Think about the last time you shopped for a gadget online. While reading the product description, what kept your attention: the tech specs, or the narrative copy?

If you work (or play) in tech, the specs may be all you needed to see. For the average shopper, however, translating gigabytes, gigahertz, RAM, megapixels, and dual-bands into speed, vibrance, storage, and connectivity makes all the difference between a sale and an abandoned shopping cart. This is especially true if the competition has taken the time to translate specs into a story that better connects with customers.

While this kind of translating and storytelling may be one part of a product marketer’s role, the work behind it and adjacent to it stretches farther, and into many company functions. I should know; I was a product marketing manager at Intel, and now work with start-ups helping them define strategic narrative and product positioning, amongst other things.

Having worked with several young product marketers, different CEOs and executives, I realized how little is understood about product marketing and its importance in the B2B startup space. I’ll follow this article with another in the future covering how a product marketing mindset can be incorporated in a startups culture.

But first, let’s start with a common question.

What is Product Marketing?

If you find yourself asking this question, you’re not alone. Product marketing is a relatively new role for B2B start-up companies, thanks to increasing customer centricity in the industry.

Despite this, there’s a lot of misunderstanding around the role of a product marketer. Many consider product marketers to be an aide to product managers. Others see the role as confined to content production, churning out white papers, case studies, FAQs, product descriptions, etc.

There is more to it. While product marketers work with product managers and produce content to win sales, the background work to accomplish those things forms an informational foundation crucial to startup success. Good product marketers define a product’s positioning and messaging using data and deep knowledge of the brand’s target audience and customers. They make informed decisions after taking competitive analysis and timing into consideration. They work with product teams, engineering, sales, and other teams to close gaps between customers and the product.

In a nutshell, product marketers are responsible for developing positioning, messaging, competitive differentiation, enabling the Sales team to close and up sell opportunities, driving Marketing teams on go-to-market strategies and empowering Product Management with customer and roadmap inputs.

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Sadly, many startups delegate the role of product marketer to members who aren’t sure where to begin. Without support, these team members reach to connect with customers, but lack the right information or ability to analyze it to do so effectively. This leads to:

  • confusion about messaging, positioning, and value propositions
  • misunderstandings about customer needs, leaving sales to struggle with closing deals
  • lack of traction in the market without a defined, in-demand solution

To solve this problem, product marketing needs to be taken more seriously.

Product Marketing: 4 Roadblocks to Overcome

Product marketing needs constantly keeping abreast of their target audience, customers, the market, and competition. The position requires intuition, communication, and a passion for seeing patterns. This allows product marketers to serve important functions in overcoming four common start-up roadblocks:

1.    Product-market fit. Product marketing isn’t just translating tech specs into benefits and pretty slides. If the product doesn’t fit the market, it will fail. Last year, Hackernoon dug into CBI’s Insights on startup failure and found that 42% of start-ups fail due to poor product-market fit. Think about it. That's almost 1 in 2 startups. All the consumer-friendly content in the world can’t overcome a product strategy that hasn’t incorporated the needs of the people a startup depends on the most: its customers.

2.    Positioning and messaging. Understandably, company founders and executives are deeply invested in their product. Often, the product is a result of personal inspiration, passion, and even sacrifice. Because of this, they see the product from a position that few customers can empathize with. Shifting messaging away from “sell” to “buy” requires understanding what problems customers are experiencing and how the product solves them. Once customers see their needs met in messaging, rather than simply what a product does, they’ll be more inclined to make a purchase. Without this alignment, a company ends up with confusing messaging and unclear value propositions resulting from too many positional inputs.

3.    Sales enablement. If you’ve spent any time working with Sales teams, you know that silence is a compliment. This is achieved when leads come to sales with nearly all the information they need to make a purchasing decision, and they’re already leaning towards making the buy. Sales enablement is crucial to the success of a company; it is the behind-the-scenes machine to winning customers. If a product marketer isn’t talking to Sales, however, they miss out on a key insight to where funnels may be leaking. More importantly, they miss out on finding out which deals aren't closing and why, and how they can adjust product positioning or something else to fix that.

4.    Go-to-market. When marketing teams operate in silos, it simply doesn’t work. Independent plans for demand generation, content, and public relations with no intercommunication are doomed to fail. A product marketer depends on all of these teams to drive a go-to-market plan, but often don’t have the authority to do so. With marketing spending and effort spread thin across resources and campaigns, finding traction in the market becomes nearly impossible. Marketing needs to come together with a unified vision about what they want their audience to know, and a product marketer can provide that.

Like many other things in life, doing all of the above right is easier said than done.

Incorporating Start-Up Product Marketing

So, what’s the secret to good product marketing? How can product marketers drive results despite these roadblocks?

Keep an eye out for my next article on how to do just that. In it, I’ll go over each of the four roadblocks and how to overcome them.