This article is based on Aya Tange’s talk at the Product Marketing Summit in London. As a PMA member, you can enjoy the complete recording here. For more exclusive content, head over to your membership dashboard.

Do your product managers toss new features over the wall, expecting you to suddenly figure out how to launch them? 

Does your product roadmap seem to appear out of thin air, with no input from product marketing? 

Are you struggling to build an effective partnership with your product teams?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Lack of collaboration between product managers (PMs) and product marketers (PMMs) causes problems at organizations large and small. 

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. In this article, we’ll take a look at two contrasting models of PM/PMM engagement. You’ll walk away with actionable tactics for bringing these functions into strategic alignment to build products your customers truly want.

First, a little context

To set the context, let me tell you a little about my background. 

I was born in Tokyo, Japan, and moved to the US at the age of 18 to attend Harvard University. There, I studied economics, sociology, and psychology to better understand human behavior and decision-making. This sparked my interest in marketing. 

After graduating, I worked on Microsoft Teams at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington. A couple of years later, I joined Apple's iCloud product marketing team in Cupertino California. 

More recently, my partner and I moved to London, where I transitioned from big tech to a hardware-as-a-service startup called topi. I’m currently their Product Marketing Lead.

Today, I want to share a story about topi and how I applied the lessons I learned at Microsoft and Apple there. 

Demystifying product marketing

When I came on board as the organization’s first-ever product marketer, most of my colleagues had no idea what product marketing was. They looked a lot like this guy. 👇

Meme of Andy from The Office: I don't know what product marketing is and at this point I'm too afraid to ask.

Sound familiar?

Eventually, one brave soul told me point blank, “Aya, I have no idea what you do. Can you please help me here?” So, I ended up running an intro session to demystify product marketing for the company. 

To put everyone’s minds at ease, I shared some figures from PMA’s State of Product Marketing report. Turns out, most cross-functional stakeholders have, at best, a shaky understanding of what product marketing involves. Just 4% of the PMMs surveyed for this report said their stakeholders fully understood product marketing, while a quarter said they didn’t get it at all. 

From a collaboration standpoint, that’s a huge problem. If people don't understand what you do and how to work with you, effective engagement is off the table.

I realized that as I was building our product marketing function from the ground up, I had to make sure that my stakeholders – especially product managers – understood what I did and how to engage with me. 

Two models of product marketing

As I mentioned, I've been lucky enough to work at two of the biggest tech companies in the world, where I’ve experienced two very different approaches to product marketing. To keep it simple, I’ll contrast two models: Model A from my time at Microsoft, and Model B from Apple. 

Let me set the stage with a couple more results from the State of Product Marketing survey. PMA investigated what product marketers spend their time doing. They uncovered that most time goes, in descending order, toward the following activities:

While I wish product roadmap planning ranked higher, I’m not surprised that it’s at the bottom of the list, with only 18% of PMMs citing it as one of their key responsibilities. 

State of Product Marketing report 2021 results: What product marketers spend their time doing.

This is pretty typical of product marketing Model A, where PMs and PMMs barely collaborate. Let’s dive deeper into what that looks like with a case study from Microsoft.

Model A of product marketing: No collaboration between PMs and PMMs 

When I first joined Microsoft, I wasn't involved in product planning at all. Instead, product and tech teams immersed themselves in the roadmap, baking in brilliant features. Then they’d toss them over the wall, saying, “Hey product marketing, here’s this awesome feature I built – get it out to market.” 

Cue fire drill to figure out value props, messaging, ideal customer profiles, and more. It was a huge scramble. We had to quickly figure out what the product was, and then tell a convincing story to the public. That was my reality, and it sucked.