Our key learnings from the Product Marketing Summit – and what you can learn, too
We caught up with Juliette Aiken, Victoria Dovey, and Julia Neuhold, to find out more about:
- the role of the product marketer
- why it’s an up-and-coming function in businesses around the world
- and what takeaways you can apply to your role, regardless of the marketing prefix your job title bears.
Firstly, tell us a bit about what product marketers do. Does it differ from regular marketing?
Product marketers work at the intersection between product and marketing, but also sales. We work closely with the product management team in creating successful products that sales teams enjoy selling and customers love using. dotdigital started as a pure-play ESP 20(!) years ago. With the launch of our campaign orchestration tool, we evolved into a marketing automation platform. When I joined the business, automation adoption was under 20%; just last week we found that more than 80% of our customer base now adopted automation! Since then, we’ve added a host of channels and smart functionality and have advanced further into the Customer Engagement space. MarTech is always evolving, as are the expectations of the marketer, and so as you can imagine, a lot of our time goes into making sure we get the product messaging and positioning right. We need to ensure people know what value they can get from our platform.
As for whether it differs from regular marketing, it depends. Ultimately, there is much overlap between the goals of marketers and product marketers, the process and how you get there is what tends to differ. Although saying that, many marketers already fulfill product marketing functions, they just don’t get called out as such. It’s a mixed bag really.
Externally, product marketers communicate a product offering to customers. Internally, they act as a translation and communication team for the product team to other departments. One key area that is, however, often overlooked is that both of these functions also work in reverse as we feed back to the wider product team from all the people inside and outside the business we speak to in our roles.
Stakeholder management is a big part of it, keeping them informed and having the facts and figures in your back pocket to justify roadmap items, proving value to both the business and customers. Because they operate in such a multi-disciplinarian manner, product marketers need to be skilled in strategy, creativity, and also people management. I think that’s one of the reasons why product marketing is growing so quickly, because it brings the business together whilst also allowing it to move to new places.
One thing I will say is that product marketing at dotdigital is never dull. We are part of the product team, but we sit in on meetings with sales and marketing, and work closely with a number of customer-facing teams. As a product marketer, you’re different things to different people, which requires quite a diverse skillset – the key one being communication. I particularly enjoy how we are asked to combine creativity and analytical skills to solve problems and keep everyone looking forward. The Product Marketing Alliance just released the State of Product Marketing Report 2019, which is worth checking out it you’re interested in product marketing goals, responsibilities, and so on.
So there’s definitely an overlap with marketing! Was this reflected in the attendance of the Product Marketing Summit last week?
There are loads of transferable skills between us, and we work a lot of the same space. We communicate directly with customers working with the marketing department on campaigns and the marketing website, and work together on content and event ideas.
The summit was attended mostly by product marketer execs and managers like us, but there were also some growth marketers and growth product managers who share very similar goals as us. Ultimately, we’re all working towards increasing platform and feature adoption.
Was there a common thread across the talks?
Many of the topics discussed on the day can be brought back to the same central theme: communication. What you say, how you say it, and even when you say something can have an effect on the impact and success of your message. As marketers we have to think whether something is a marketing message, or an operational one, and so on. Whilst defining these is important from a legal or industry guideline standpoint, customers don’t see it that way. They expect the same familiar, relevant experience whether you’re sending a BAU marketing email versus an update on their last order. So really, I think a lot of attendees came away with the message that all communications count as touchpoints and that they should strive for consistency between them – regardless of who ‘owns’ that channel.
The biggest recurring theme for me was the idea that we’re not just selling a product, we’re selling a solution to a problem, and to do that, you need empathy. If you just focus on the product, you’ll end up with an all-singing- all-dancing end result that appeals to no one, precisely because it’s trying to appeal to everyone. But if you focus just on the customer and ignore the product, you can end up in a space wildly different from your actual value proposition, making you again appeal to no one. Pain points should be front and center to value propositions; but rather than trying to please everyone, you need to get to the bottom of what it is they want to achieve, and find a solution that might be different from what they were expecting.
What communication trends are you interested in at the moment?
We’ve discussed how important it is to get to know your customer, and one of the best ways to get to know their pain points is to make it easy for them to get in touch. Frictionless two-way communication is a big part of this. it applies to our own customer comms as well as the end customers of our platform users. Enabling replies to messages, whether they are emails, SMS, or web chats is crucial in improving brand-customer relationships; and improving those relationships is often the last battleground between you and your competitors.
I agree, and another way to improve upon these relationships is by building trust. Just like our personal relationships, customers require honesty and transparency in what they are getting. For your product or service, it helps to be direct with customers by removing jargon and marketing filler words – just be frank in what they are getting for their money!
For your communications, the GDPR of course requires you to have clear opt-in and opt-out processes. This means many businesses have been forced to focus on what us good marketers have known for years – providing something valuable in your content that the campaign audience will want to read or know about! But it also helps to set expectations from the start by breaking down what it is they’ll be receiving from you, how often, and giving them granular control of this so it’s not an all-or-nothing captive situation. At dotdigital, one of the ways we advocate for transparency is through our public roadmap. It’s something quite unique to us in our market space and allows customers to always know what our product team is working on.
One of the points raised at the Product Marketing Summit was around the voice of the customer – and who looks after it. In most businesses, many teams wear the ‘voice of the customer’ hat, and rightly so. They all have a part to play in collating feedback, all from different standpoints which makes it all the more valuable. It is however important that one team is in charge of synthesizing all this feedback, to ensure it gets distilled in a way that is meaningful and actionable. So whilst not an established (internal) communication trend yet, I hope this is something that will be recognized and gain more traction in 2020, both at dotdigital and other businesses.
And finally, what are your top three takeaways from the Product Marketing Summit that everyone could learn from?
The idea that the competition isn’t always who you think it is. Krishna Panicker, VP of Product at Pipedrive, delivered a great talk on this and relayed that during his time at Skype, no one even saw WhatsApp coming for them. As far as Skype was concerned, it delivered a desktop based voice-calling app, and newcomer WhatsApp was a mobile messaging app that was playing in an entirely different space. We all know what happened next.
Another frequently cited example of a company thinking of its competition differently is that of Netflix, and how sleep is their biggest competitor.
The key takeaway here is if you focus solely on the product, you get more product – the only differentiator between you and a competitor becomes a checkbox. Panicker revisits the principle of minimum differentiation and urges us all to look for the ‘invisible slice of the pie’.
It’s a timely message for us here at dotdigital as well, especially as we are in the middle of our annual Hackweek. During Hackweek the known macro-level pressures are put to one side, and the tech teams have a chance to focus on creative, innovative projects that will make a difference. The winning result is a highly original product, tool, or feature that enhances the marketer’s day job. Stay tuned for a blog in January to find out which idea won this year…
For me, it was mostly the idea of how much it benefits everyone to have product marketing in the room sooner. Because we are unique in working across so many different departments, we bring perspective that could sometimes go amiss. We know what’s coming with the product, and we know the history of decision-making that led to that advancement in the roadmap. Not only that, but we can take the knowledge and comments of other teams and feed that back into the product. This kind of knowledge sharing ultimately empowers everyone in the business.
Finally, I’d say that the role of sales enablement goes beyond what people typically perceive it to be. You’re essentially enabling any customer-facing team, to tell the right product stories in whatever context they find themselves in. And more importantly: this relationship goes two ways. At dotdigital, working closely with account managers and customer success allows us to regularly gather valuable customer feedback. In that same vein, it’s also our responsibility to enable the core marketing team to ensure there’s a coherent brand experience. This, combined with the fact that we wear so many hats, is why we encourage all staff members to come to us with anything they feel we can help with. And we would encourage you to do the same with your product marketing team!
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