With more people tempted by the prospect of leaving their current role behind and seeking pastures new as a Product Marketing Manager, we're keen to give you some advice on best practices for transitioning into the field and the product marketing skills that'll help you flourish.
We were lucky enough to be joined by an outstanding pair of product marketers plying their trade at Google.
Vincent Xu is the company’s Android Product/Partnerships Marketing Lead for the Asia-Pacific region, while Srikant Nayak is the Marketing Head of Android, Chrome, and Google Play Store for APAC. They shared their insights on:
- Pre-product marketing experience,
- How to transfer applicable skills to a product marketing career,
- Reasons for transitioning into a product marketing career,
- Tips when transitioning into product marketing,
- What makes a great product marketer, and
- How to find a product marketing mentor.
Pre-product marketing experience
“I started my career at Procter & Gamble, working in global, regional, and local B2C roles. We worked on fabric care and baby care. I dealt mainly with brand management and leading new product launches with large-scale media campaigns. Classic consumer-packaged-goods (CPG) marketing 101 is where I started.
“Later, I switched over to KFC in the quick-service restaurant industry. It’s a highly emotional category: food is very real, and when people are hungry, they get angry, so there are some very interesting roles over there.
“From a business model standpoint, it's all about retail marketing because it’s a product as well as a service business.
“Now, I'm with Google, working on a portfolio of Google platform products, mainly Android, Google Assistant, and Google Play Store, and I also look after Chrome and anything related to Chrome OS – that's the core of my role here.
“We do a lot of partnership marketing work, which is very different from what I did previously. Partner marketing is all about the win-wins. You have to think about how to come up with marketing campaigns that make sense for Google, for Google’s ecosystem, our partners, and ultimately, of course, the consumer.”
“I started my career in finance, looking into strategy and operations. And that includes budget, resource allocation, finding opportunities to drive more value impact, prioritizing market entry, stuff like that.
“For the past two years, I’ve been doing more traditional product and partnership marketing with some of our largest telecommunications and OEM partners around Asia-Pacific.
“That entails working closely with local marketers to set the roadmap, launch campaigns, and allocate resource funding. Srikant is my direct manager, so we often have discussions around the strategic direction of Android and how to think big and make a name for Android.”
How to transfer applicable skills to a product marketing career
“I see my career as a pyramid, with the top being what I do now and my time in finance forming the foundation.
“During my time working in finance, I had a structured training program and worked with numbers on a day-to-day basis. This allowed me to enhance my analytical skills. Understanding large datasets and how to analyze and tease out trends/insights is key to the marketing work I do today.
“I guess the middle layer of the pyramid is when I joined Google’s strategy and operations organization. I applied the skills I’d picked up in finance to marketing, identifying new revenue-generating opportunities.
“Finally, I got to take the essence of my strategy operations experience and my finance experience into more traditional marketing. I married all those experiences and skillsets to drive the products’ ultimate success in the market. I think that the successes I’ve had in marketing would have been a lot harder to accomplish if I hadn't had that finance and strategy experience.
Getting a variety of experiences over the past years has been awesome. It's been such a great learning experience.”
Reasons for transitioning into a product marketing career
“For me, the main thing is that, ultimately, I wanted to be closer to the end-user and do something that has a tangible impact on people's lives. I get to do that in my current role, where I work with users pretty closely and get to understand how our products directly influence them.”
“The reason why I started in marketing is that, fresh out of college, I didn't know much about where each career trajectory would take me, but I knew a couple of things: I love working with people, I love understanding how their minds work, I love creating narratives that appeal to them, and lastly, I wanted to make a large-scale impact, no matter what I did.
“If you look at all these principles together, product marketing is at the sweet spot where they all meet. To get anything done in this field, you have to work with cross-functional teams and collaborate with your peers. This is great for me as a people person. What’s more, campaigns can have a huge impact on a large consumer base.”
Tips for transitioning into product marketing
“From my perspective, there are three things that I would recommend you do:
“Firstly, talk to people. If you're not in marketing and you want to find out more about it, reach out to some marketers. Join the Product Marketing Alliance Slack channel where there’s a network of over 20,000 marketing professionals. Connect and talk to people about their experiences and how they transitioned into their roles.
“Once you've had a lot of experiences of talking with people, check out specialist product marketing books and read up on things.
“Product Marketing Alliance is also super helpful. They publish tons of resources to help you understand what marketing is all about and what marketers do on a day-to-day basis. Once you read up, you can reflect and think about the existing skills you have that you can transfer, and identify areas for improvement.
“Finally, if you have the opportunity, I would recommend getting some hands-on experience. At Google, we have this thing called 20% projects, which is where you spend 80% of your time on your core role, and the other 20% you can spend experiencing something else.
"We've had people from, say, sales take up marketing projects for three to six or sometimes even nine months. If you can do something similar in your organization, I would strongly recommend it."
“As a marketeer, you need to be curious – that's the most important thing for me. As I said earlier, you cannot do this job in isolation. No matter what function or role you’re doing, as long as you’re curious about the cross-functional conversations, and not just focused on the work you do, that's the first step to being a successful marketer.
“Then, as your curiosity grows, you might want to listen in on marketing conversations. I’ve had people come to me in the past and say, “Hey, that's an interesting project. Mind if I sit in on your meetings?” I did that myself when I used to head marketing at KFC Asia. I was interested in the development function and I would sit in on one of their meetings each week. It helped me understand how their function operates and think differently about the business.
“Also, communicate with the marketing leads in your organization. If there’s a project where you can add value, get involved. Maybe not every company has a formal 20% program like Google, but even so, there’s nothing to stop you from going out there talking to the marketing team and figuring out what they are working on.
“And another thing to your point on reading: I think marketing seems very glossy and glamorous from the outside, but that might not always be the case. Doing your research and understanding what you are signing up for before you commit to marketing is important.
“Lastly, there are so many different types of roles within marketing. It differs depending on whether you’re in a local, regional, or global setup, and which company you’re a part of. You might not be interested in everything that marketing has to offer, so figure out which part appeals most to you and pursue that.”
What makes a great product marketer?
“The first thing is sort of a cliche, but honestly, people lose sight of it: can you keep the consumer or the user front and center of all decisions? Are you genuinely curious about the consumer who will ultimately be using your product? That’s the number one thing for me.
“Also, never take what a consumer says at face value. You’ll see as you do customer and market research that what the consumer says is not always what they truly mean, so you have to dig deep and ask yourself why. I typically ask myself why five times before I arrive at the final answer. So that's the number one: keep the user front and center and dig deep to draw out insights.
“The second key to being a great product marketer is that you have to be genuinely interested in people. Do you love working with people? Are you able to work cross-functionally with a range of teams across different platforms?
“A good way to evaluate that is to ask yourself if at the end of the day you feel tired from talking to people, or if talking to people energizes you. If you can answer that question for yourself, then you’ll know whether you’ll do well in marketing or not.
“And the third one is, how good are you at storytelling? You need to be able to drive a compelling narrative, on two levels. A: Convincing stakeholders and higher-ups that your idea is important, and B: telling your story in a simple way to the consumer.
"There might be 10 things about your product that you want to tell consumers, but can you pick the one or two things that are most important to them, and can you compellingly do that?”
“You hit the nail on the head, Srikant.
“I'll just add one more point, which is that it's about attitude. Having worked with more junior marketers, I think that attitude can make or break a marketer. Someone can come in very bright and be able to do all the work but if they don’t have the right attitude, it’s not going to work out.
“I would rather work with someone who might not have a strong background or might not be great with numbers or whatnot but has that attitude, like you said, of curiosity and wanting to learn and work with people. Long-term, there’s nothing more conducive to the longevity of someone in this sector than the right attitude.”
How to find a product marketing mentor
“Readers might be wondering how they can source a product marketing mentor.”
“Number one: don't be afraid to ask. You might be thinking, “If I reach out to this person, am I bothering them? What if they don't respond?” But often, people are just as excited to be mentors as you are about learning.
“I had a lot of mentorship throughout my career, so paying it forward is super important. When someone reaches out to me, I take that as an honor. And, what's the worst that can happen? They don't respond – big deal! There are thousands of other marketers you can reach out to for advice.
“And then once you set up a time to chat with someone, having a general roadmap of what you want to get out of the discussion is pretty important. Think about the questions you want to ask. It’s a good idea to do a little bit of background digging on their professional experiences too, so you can have a more informed conversation.
“At the same time, you want to leave the discussion open to new ideas and topics. You might start with three or four general questions, but let the rest of the conversation flow and build a rapport with the person. The conversation might end up going in a completely different direction from what you expected and that's okay. Setting up that rapport is critical.”
“I completely agree with Vincent. He mentioned that there's no harm in asking; in fact, being a mentor is a very gratifying experience, so you should think that you're allowing them to mentor you.
"People genuinely love sharing what they have learned. If you go with an open mind and you have a genuine question, people will more often than not be happy to help you out.
“There’s also a psychological safety in mentorship, so don't hold back. It's a space where the more you share about yourself or your business, the more they will care, and the better the quality of the conversation will be.
“The third thing I'll say is about picking the right mentor. It's difficult for somebody to completely understand the context that you operate in, so if possible, my advice would be to pick a mentor who is loosely connected to your business and will understand the context that you operate in. However, they still need to be removed enough to be able to give you objective feedback.
“Lastly, if you’re the mentor, make sure you listen. Listening is the best thing you can do for your mentee. Also, be sure to ask tough questions and give brutally honest feedback.
"At Google we use a framework called Radical Candor – it's also a published book. The two main principles are caring personally and challenging directly; if you're able to do both, you’ll be a fantastic mentor.”
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Tune into the Product Marketing Careers Podcast
Pop in your AirPods and join Al Dea, former Senior Product Marketing Manager at Salesforce, as he hosts the Product Marketing Careers Podcast.
In each episode, Al discusses career topics with guests from esteemed companies such as LinkedIn, Klue, Zendesk, and more.