have been long addressed and their role is more about optimization. Broadly speaking, we can categorize PMMs responsibilities into three groups based on company/product stage:

Phase 1: Entrepreneurial PMM

  • Product: this is your classic 0-1 product being built, and there are many hypotheses to test and important strategic questions to be addressed. The product is typically pre-product marketing fit (PMF) but could have an initial beachhead with a small set of customers. 

  • Customers & Distribution Channels: there are few to no customers. An initial target may be existing customers using another product from the company. Likely a combination of the founders network, friends, or partners. 

  • Team: it’s a “team of pirates” that are excited to build new things and take calculated risks. The PMM is generally the first and only marketer at the table and is actively collaborating with founders, CEO and founding team  

  • PMM Responsibilities: you’ll wear many hats – from traditional PMM responsibilities such as defining a target audience, developing initial positioning and messaging, and conducting competitive analysis. However at this stage, a PMM is also stretching  into other operating areas such as design (standing up a landing page), data science (writing  queries, analyzing data sets, building dashboards, customer insights (designing & conducting primary research)  demand generation (standing up campaigns) first hand. Budgets are typically smaller,  undefined and emergent based on performance. 

Phase 2: Classical PMM 

  • Product: there is a product in place that has emerging product market fit with the initial target segment of the market. The product is early in the lifecycle and requires significant iteration with input from the market and customers. There are features lacking which prevent scaling to other parts of the market. The value prop is compelling and while there is pricing in place, it’s not optimized for margin, rather for adoption and growth. You’re harvesting the demand and converting interest to customers. 

  • Customers & Distribution Channels: there is an initial target audience in place. The ideal demographics and psychographics of customers are being molded. The team likely has not mapped the full spectrum of potential customers but have a good sense of the next priority segments. A few marketing channels are stood up and performant but additional channels need to be explored and tested .

  • Team: There established operating roles and clear operating rhythms  As PMM you’re working on a weekly basis with a core sprint team (Eng, PM, Design, DS) daily to monitor a launch, develop new features, address bugs, and define strategies to drive growth and adoption. Interactions with the executive team are less frequent than Phase 1 and likely at some regular cadence (biweekly/monthly reviews). 

  • PMM Responsibilities: largely focused on generating demand, engagement and growth  – getting your target audience to consider, try and use the product. It’s focused on getting broader trial and adoption. You are collaborating closely with product, data science and channel market teams to optimize messaging, creative, channel mix and with sales to develop case studies,testimonials, sales collateral. Budget is more defined based on targets and measurement is in place for the initial channels. 

Stage 3: Shepherd PMM 

  • Product: the product is working at scale. Oftentimes it is becoming a multi product portfolio – eg a company is moving from one-product to multi-product portfolio or seek to cross sell new products into an existing  base. The value prop and differentiation are clear and there is likely a moat. Pricing is optimized for margin expansion and target payback periods.  

  • Customers & Channels: optimizing messaging and channels for specific audience segments. There are established LTVs for audience segments and established CACs for marketing channels. Performance economics are well defined and follow a rigorous  cadence.

  • Team: The team is and working operating cadences are mature. PMM has  established XFN counterparts in product, eng, design, data science etc and collaborate as needed on projects. You will likely not have as frequent sprint sessions or urgent milestones as in Phase 2 but will be actively monitoring and steering work in progress. Your exposure to executive teams is limited based on new or upcoming launches.

  • PMM Responsibilities: at this phase it’s balancing growth of the product while protecting the brand and your role is largely shepherding a highly performant product and loved brand. Oftentimes you’re seeking  growth through optimizations with your existing channels, target customers and messaging. In addition, you could be focused on partnerships with other teams internally or externally as well as expanding to other geos or audience segments. You’ll likely be partnering with Brand Marketing to run integrated campaigns.

Why is Product Marketing critical? 

1. Technology will continue to be a key driver of growth across industries 

Technology will continue to be a prominent and driving force in how businesses of all sizes and caliber operate. The mechanics of how marketing is executed at technology firms and firms which have technology at the center will continue to drive greater emphasis on the  need for product marketing. Product marketers are uniquely positioned to lead the strategy and launch of technology products and are the connective tissue between the product and the market. 

2. PMM is essential for building better products

Without product marketing, a company risks building a product without incorporating the desires of the most important constituent – the user. With robust and continued user feedback, product and engineering can build a product that not only solves a real user pain point but can also build a product which is highly desirable for users. Product marketers are the voice of the user and help product managers prioritize what to build and how to iterate on it.

3. It is critical for scaling a product 

To help a product grow from a few users to millions of users, product marketing is critical – both to shape the roadmap and scale the product. Product marketers are responsible for core metrics across the marketing and customer funnel including adoption and retention. They deeply understand the market, the user and the needs of the customers. This information is critical for ongoing product iteration, development and adoption. 

In our research, we’ve learned that some of the most widely used and loved technology product such as Gmail or the iPad, had product marketers (or a version of a product marketer) on the founding team. This hire has been a critical factor to product adoption and growth. The table below outlines how leading tech products have scaled 41% annually since hiring their first product marketer – in some cases delivering at this rate of growth for nearly two decades. While it is impossible to attribute this growth specifically to product marketing and it is the result of an entire cross functional team including product, engineering, design, sales and more – this data is instructive in demonstrating the importance of product marketing as a key contributor to growth at early stages of a product. Product Marketing is the strategic cross functional glue across teams and chiefly responsible for architecting a holistic go to market plan for driving product awareness and adoption.

Interested in hearing from other leaders in the Product Marketing space? Here are some recent posts that may be helpful:

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Connect with us on LinkedIn: Naiomi Eliason & Erik Eliason.

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