x close
Nothing to display...
9 min read

Does product marketing deserve a new name?

Membership content

My name's Isabella Dumont, I'm the SVP of Marketing Engagement at Cowbell Cyber.

I want to talk to you about something near and dear to my heart: product marketing. But what is product marketing? And is that really the best name for it?

I'm going to focusing discussion points, such as:

But first, a bit about me and my background.

My background and mission

I've been in the Valley for about 25 years, and I have a wealth of hands-on experience in launching and scaling disruptive companies.

I started my career in pre-sales and customer success and rapidly moved into marketing by way of product marketing.

As a product marketer, I'm keen to make sure that all the great technologies our company develops are understood by our customers.

Most of the time, you feel that the customer only gets a sliver of the product’s full capabilities. That's what I'm passionate about - making sure that the customer understands all aspects of your product and maximizes their use of it.

I've put this mission into practice in large companies like Oracle, and in startups across a variety of segments.

So while a lot of what I’m going to share with you today will be especially relevant for enterprise software, it cuts across other markets as well.

Is 'product marketing' the right term?

I’ve often asked myself whether product marketing is the best name for our field. I wear so many different hats, that I start to wonder whether I'm still doing product marketing. I'm talking to reporters, spending my time with sales, and working on product demos – I’m not sure what team I’m not.

In truth, I don't have an answer to this question yet, but I can give you some clues on how to think about it.

When you hear how people describe the role of a product marketer, it covers so much ground, from sales enablement to content creation, to content marketing, customer problems, segmentation, Go-to-Market.

Some days you look at all this, and you're like, “Am I superhuman?”

A lot of my colleagues in product, and product management specifically, have a hard time understanding why we need product marketing. They feel that their team knows everything about the product, especially if it’s very technical.

They're often called to present to customers the more complex aspects of the product, so why do we need product marketing on top of that?

My first reaction to this confusion about the role of product marketing was to go to the same place everybody goes – Google. The first picture that comes up when you search product marketing is a Venn diagram with product marketing at the intersection of product, marketing, and sales.

So is product marketing a separate role, or does it belong to one of these functions?

Venn diagram outlining the intersection of product, marketing, and sales.

Bridging the gap between product and customer

To me, this definition was almost more confusing because, according to the diagram, product marketing dabbles in three different functions but it's not a role in itself.

I totally agree that in product marketing there's a strong product component, a strong sales component, and there's obviously a marketing component. But I feel like one thing’s missing from this picture: where’s the customer?

So I went back to the reason why I love product marketing – it's the bridge between the product and the customer.

That's what the role is about. It's almost like the last mile: product can go pretty far in terms of describing what the product is to the customer and explaining the technical features, but there's still a need to drive that benefit of the product home to the customer.

I experienced the absence of customer focus in this role at a very successful company I used to work for. 90% of meetings with customers were all about the product.

It was a product pitch, and at the end of the meeting, I always had to ask if we had learned anything about the prospect. What did they want? What were their unmet needs? We never found out.

Now this company was still very successful because it had a rockstar product that was leading in its category. However, most of us are in companies where we need to push hard to get adoption and stand out from other vendors, so we need to have our fingers on the pulse of the customer – that's a key role of product marketing.

Sadly this role is often neglected. What I keep telling my team and the product marketers I work with is that you should spend a good 30% of your time talking to customers, attending conferences, and meeting them where they're at, so that you can get an inside view of their jobs and the problems they have. Only then can you get a better picture of how your product is going to help them.

To me, the product marketing role is about having a good enough imagination to put yourself in the shoes of the customer and see how they're going to receive the product.

If you're getting ready to launch a new version, for example, it's crucial to behave as if you’re seeing the product for the first time. You might think it’s a beautiful device but quickly realize that a first-time user would have no idea how to make the most of its features.

So a core part of product marketing is building that bridge between product and customer, and closing that last mile, by looking at the product through their eyes. That realization took me beyond the definition of product marketing as just the intersection of three existing departments.

There are many definitions of product marketing - so how do we define the term?

In this article, Product Marketing Alliance's Bryony Pearce answers the question on everyone's lips: What is product marketing?

How the SaaS boom has revolutionized product marketing

Now, I’m sure it won't have escaped your notice that there has been a massive transformation in the kinds of products that are showing up on the market these days.

If you look at the most recent and popular apps, like Twilio, Slack, and Uber, they’re all SaaS products. Even Uber is a SaaS application: you turn on your phone, you exchange information, and you get a service.

For all of these new services, everybody demands a free trial; that's the first step that most prospects take when experiencing a new product.

In most cases, users have already embarked on their customer journey before you can give them the resources to understand what your product can do for them, and our role has to adapt to this.

The ubiquity of free trials has shortened the sales cycle too. Where before, you might have had to wait for marketing to deliver leads to sales, now the most qualified prospects are those who’ve already trialed your product.

A lot of that changes how we look at the product marketing role too. We need to become less attached to the product as a well-defined set of features, while the customer experience plays a more central role.

Another change brought about by the SaaS revolution is that the concept of a release doesn't exist anymore. I remember when I was at Oracle, we would work for nine months on launching each new iteration of the product. Oracle 8.0, 8i, 9.0 – there was a cycle and a rhythm to the PM role.

None of that exists anymore. You have to create milestones for your product. The last three companies I worked at were startups, and we had a new version of the product pretty much every two weeks.

There's no way you can update your content, your material, and your story every two weeks, so how do you match that cadence? By telling the ongoing story of what the product does, rather than talking purely about the latest updates.

The way we share our story with customers has had to change too, especially when it comes to the type of content we produce. 10–15 years ago, there was a lot of written content.

We were constantly working on white papers and datasheets – nobody talks about datasheets anymore; they’re a thing of the past. Nowadays, we're writing blogs and recording video content.

We have to ask ourselves, what is the best format to share our story in? An infographic? A lengthy white paper? It depends on the topic, your product, and the buyers you're trying to reach.

Sometimes I know the primary buyer is gonna have a Ph.D., so I might be better off just presenting them with an infographic, rather than trying to beat them at their favorite game and writing essays on the product.

Why product marketing should own a Go-to-Market strategy

One thing we can't get away from as product marketers is Go-to-Market strategy. I would encourage everybody to wrap their head around it and take ownership of it for your product. If you don't do it, sales or product will, and that is gonna make your life a lot more difficult.

I believe product marketing is a much better space than sales or product to orchestrate and define the Go-to-Market strategy, which to me is very simply summarized as what you sell to whom through which channels and at what price. Much like our role, go-to-market is at the intersection of sales, product, marketing, and customers, so who better to lead it than product marketers?

If you can work together with sales and product to agree on a Go-to-Market strategy and you can drive the agenda in terms of exactly how to promote the product, you’ll get amazing results.

You know your audience, you know the product is going to be well-defined, and you get to be that bridge between sales, product, marketing, and the customer.

Tune into the Ready, Set, Go-to-Market Podcast, and join Holly Watson, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Amazon Web Services.

During the series, Holly welcomes a string of GTM experts who share a breadth of transferable insights that'll enhance your internal processes.

Core competencies of a strong product marketer

We’ve established that the role of a product marketer is a rich and varied one. Let’s look now at the product marketing skills you need to pull off the myriad tasks you’re responsible for.


Product marketing involves a lot of communication skills, especially if you work at a startup because the smaller your company is, the more you're going to have to get involved in the messaging side of things.

To get your message across to customers and help them maximize the benefits of your product, you’ll need to be good at writing, speaking on video and face-to-face, and preparing slides too.

Knowing your product

This is something you can’t cut corners on – you have to know your product. I know some people disagree, but if you’re responsible for a fairly technical product, you need to have a good understanding of that technology, so you can interact credibly with product managers and engineers.

Knowing your market

Another pillar of product marketing is spending time with your market. What I mean by that is going on sales calls, going to conferences, and demanding to be in front of the prospect.

You need to hear the words your customers use, the needs they have, how they talk about them, and the challenges they have in adopting certain technologies and products.

Product marketing advice

I’d like to leave you with two final pieces of advice, which have worked very well for me in the past.

Make the role your own and the company will follow

Product marketing can be incredibly varied, so I encourage you to grab it and make it your own. You can decide to make it very marking-focused; you can decide to make it more sales-focused. You can decide whatever you want. It's up to you to make it happen.

There are going to be some constraints from the organization, but you can still set your own priorities. Right now I work at a startup, and as the first marketing person there I had to build a lot of things from scratch. I made it clear that I wanted to spend a lot of time with customers. I’m in front of the customer at least 30% of the time because that's what I want to do, so I made that happen.

Based on what you choose to focus on, the organization is going to reshape itself around you and give you the resources to fill the gaps.

If you feel you cannot fill the gap in, say, sales enablement and some of it could be filled by sales engineers, that could happen. Don't hesitate to take the reins of what you want the role to be and work with your colleagues to manifest it.

Evaluating your work against your goals

The next one applies to everyone, whatever their department or profession: keep track of where you spend your time.

Sometimes we get dragged into activities that don’t provide great returns for the business or aren’t well aligned with where we want to take our career.

If you don’t regularly check in on your goals and priorities and see how they line up with the work you’re doing, time will fly by before you realize that you’re not making the progress you’re aiming for.

It's amazing to see what can happen when you start to delegate tasks and say no to requests that are simply not your responsibility. Constantly evaluate where you are with regards to your goals and take ownership of reaching them.

Final thoughts

I still don't have an answer as to exactly what product marketing is, but it has such a critical role to play in Go-to-Market strategy, and it’s uniquely qualified to build a bridge between the organization and its customers.

So go out, connect with your market, and make the role your own.

Written by:

Isabelle Dumont

Isabelle Dumont

Isabelle Dumont is the SVP of Marketing Engagement at Cowbell Cyber.

Read More
Does product marketing deserve a new name?