Shutterstock’s Product Marketing Manager of Platform Solutions, Jing Gu, tells us why she decided to make product marketing her career despite it not being in her plans at the time, how she’s landed her dream job at Shutterstock, her opinion on the PM-PMM debate, top tips for aspiring PMMs, three most important skills and tons more.

Full transcript:

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:04

I'm thrilled to be joined by Jing Gu, Product Marketing Manager of platform solutions at Shutterstock, one of the leading providers of stock photography, stock footage, stock music, and editing tools. A product marketer based in New York City, Jing also has experience working as a marketing strategist as a private consultant, and we'll be discussing her career journey during the podcast. So a huge Welcome, Jing, and thanks for joining me on Product Marketing Insider.

Jing Gu  0:43

Thanks. Good to be here.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  0:45

Oh, no, thanks very much. It's our pleasure. So first and foremost, it would just be great to learn more about your current role at Shutterstock, if you don't mind.

Jing Gu  0:53

Yeah, so Product Marketing Manager for a business unit called platform solutions. And what that really means is Shutterstock has all of our content, the images, the videos, the music, but we also have a set of integration products. And that product portfolio includes the Shutterstock API, the editor SDK, SSO, and also all of our plugins.

So essentially, we allow our partners to recreate the Shutterstock experience within their platform, for instance, like Microsoft has an ad manager, so our API serves up images for advertisers to search, preview, license, download, and push across their ads with minimal friction within the Microsoft platform. So that is kind of the business unit that I work on and our products.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  1:48

Okay, sounds awesome, really. So what is it that made you want to become a product manager in the first place?

Jing Gu  1:55

That's a good question. I wanted to become a product marketer, because I was already doing the work of a product marketer, and didn't have a name for it. So essentially, when I started with Shutterstock, my job was to build out the content and inbound pipeline for these products, with the business unit platform solutions.

But in the process of building out content from top of funnel, thought leadership, case studies, all the way down to sales enablement, what I was really doing is refining the messaging and positioning for this suite of integration products. And at the time, I thought I was doing more than content, but what is the name for it?

So I looked around, found product marketing, and then realized that actually is very intriguing to me, because product marketing sits a little bit closer to revenue, then content marketing, which is more top of funnel demand Gen work. And I get to plug into all of our data sources and really activate that data in a sort of narrative for every single team for them to be more effective at their jobs. So it was really exciting to have found product marketing, and I made a pivot into product marketing.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:12

Amazing. And how did you get into product marketing and what did your first job look like in product marketing?

Jing Gu  3:24

So my first job in product marketing is my current job at Shutterstock. How did I get into product marketing is a good question, because it's a complete accident. I didn't even know about it as a field when I started as a marketing consultant, or even prior to that, as a project manager with a healthcare startup in LA. Let me know if you want me to dive into more details about that whole trajectory?

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  3:53

Oh, no, absolutely. Yeah, that'd be great. Yeah, I'd love to hear that.

Jing Gu  3:57

So originally, I was tracked for academia. I was supposed to get my masters and my Ph.D. and become a professor. And when I graduated undergrad, I worked at the healthcare startup in Los Angeles, as their second hire, essentially, and I did marketing, sales, data analysis, everything under the umbrella.

What really resonated was a marketing piece and I thought I could really make a career out of this if I didn't want to do academia. When I came to New York, I was doing my graduate degree in performance studies, which is just aesthetic philosophy if we want a simpler term for it. I thought to myself, if I cannot market myself, I don't really deserve to be a marketer.

So I validated whether or not marketing was a career for me by essentially starting up my own freelance agency that grew to be much bigger than I imagined it like at some point, I had creatives working for me, I had an assistant. So it was kind of a miniature agency, and I got Shutterstock as a client.

Shutterstock took over all of my time, I was doing content and inbound marketing, and then it's what I said before, I realized that what I was really doing is product marketing and I wanted to bring more value to Shutterstock, it was a really exciting product, a really great team. So I pitched the product marketing function to my managers, to senior stakeholders, they liked the idea, and we made the pivot, and that has been my job ever since.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  5:37

Okay, that must have been such a huge confidence boost, just so early on to gain a client such as Shutterstock. And then go and see that progression, and obviously, end up where you are now, that must be amazing.

Jing Gu  5:55

Yeah, Shutterstock was a huge validation that I was on the right track with marketing. And also in terms of the pivot to product marketing, I have a really supportive team, supportive senior stakeholders, who are pretty invested in the growth of their team members. So when I told them that product marketing was the thing that's going to add value for them and that I was more interested in, it was a pretty smooth conversation.

So in some ways, I did luck out with Shutterstock. But that's not to diminish any of the work I did as a freelance consultant. But, you kind of, what's the phrase I'm looking for? Opportunity favors that prepared. And at that point, I was prepared to take on the role.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  6:49

Amazing. Well, everything happens for a reason. That's why I say. So you're a product marketer with ample experience in go to market strategy. And as we know, the implementation of a go-to-market strategy at one company, it may vary to that of another. So what does the process look like at Shutterstock?

Jing Gu  7:08

The process at Shutterstock also looks different from one launch to another. We have three distinct business units with product marketing supporting each of them. For platform solutions, I created the go-to-market strategy for this business unit. It's gone through a few iterations, we're at a point where I'm pretty happy with it at the moment, it starts with opportunity validation. So you tell me we're going to launch a product, "Okay, why are we doing it? Who cares about it? And what are our competitors doing?"

So the opportunity validation, I look at segmentation, so how much of the market are we targeting? Or how many customers really care about this? Competitive analysis on feature, pricing, packaging, and delivery. Then once the validation is done, and we projected some numbers, I show these numbers to my stakeholders to get buy-in.

So when we launch these are the goals, does that sound right to you? Is there anything else we should consider and account for? Once we have buy-in, then it's roll up your sleeves and really define the messaging and positioning. So the messaging and positioning, I like to provide ample stats and testimonials to back up each value proposition. I also like to segment it by persona and buyer stage. This is for sales to be able to have a conversation confidently and on brand and on message.

And also, if we're working with the creative team, they need to know what the different buyer stage is and how to message to each of them to move folks down the funnel. Once the messaging and positioning is done, that's kind of the foundation. At that point, I start working on the channel mix and budget. If it's a self serve product, that's going to go to market differently from an enterprise product, which is going to have a lot more sales involvement, outreach efforts and then once your channel mix and budget has been defined, working backward into the collateral that's needed to support each channel.

Then you create everything, and then you launch it. Launch day for me is usually... it's not that stressful, because you've already done all your prep work so you just have to trust your sea legs. You're ready to go, your team is ready to go, just launch the thing. I don't see launches as a discrete moment in time necessarily. I really believe in ongoing optimization. There are things you can do post-launch, to re-stoke the fire, so to speak and keep people talking about the product and really capture that long tail of a launch.

You put in all this work, you might as well see some business results, right? So that's where the optimization and fast follows come in. And each launch kind of builds on another, in terms of collateral, in terms of channels, and just everything else. But that is a generic process, validation, goals, messaging, positioning, channel mix, creative process, and then launch and optimization.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  10:22

Okay, awesome. And in addition to your go-to-market strategy and your involvement with that, I mean there's no doubt surrounding the importance of collaboration as well. It was actually once considered, when we surveyed PMMs in the State of Product Marketing report, it was considered the most important skill by the sample. How do you collaborate internally at Shutterstock, to support product prioritization and to generate sales insights?

Jing Gu  10:59

First of all, excellent report, I read all of PMA’s reports, whether that's State of Product Marketing, or sales enablement, all of them are amazing. Chocked full of data, I love them. Collaboration is absolutely the most important skill, nothing gets done. And I don't mean that in a negative way. But any success I've been able to have as a product marketer is because I have a great team supporting and that I support in return.

So in terms of product prioritization, I try to give product as much data and information as they need to understand the marketplace and the ways in which it's evolving. They have a very packed roadmap, they have different things they want to prioritize, so in terms of the inputs that I provide product, I will share results and analysis on customer satisfaction surveys. So which vertical has which problem? Which persona has what types of comments? Because usually, you see themes starting to form around those two focus areas.

Beyond customer satisfaction, I also conduct competitive analysis, which is shared across the team. It's both on a features level, it's on pricing, it's also on discoverability. So which API directories are our competitors listed in? Should we consider that directory for ourselves? I also share visitor level analytics. So traffic from different regions, what people are clicking on when they click on an email, as well as persona-based challenges.

I joined their user testing sessions and we talk about pricing and packaging together. So all of that information, I provide to product with some sort of feedback. It's not just here's the info run with it, I'll say "Okay, it really seems like people are having trouble with the updates endpoint in the API, for instance, that problem has been seen in the customer satisfaction survey in these verticals with these personas. And it's impacting their experience with the product. So what can we do to push this forward?", and in saying that product hears "Oh, this is actually a problem", they receive the validation they need to prioritise features differently.

And the update endpoint was updated I think in July or August of this year, following our satisfaction surveys. In terms of sales, they receive a very similar set of inputs in terms of data. But I also with sales, I will review pipeline, so closed one, closed lost, why, I will also provide them case studies and cohort analysis just to say, "Okay, when you're talking to a prospect in this vertical, here's a company that's similar to that, that has seen great success, or in terms of the analysis, partners in this vertical see an X percentage growth year over year, wouldn't you want this to be your company?".

The other really special thing with sales is, I find sales to be incredibly dynamic, they're on the front lines, they're adjusting their pitches, essentially on the fly to fit the person that they're talking to. I don't necessarily get that rapid feedback loop in the market. So I also try really hard to stay on pace with sales. I'm not mad if they don't stick to messaging or positioning 100% because they need to do what they need to do to get the prospect to be interested, to say yes, so when they start presenting a product or feature differently, I want to understand why.

It's happened in the past where for one vertical, we started talking about back end versus front end, it's kind of on a very technical basis, but sales started talking about it in terms of a customer-oriented distinction. And that was incorporated across all of our collaterals because it was much clearer, it was much cleaner and it's customer-focused.

So with sales, I give them everything, I provide the collaterals, even like custom mockups, onboarding modules, and training, but I also really value that feedback from them just in terms of like, what are you hearing in the market? Three is a trend if something has happened two or three times, let me know. That is the general collaboration between product and sales. We have formal meetings, but sometimes we also are very active on Slack. So lots of gifs are exchanged.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  15:49

Okay. And in terms of teams outside of marketing, like product, operations, sales, like you say, which departments do you have the most interaction with? And what's your relationship like with them?

Jing Gu  16:04

Yeah, so platform solutions is unique in that we're a startup within Shutterstock. We have our own marketing, sales, operations, partner management, which is customer success. That just means that I collaborate a lot with the broader marketing org at the Shutterstock mothership level, so to speak. But outside of marketing, I work really closely with our API engineers. Because they build a lot of the awesome features that we have.

Sometimes I have really stupid questions, but they're very patient with me, which I appreciate. I think we have a really good working relationship, I will sit in on their demos to understand how they work with API's, the product lifecycle. In the past, we've also brainstormed names together, because developers are a primary audience for integration products.

So sometimes I use them as a small beta group, just to say, how does this name sound to you? What do you think when I say term, x, y, or z? Gather their feedback and we've done brainstorming sessions in the past and came up with product names that were actually launched. So Shutterstock UI, for instance, which is a developer tool, that was all of the engineers’ brain juices flowing together, so we have a good working relationship.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  17:32

So that's interesting, it's almost like pooling your resources, and coming together to form... in many ways, taking a brief to the team and just getting their insights and then coming out with something tangible at the end of it.

Jing Gu  17:48

Absolutely. A lot of times in B2B marketing, you have a lot of the stakeholders that you would potentially target already within your internal teams. So if you just want quick feedback on something, there's no reason not to ping someone and just say, "Hey, really want to get your eyes on this. You fit the persona. If someone were to pitch you this, what would you think?" Yes, I do that not just with the engineers, but with other folks in the team as well.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  18:17

And I'm going to throw the question to you next that everyone always stands back and says, I'm not too sure about this one. What does a standard day in the life at Shutterstock look like if there is such thing as a standard day?

Jing Gu  18:31

A standard day, I am still waiting for one. My first response to that question is just yikes, a standard day. It's very different. Let's see. So I'm pretty hands-on with content creation, I started my career in content, I'm pretty comfortable with it. So landing pages, blogs, collateral, case studies. Really good content takes time. So that still takes up some percentage of my day, I try to stay really close to the data.

I would say I spend like 10 to 15% of my time on data analysis, whether that's Salesforce, competitor, market research, things of that sort. We have a pretty robust co-marketing program that I also oversee, so interfacing with partners, getting their launches live, making sure social press, content teams are on form. A lot of my day, well, maybe not a lot, but every day this is consistent, I have to stay on top of all the ongoing launches and projects.

I use JIRA, there's ticket management and project management, prioritization that might happen on a day to day basis. And there are so many other things. If someone needs a custom mockup for an integration, I will drop things to do that, because that means a conversation with tier one partner or prospect is happening. And I want that to happen as quickly as possible. Or sometimes our team is rapidly growing and I need to update the org chart for instance. So really a mix, but content, data, co-marketing, project management, prepping for launches, those are the cornerstones.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  20:31

It seems to be in a growing trend with the more product marketers that I speak to, they all say there is no such thing as a standard day in product marketing. So I'm not gonna lie Jing I wasn't expecting anything different. And so going back to what you were saying about your team itself, can you tell us a little bit about your direct team in terms of the number of people within the team and what roles they have?

Jing Gu  21:08

Sure, I think currently, as I mentioned before, we are in a hiring phase right now. So it is bound to change. Also, we're hiring for a global director of marketing, demand Gen, marketing operations, and marketing manager in case anyone is interested and wants to throw their hat into the ring. In terms of my direct team, I am currently the only product marketer on platform solutions. I am currently the only marketer on platform solutions.

So it is a team of one, it hasn't always been this way, and it will not be this way for very long. But that's where we're operating first. And I think right now I report up to the Senior Director of Business Development. So I'm very closely aligned with sales, which has been really helpful in terms of just aligning your KPIs and understanding how the work you do has an impact on revenue. But as I said, we are actively hiring for a number of roles. So that will not be the case for very long.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  22:26

Sounds exciting, though, it's always nice to hear about any company growing and getting bigger, and especially in the current circumstances with COVID and the impact that's having in product marketing and beyond. It's nice to hear companies are getting bigger and thriving. So that's fantastic.

So with research and data-driven content also being pivotal to your role, there are a variety of research methods that are obviously used by product marketers, what's your favorite approach at Shutterstock? And what tips would you give to PMMs who maybe perhaps experiencing kickback from customers during their search for feedback?

Jing Gu  23:10

My favorite approach - nothing beats talking to customers and prospects, it's just, I only have so many hours in a day, and that becomes unscalable very quickly. So that is still my best approach for gathering feedback. But there are also other ways to gather that information. I particularly really like using paid channels as a way to gather feedback. So what we did was in our content syndication campaign, we have a small drop-down that just says, 'What is your biggest challenge?', and we gather that information from content syndication leads, the great thing about that is you can segment the information by region, and by title, and by seniority to understand what their top challenge is.

And content syndication is an active ongoing channel for us so we gather a lot of data fairly quickly, without much friction to the users, so to speak. And it's been really insightful. EMEA has a different set of challenges from North America, for instance, and we wouldn't have known that had we not had that drop down in the paid acquisition campaigns. Another way to use pay that I really like is running a search ad. So an SEM ad to test messaging, you only have so many characters on Google to drive a click-through so if your messaging is on point for high intent keyword, your click-through rates will be higher versus a messaging that is a little more lackluster. So that's a really great way to just test messaging on the fly.

And if you have a good variation, there's no reason that paid campaign can't generate leads for you. So two birds with one stone. Also if you have time obviously hopping on sales calls, looking over Salesforce notes. If Salesforce is your CRM, whatever your CRM is, and because we have an active co-marketing program, sometimes on partner calls, I will just ask questions about different things that their users are facing, different things they're experiencing with the product, what they like, what they don't like. So all of these less aggressive ways result in the accumulation of a lot of data.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  25:35

In addition to that, as well, you also define product messaging, and positioning as part of your role. Both of which are a crucial part of the overall product marketing strategy. But many people do get it wrong, what would be your words of wisdom, if you like for product marketers to help them execute these areas with greater accuracy?

Jing Gu  26:01

First of all, it's okay to get these things wrong. I think we're not mind readers, if I were a mind reader, I would be an excellent product marketer, but I also wouldn't do product marketing. I think sometimes, if you get it wrong, at least you know it's wrong and that can be a data point to get it right the next time. In terms of executing messaging and positioning with greater accuracy there is nothing that beats data, what I like to do is I like to triangulate the messaging from your features, your customers’ needs, and the competitive landscape.

You take all that together, and based on your market understanding, and putting that into simple words, simple, concise, clear, sharp, good words, I don't know how to explain that in greater detail, it just has to pack a punch. But the punch really comes from understanding your customers’ needs and how you're meeting them better than your competitors. That's why I triangulate between features, needs, and competitors.

Once you get that messaging, test, just launch it. What does the first month look like? What does your click-through rate look like? Are people converting beyond the click? Are they actually converting to MQLs? What's down funnel impact? If you have the opportunity, AB tests on your landing page. Again, SEM ads are a really great proxy metric just for testing messaging, because the ones that convert higher are going to be your more powerful messaging because somebody searched for something, saw your link, or saw your ad, and decided that it was compelling enough to click through.

That compellingness of the messaging is hard to get right but I think just testing it, either that's paid or a banner, a banner AB test, whatever it is helps you get closer to to the bullseye.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  28:01

It's almost like never just go with your gut instinct, you've got to always test your assumptions haven't you? For want of a better way of saying it, you can't wing it, you need to go with it and you need to make sure that what you have in your mind is right, I suppose, and the best way to go. In terms of skill sets, going back to skill sets, what would you say the top three skills that you have, that have helped you get to where you are today are?

Jing Gu  28:39

This is very easy because, for me, it absolutely comes down to writing. Writing skills are critical. Writing, speaking, language skills, you need to articulate the vision of your product, you need to articulate the value of product marketing, you need to articulate the value of the data that you're giving people. And you need to understand how to frame all of that and make an argument. An argument essentially is kind of your business case for why product marketing exists, for why your product exists. So that is a core skill.

Data analysis. Don't be afraid of numbers and don't be afraid of text. There are still ways to make meaning out of text, which is segmentation by verticals, by persona, frequency, sentiment analysis, there are tools online that you can run text through to get a sentiment analysis. So writing, data analysis, and the last one is relationship management.

You've got to treat your stakeholders like they're your audience too and also trust is earned. So I wouldn't expect to walk into a new job or even at Shutterstock att first, you have to really build up that trust by giving people things that they can put into action right away and see results from, whether that's a deck, or that's a piece of research, whatever it might be, but those are the three skills I use every day and is critical for product marketing, in my opinion.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  30:07

Okay, sounds great. In a perfect world, where does the role of a PM and a PMM begin and end in your view? And do you think that there should be almost like lines in terms of their responsibilities?

Jing Gu  30:21

I'm very open to how other people are thinking about this and this is where the previous episodes on the podcast have been really helpful. My take is that the lines between product, marketing, engineering, and sales is getting blurrier by the day. Everyone has a role to play in outcomes around retention, acquisition, monetization, it's not a one-person game anymore.

I think the responsibilities are getting blurry. In terms of where the responsibilities begin and end, for me, I think the clearest way to differentiate is on an execution level because execution for product marketing and product management look very different. And that requires a deep level of expertise. A product manager knows how to build a product roadmap, knows how to allocate resources with engineering, and to push that through from a project through from a product perspective. Whereas product marketing has more expertise around channel, channel mix, even demand Gen, data analysis.

So execution, I think is going to stay very specialized. But on a top-level, prioritization, messaging, positioning, all of those things, for me, at least, is already collaborative. And I don't really believe in a dichotomy between product management and product marketing, because at the end of the day if we can work together and have stronger messaging, a stronger go to market plan, I'm all for it, we're all on the same team.

So for me, the line comes down on an execution level and where the expertise lies. Again, I'm open to other ways of thinking about this, but that is where I am right now.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  32:17

I suppose in many ways, you can kind of just boil it down to the, as you were saying before, about collaboration being just so important, and making sure that everyone,  wherever possible, making sure they're pulling in the same direction because if you've got two sets of people are two groups, or different amounts of teams pulling in different directions, it's not going to be conducive to positive results, is it really? So I can totally see where you're coming from. In a dream world, is there anything that you would change about product marketing?

Jing Gu  32:50

Product marketing as a role, as a job, I love, I love every piece of it, I love product marketing. My thing about product marketing right now is more of the market conception of it, and how people work with product marketing, which as product marketers, you would think we would be really good at positioning and messaging around this. But the general education I think could be improved. And just two things.

I think product marketing needs to be involved from the conception of a feature or a development and not an afterthought. Because product marketing sits on a lot of data that can inform whether or not this feature should be built, when it should be built, what it should be packaged with, whatever that might be. And if you involve product marketing too late, you kind of tie up the hands of your product marketer, and they can't really add as much value as they could.

The second thing I would change in terms of the market conception is product marketing is not a collateral factory, product marketing, at its best, serves as a strategic partner to sales, to customer success, to product, to SEO, to every other team. So to just relegate it into more of a collateral focused role, I think, you're getting maybe a percentage of the value that you possibly could get out of your PMMs. And I think businesses would be stronger if they activated all of product marketers’ skill sets around data, around strategic thinking, and around messaging and positioning.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  34:36

Yeah, sure. And it's almost like there's this sense of diversity in terms of the different roles within product marketing, that are bringing in so many different people, or generating so much appeal with people from all sorts of different backgrounds now coming in as entry-level PMMs. What would your advice for any new or aspiring product marketers listening to the podcast be? In terms of helping them get the most out of their product marketing journey if you would like, what would your advice be Jing?

Jing Gu  35:17

I'm a big fan of doing, just do the damn thing, launch the product, take on that task, and volunteer to dig into that data set. Failure, I think is inevitable in marketing, you're not going to get home runs every time you launch something, and that's fine. It's a data point. And the more you do, the higher your batting average goes. And then, when your batting average is high, you're more likely to have a super impactful product launch, that can be really great for your company, really great for your career.

I would not hesitate to just do the thing, whatever the thing is for you right now, do it. If it scares you a little, that's great. Just do it. When I first started with product marketing, I wasn't sure if I was really cut out for defining messaging and positioning, that really intimidated me. But the more you do it, the more research you gather and the less you think of it as a discrete event that's pass or fail, and more of an ongoing optimization, the more you realize how important it is to just get out of your own head, push projects forward and launch. Because launching is also a really powerful way to validate your idea and to test.

The other advice, I think would be to understand a little bit of the basics of demand Gen. So demand generation, that's where you get really into understanding how paid acquisitions work. What is a good cost of acquisition per lead? How does the sales and marketing handoff work? Understanding all of that improves your distribution strategy, I think you can have the best product in the world, but if you don't get it to the right people in the right way you're going to have less than great business outcomes.

So understanding demand Gen has really helped me understand the different channels I'm working with, the particularities of those channels, and when to activate them for which products. So those are the things - do it, track the outcomes, use the outcomes to build a decent portfolio, iterate, and eventually, you'll get somewhere and land your first or dream job, or at least that's how I did it.

Lawrence Chapman - PMA  37:33

Oh, fantastic. Well, thank you so much for taking the time out to speak to us Jing it's been a really interesting insight into your role at Shutterstock and it's been an absolute pleasure. So thank you so much for taking the time out.

Jing Gu  37:48

Yeah. Thank you.