If you’re working at a small company or a large one and you’re pivoting to offer a new product or change the emphasis and how you’re messaging your company and what you do, I hope you can use this article as a launchpad and example to get you started.
I’ll explain the importance of understanding your challenges, the world your customer lives in, and how to tell your story with purpose for maximum impact, plus my top tips for success from our experiences.
My name’s Dan O’Farrell, I'm with a company named IGEL, it's a German-headquartered organization, and I'm going to use what we did at IGEL to help reposition the company as an example of how you can go about that.
Product marketing is awesome
Product marketing is a pretty cool job because not everybody can do this. You can think about it as being an SE for the product, you don't really have to be that expert, but you do need to have the credibility to understand what you're marketing.
You've got to be able to understand the product, if you don't understand it, you really can't craft the appropriate messaging.
On the other side, you have to be a great communicator, whether it's written or verbal, you really should be able to do both. When I interview somebody to join the team, I really pay close attention to their ability to communicate and their ability to potentially tell a story.
Not everybody has that skill, that's both left brain and right brain. A lot of us work with engineers and product managers, we know what end of the spectrum they're at. A lot of us work with some of the outbound marketing folks, and they kind of tend to be at the other end of the spectrum.
We're a little bit unique in that we can do both.
What I've learned is that a lot of what I learned as a kid, I've been able to apply to what makes for a very effective product marketer.
Understand your challenges
Number one is to understand challenges. Not just the challenges that you might be facing as a company, but you've got to understand the challenges of your customers, and maybe their customers.
Because we're a business to business organisation, B2B, so we sell to companies. In our case, our biggest challenge as a company was we were selling these devices, you might have heard the phrase 'thin client'.
What these things do is they project a Windows experience to the user, even though Windows is actually running in the data center. So all of us with our laptops, we have complete freedom, because we've got these laptops with us, we've got Windows running on the laptops, we can get to our apps wherever we are.
But in certain businesses like hospitals, and government, and banks, schools, like lecture halls and labs, they want to be able to limit what people can do on those devices. They run Windows in the data center and they present the Windows experience to the keyboard and the mouse to the user, it feels exactly the same, yet, everything's actually running elsewhere.
We're in that business. Healthcare is the biggest by far, healthcare is really, really keen on doing it this way because of the regulations, because of how critical it is to protect patient information, for example, with HIPAA in the US and GPR.
We're known as a box vendor and what we've done is we figured, "Okay, where's the world going?" We're selling these devices, we're competing with the likes of HP and Dell, who are much bigger than us and we're figuring like, "Well, look what's happened with Office 365. Look at all this cloud stuff".
There’s a revolution at the edge
Throughout my career, the cloud was always this thing that was going to happen. Well, it's here, the cloud is here, most of us are accessing apps in the cloud, kids are playing games in the cloud, everything is becoming more cloud-based.
We figured, okay, if the world's moving toward the cloud, why don't we just focus on the software aspect and allow our software to run on any device to enable easy cloud access?
That was the pivot that the company took because we were looking at what was going on. Whether it's a hospital or a bank, or you're at home, the whole concept here is that more and more is happening out of the cloud.
The hyper-mobile user
We're all hypermobile, wherever you are, whether you're in a hotel room, your coffee shop, it doesn't matter, we're all hypermobile but we want to have that great user experience.
That's fine, but to this guy in an enterprise who's trying to control what people do, he cares about security, cares about permissions, and policies based on what's enabled in Active Directory based on your job.
They're afraid of this because we've got data running amok and users all over the place accessing it. There's this classic push, pull between security and control, and then freedom so people like us can get our jobs done, and maybe play as well.
Understand the world your customers live in
The key to this is we know where the world's going, people want freedom, companies still want to control information, what's the world that your customers live in? You'll hear the word empathy a lot.
Know your customer
You really need to understand what is keeping your customer awake at night, because ideally, you'd like to have him snooze like this guy bottom right.
You have to understand what's keeping them up and you have to understand where the world is going.
Know their customer
If you think about these young kids now who are coming into the workforce, they are growing up with cloud-based services, they play in the cloud with their friends, this kid's upstairs in his room yelling and screaming because he's playing a game and one kid's in Pittsburgh and the other buddy's down in Miami and they're collaborating and having fun, right?
He shops in the cloud, he got that cool sweater in the cloud. They socialized in the cloud - that's both a good and a bad thing. In fact, I was talking to a buddy of mine the other day, he wants to get his kid off now because the kid is just constantly online so that's a challenge that parents have nowadays that they didn't have when I was growing up.
He expects to work in the cloud. When he graduates from university, he expects when he gets there, he's not going to have to radically change his habits for both work and play. You better be able to accommodate that if you want to retain people.
70% of the population will be what we call millennials or younger by 2020.
Tell your story
This is all about storytelling. I mean, the key talent we should all have is the ability to tell a good story. For example, any good story is going to have a good beginning, where you are today, and where it's going.
Because customers would much rather hear a story than you just saying how great your product is. A story is human nature. If someone's telling you a story, you want to know where it's going. You're curious, it creates curiosity.
So when we talk about our company, we talk about how it started in Bremen, Germany, as part of this other company called Melchers. Where we are today is grabbing market share from some of the biggest companies in the world.
But really what's important in marketing is to figure out where you're going so that everything you do is leading up toward that. Every product release is a proof point in that ongoing story.
All the collateral that you create should be reporting up like a bomb to that story, so that you're constantly getting that message out, supporting where you're going because you want to take your customers there.
What works really well is origin stories like this is the garage that Hewlett and Packard started in Palo Alto, California.
That makes for a good story, wow these two guys started in a garage then they built this giant company.
Another origin story is Dell, Michael Dell, his dorm room at the University of Texas in Austin.
We figured okay, well, we had humble beginnings, we were up in the attic on the top floor of this little building in Bremen, Germany.
That's kind of cool, somewhat similar to the others. In fact, our first three developers were up in those dormer windows, I guess we've got this thing about attics.
They were up there working on the initial software and now the company has grown to the point where we now have a US headquarters in San Francisco and we're dwarfed by the Salesforce building.
The power of the cloud
What's so amazing is that if you look at old posters of San Francisco, the signature building was the Transamerica Tower, and now you almost don't even see it because of the Salesforce Tower and the LinkedIn Tower, and guess what? Those are both evidence of the cloud.
That's what the cloud is doing, it's literally reshaping skylines. So we're down at the bottom someplace, in a cool little building but we are still in the attic.
Where are we are is in the middle of our story and that's the origin - attics.
Now we're gaining market share, I'm not going to bore you with all these stats, I don't want to brag about who we are, this is for another purpose.
Know and communicate your purpose
Now you know who you are, you know what your purpose is (or you've got to figure out what your purpose is).
The IGEL story
Just so you know, our software runs on anything. The reason a lot of people buy our software is that you've got all these PCs, a lot of companies will do what they call the hardware refresh every three or four years, they ditch them to get the new hardware because that requires the new Intel processors to support the latest version of Windows.
It's like this wicked cycle, those three companies just keep feeding each other.
What we do is we say, "Look, hold on to your old equipment, it's got more than enough horsepower, if you're gonna put Windows in the data center and drop our lightweight software on the endpoint, - save lots of money".
Millions, in some cases, operational means it's easy to manage these things and then security, which everybody cares about.
You innovate to make sure that you keep these mobile people real happy while giving that guy the control he needs to make sure nobody does what they should not be doing. Nobody's accessing information they should get access to. It's pretty simple.
Who are we?
At IGEL we decided we're the next-gen EDGE OS for cloud workspaces. If our software is going to run on all these endpoint devices where you really care about controlling what people can and cannot do, we'll put it on all these endpoints because everything's moving to the cloud anyway.
Look at what's happened with Office 365, a lot of companies are now running office 365, instead of traditional Office. We believe that Windows, believe it or not, there's going to be a day maybe 10 years from now, where most people are going to be accessing their Windows apps not locally on that device, but in the cloud. Mark my words.
Don't be an island
In this case, what we're saying is work with partners. Nobody has a complete system, end to end solution by themselves, you need to work with partner companies.
We work with over 80 technology partners, and that's how you complete the end to end story working with all these guys.
For example, all these interfaces, and all these protocols, and all these drivers that these guys support are integrated into our operating system. It gives us a very powerful story for customers who want an end solution. So work well with partner technologies.
Play really well with others
By that, I mean, if you're working with partners who complement your technology, write co-branded solution briefs, create cheat sheets with that other company, put your logos on top of those deliverables so that you guys are actually not only doing a great thing to help promote your end to end solution, you're now opening yourself up to their entire instal base, to their entire target customers, so you can immediately and very quickly expand your potential customer view.
We work with a lot of guys like VMware and Citrix and all those guys who are involved in this type of technology, and we create a lot of these pieces with them, many of them co-branded.
As a writer, I love doing this stuff, I like working with these people, the process is really simple. Give me your top five bullets, I'll add our top five bullets, that'll craft a story by looking at it, I'll write a narrative preamble, I'll write a summary, I'll send it over to you guys, we go back and forth and iterate.
I knocked out something in about 10 days with one of our partner companies to get ready for Microsoft Ignite, which was last week. That was fun for me.
The other resource is your customers. We're really big on video. We have a phrase inside the company that says customer stories rule - there's no better advocate for your product than your customer.
‘Don't believe me, I've got marketing attached to my title so you might be a little bit skeptical anyway, let our customers tell you’ - we're really big on this.
We're moving away from these kinds of talking head videos, which can be kind of boring. We're moving more into the narrative where you're walking through the facility, we're adding some graphics and stuff like that. But telling stories in a 90-second video is a great way to get your message across.
We're really social and we've really converged on LinkedIn, for business to business, we believe LinkedIn is the place where people go.
We are very social, we'll put all kinds of stuff out there, new assets, new deals, events coming up, recent events, that kind of thing. Any kind of news we'll link to, we create what we call social cards. We're big on LinkedIn. We also do use Twitter. By the way, this is our mascot Zippy the hedgehog.
We highlight Zippy at a lot of our events too and that creates a lot of excitement.
Support your community
We've got a lot of business and we get a lot of support and build a lot of presence through our customer base, because we have a community, just get to it via IGELcommunity.com.
This is where people can share ideas and experiences, and talk about how they're using the technology. You get this great banter back and forth between advocates for your technology, and it builds a momentum of its own.
We'll leverage this, if we're gonna run a marketing program or campaign, we'll make sure that we highlight it inside the community because that really helps it to take off.
As you build your install base, the community gets better and bigger than ever. Then you can start putting quotes that these guys made as they talk about why they like your product in the community.
I think this is a pretty cool job in product marketing because you get to learn the products, you get to spend time with sales, you spend time with product management. We're kind of like this middle ground between all this so it's a great experience. It's fun.
People. Product. Plan
We believe great companies include people, product, and plan, if you've got really good people, and every company says that 'we've got great people', we're really big on references, we're really big on bringing people that we already know are good.
We have done a lot of hiring and we bring in a lot of people we've worked with before, it takes the mystery out of it. Because no matter how well you interview, and you get all the examples and all that, it's still like going to the track, you put your money on the horse, and sometimes it turns out to be not the greatest. People, product, and plan.
I've got a plan that I update. It's a six-month rolling plan of all the things that my team and I are involved in, and we flip it over an extra month as each month goes by and it's a timeline.
I believe the best plans show a timeline so people know when things are happening, just the key things, relative to events, relative to assets, relative to sales tools, relative to digital marketing, all the things that we're involved - not everything, but the real key highlights over time.
You really have to have that, you have to have metrics too. We have to figure out did we hit the plan or not?
The other thing that's really cool within our company, and you see various degrees of this, and a lot of this comes down from culture. Culture is defined by behaviour, and a lot of it comes down from the CEO, from that executive boardroom.
Hopefully, when you walk by your executive boardroom, you're not hearing screaming, you're hearing normal human adult conversations.
We call this servant heart within IGEL because literally, we encourage people to disadvantage themselves if necessary to help others.
We in product marketing, we are a service organization to sales. What I tell the people on my team is if sales is not hitting their numbers, I take it personally.
I feel a sense of failure if our salespeople are not doing well because I once had a CEO tell me, it was a small company, he said, "Your job is to make it easy for a dumb salesperson to sell to a dumb customer".
I'm going to rephrase that, our job is as a service organization to help sales be as successful as possible. It means that the message has got to be really easy to consume, the assets have to be quick and easy to digest, the sales tools have to be usable and not require a manual to use them.
But with that, you get this great sense of satisfaction. That's what we believe, we believe we help our peers, we help our partners, all these channel partners who sell to our end customers. And of course, we'll do whatever it takes.
There are a lot of aspects to the product marketing job. I tell people on my team if a salesperson calls you up and asks for help on a deal, drop everything, and help that salesperson because that creates an incredible bond between product marketing and sales.
Then they know you're a great group, they're going to come back to you, that's how you win trust.