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22 min read

Product Marketing Insider [podcast]: Maria Massad


We caught up with Morningstar’s Product Marketing Manager, Maria Massad, and found out why she’s so passionate about storytelling in her role as a PMM, how her experience in demand gen has helped her career in product marketing, what her top tips are for aspiring product marketers, and how she thinks the role needs to change including her views on the damaging effects of false-empathy, and heaps more.

Full transcript:

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:00

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Product Marketing Insider podcast which is brought to you by Product Marketing Alliance. My name’s Bryony Pearce and I’m the Content Manager here at PMA.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Product Marketing Core...meta, we know. PMMC is our very own product marketing certification program, and it covers the A to Z of product marketing essentials. With 11 modules, 68 chapters, 87 exam questions, 10+ hours’ worth of learning and official PMA certification, it’s a course not to be missed. Head to https://pmmalliance.co/PMMC for more info.

To help establish and elevate the role of product marketing we’re on a mission to speak to 50 PMMs and pick their brains on everything from their journey into the industry, which teams they interact with most, what skills they believe are critical for the role, and a whole load more.

To do just that, with me today is Maria Massad, a Product Marketing Manager over at Morningstar. Maria’s been at Morningstar since August 2018, and she started out as an associate PMM within the commodities and energy data management software division, and she’s now accountable for the business strategy of Enterprise Components across global markets. So let’s get stuck right in. Welcome to the show Maria.

Maria Massad  0:00

Thanks, Bryony, it's great to be here and thanks for having me on the show.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  0:04

It's great to have you here today. Could we just kick things off by giving everyone a bit of an introduction to you and your role at Morningstar?

Maria Massad  0:11

Sure. Yeah. So I really enjoy telling stories, that is what I'm really passionate about, and where I think that businesses can really change the world. And so my experience is with expanding digital brand presence and revenue at pretty established brands that really aim to improve the ways that we engage with information and entertain ourselves. So I'm really passionate about helping mission-driven organizations reinvent themselves and build trust with the content that they distribute while launching initiatives through that creative digital storytelling and branding. So what makes me tick as a history major, is just telling the story and making sure that the right pieces of evidence are surfaced so that the entire brand and product come to life.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  1:02

And then for anyone who's kind of not too familiar with Morningstar, just give us a bit of background into what Morningstar does.

Maria Massad  1:08

Morningstar is a financial services company that is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. So it's US-based but it is global, we are located across the world. And what we do is we make sure that we empower investors’ success by providing an independent voice through leading research and quality data through awesome technology experiences for not only investors but also advisors and others who serve them. So we are a leading voice in the financial services industry, and people come to rely on us for the data that they need in order to move their portfolios forward in the way that they want to reach their goals.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  1:47

Okay, cool. Thanks for that. So can you kind of talk us through your path then from major in history, and then how you got into product marketing?

Maria Massad  1:55

Sure, yeah. So I definitely see myself as a historian at heart. I love history. I'm particularly interested in American history. And so when I was a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, I was drawn to the major because of the overall ability to tell a story and getting to know characters in these stories very well. And essentially what the major is the program teaches you a lot about how exactly to pull the right sorts of information that resonate with your audiences, with your readers, about particular people in history, particular events, and put together a cohesive story that's interesting, that's relevant, all that good stuff. At the same time, I was also pursuing a major in biology, so very different from history. And that provided me with the level of exposure to the scientific method, right? Testing, learning, and iterating is something that I'm sure lots of product marketers have heard. And that's definitely something that I've been able to use from my biology major as well. So utilizing both my history major and my biology major experiences, I was able to get started at the Chicago Tribune Media Group, which is located in Chicago, you might have guessed. And I started there as a digital media sales planner. And I expanded the business strategy for that company by essentially building media proposals and then strategically positioning product offerings in our digital media bundle. So think things like website development, SEO, paid search, social media marketing, content, video, and more based on client objectives. And you might think to yourself, "Well, gee, how does biology and history fit into that?", and if you look at it on a subject matter level, it doesn't quite clearly fit but using the skills that you learn from a liberal arts background it's very easy to lead the campaign management process from development proposals with sales and trying to understand who exactly you're targeting and really diving in deep as to who your characters are in the story that you would learn through the history major and pulling all of that in, in terms of data analysis, when you actually implement the campaign, putting on your scientific hat, and analyzing the data to learn, you know, what's working and what's not. Both of these majors, I think, lend themselves quite well to working with a variety of different people and collaborating on projects. And so that was also very helpful in my first role as well, because you have to work with a variety of internal groups to optimize the campaigns for full delivery. So these experiences really laid the foundations for the skills that I use to this day in product marketing, which is knowing the product, knowing the customer inside and out, understanding what's needed to equip your teams to engage clients more effectively and building relationships across teams and with our vendors to expedite client success. So it's really all about knowing your product inside and out and making sure that you are telling a story in ways that are resonating with your audience.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  5:07

It's really interesting as well to hear the parallels that can be drawn from these completely different backgrounds. Because like you say, at a glance, you would not associate history or biology as anything tied to product marketing. And I actually had a podcast about a month ago now with a chap called Harvey Lee, and he was saying how much experience he drew from being in a music band, and like pulled through to product marketing, and again, it's just not something that you would associate, but it just kind of draws to the point of we get a lot of people asking how to get into product marketing, like what's the career path to get into it? And the answer always is like, there really isn't one. And I think this is like a case in point as well as how there is no set path and like you say like history and biology has fed into your experiences into you being a product marketer. So I think it's just really interesting to hear those kinds of perspectives.

Maria Massad  5:58

Yeah, I think that's exactly right. I think that product marketing is so cross-disciplinary. And you can really do whatever you want with it, which is why the field is so great.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  6:10

Okay, cool. So then going back to your kind of first product marketing specific role, was it a conscious decision to come into product marketing? Or like many did you just kind of fall into the industry? Or how did that come about for you?

Maria Massad  6:25

Sure, yeah. So I was really attracted to the ability to be able to build up a marketing strategy for a product from the ground up. So it was certainly an intentional move, for sure. But it definitely felt like a natural progression at the same time. I spent some time at the Chicago Tribune in demand generation where I was responsible for the thoughtful execution of a $3 million budget to grow the media group's digital advertiser base, and I learned a lot in this role about channel management, and how to live and breathe this story and to tell it to the best of my ability, and what I thought would be a logical next step would be to get closer to the core of the product and tell the story in ways that speak to the messaging and positioning as opposed to the execution.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  7:10

And then that kind of ties into my next question, I was looking at your LinkedIn profile before this podcast, and I noticed a lot of your previous roles kind of had that sales orientated demand Gen elements to it, would you say that has set you up quite well now going into product marketing? So although you might not be quite as hands-on, I guess, with the demand Gen side of things, it obviously helps to have that kind of foundational layer of knowledge to work with those teams.

Maria Massad  7:36

Yeah, I think so. It certainly feels like a natural progression even though I'm making these decisions consciously. A lot of the skills and media planning and demand generation they're very transferable to product marketing, right. So going back to the history and biology example, like you can pull from a variety of experiences for product marketing. So business generally is all about putting your customer first and understanding their needs, wants, and desires sometimes even before they themselves know. And so understanding how the digital environment works is table stakes. And my experiences at the Chicago Tribune allowed me to dive headfirst into the whole world of digital marketing, to being able to anticipate, being able to build trust within teams and with clients, being able to explain things clearly and in simple terms is such an underrated skill, and being able to leverage partnerships. They're all skills that I've honed over the years that have contributed to better product marketing.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  8:33

Yeah, for sure. So now that you're in a product marketing specific role, how much if at all does demand Gen feed into what you're doing now at Morningstar?

Maria Massad  8:43

Yeah, so currently, the product marketers at Morningstar are putting on two hats essentially, we have our product marketing hat, where we focus on the positioning and the messaging, diving in deep into competitive analyses, making sure that sales is properly enabled with the appropriate teams and collaborating cross-functionally. But we also do a lot of demand generation as well, right now, Morningstar is in the process of building out their demand generation team, which is very exciting. But in the meantime, product marketers have the luxury of building out the campaigns and seeing in real-time the results of their positioning and messaging. So it's pretty nice to be able to do both things at the same time. But I know that we're all looking forward to seeing the value that a demand generation team will bring to the company.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  9:30

Yeah, for sure. In terms of your product marketing team at Morningstar, what does that look like in terms of sort of numbers and roles? And then how is Morningstar's product portfolio split out between you all?

Maria Massad  9:42

Yeah, it's a great question. So at Morningstar, we have a dedicated software product marketing team, and that's my team. Each member of our team currently manages one product or one segment kind of depends on the needs of the product that you serve. So for instance, my product, enterprise components, you can think of it in terms of APIs, components, tools, things like that, that power our client’s experiences. And because of that, there is a lot of crossover into other parts of Morningstar software because enterprise components is powering a lot of Morningstar software. So there's a lot of cross-product pollination, especially for the product that I support. But it's a very dynamic team of nine. And it's quite large, it's really great to be in that kind of a large dynamic team because you get to learn so much from every single product marketer every day, everyone's experiences are so good. So you get to learn a lot every day. In terms of the rest of the organization at Morningstar, the portfolio that's not software, so things like data and research, those are split up having one product marketer per product. So it's a similar thing.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  10:52

What do these ratios look like within each of those products or segments for you with product management, so how many product marketers to product managers do you have for each?

Maria Massad  11:03

Sure, so I can speak to my current product. So for enterprise components, there are three product managers. And each product manager is specific to a market. So I have a product manager in APAC, I have a product manager in EMEA and I have a product manager for the Americas. And so with that, it's very much cut out by global markets.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  11:27

And are they are all based in Chicago with you so the APAC and the EMEA, or?

Maria Massad  11:32

No, actually, so the Americas product manager is based in Chicago, but the other two product managers are in their respective markets.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  11:44

How do you find that working with people so far spread and the time differences and that kind of thing?

Maria Massad  11:51

Yeah, it's a great question. There is definitely a lot of schedule coordination, a lot of planning that goes into the Global Management and Marketing process that we've set up so we have an individual in Hong Kong, and we have an individual in Stockholm. And they manage their respective product strategies for their markets. And then the Americas product manager is located here in Chicago with me. So I see him a lot face to face, obviously not right now because of the Coronavirus situation, and we're all working from home. But in the normal environment, I would see him in my day-to-day, but really all it is is that you know, we are we're a very agile team, we make sure to be as inclusive as we can and represent each market and the messaging that we bring out while making sure that it's still speaking to the local needs.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  12:38

Okay, cool. Thanks. And then I guess sticking with kind of product management, I know there's a lot of talk just in general within the product marketing industry in terms of you know, where does the role of a product manager and product marketing manager begin and end, what do those splits look like for you at Morningstar?

Maria Massad  12:58

Yeah, great question. So there's definitely some crossover. And I really see the product manager as the co-pilot to the product marketer. We are both interested in driving revenue and success for the business, we just go about doing it in different ways. So they set the business strategy and I bring the product to life with stories that speak to how we solve the user problems that we both work to identify. I'm also here to act as a validator for the product managers that I work with, think of it as maybe a guiding light to keep the product roadmap in perspective based on what the market wants, or a gauge even to take the temperature of what is satisfying our audience and what is not. So questions that I bring to light a lot are 'Is there a better way that we can tell the story of our products based on the feedback that we are getting? Is there a new product opportunity that we've discovered based on market trends and observable behavior in our users?', things like that I basically make sure that the marketing experience that I'm designing provide the feedback that we need to inform the product strategy once it's fully launched and has been in the market for a while. And that's not to say that the product managers at Morningstar don't care conduct user research or competitive research, they're very familiar with their products and their expertise is something that I rely on too, but we kind of navigate the waters together and collaborate to provide the best client experiences.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  14:14

Would you say that's quite similar then across all these different PM and PMM relationships within Morningstar? Is it kind of, I say, a set process, but like sometimes this kind of thing, it very much depends on the person, so some product managers and product marketing managers, you know, they have different lines and have different definitions of where those roles split, would you say it's fairly consistent at Morningstar from what you know?

Maria Massad  14:36

So great question. I think that across Morningstar, the product managers take a similar tack and product marketers are there to support as well. So as far as to my knowledge, I think that Morningstar does a really good job of being collaborative and being entrepreneurial and encouraging that type of spirit to make sure that the product is driven forward. I'm sure that each team has their own unique style. But from what I've been able to observe, it seems pretty consistent.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  15:04

Okay, cool. And then I know we've spoken off-air a bit about how you built up the product marketing strategy for the commodities and energy orientated data management software from scratch within Morningstar, I guess, could you just kind of talk to us a bit about that and how you were involved and what kind of activities you were working on?

Maria Massad  15:23

Yeah, definitely. So the commodities and energy data management software group was already in the market when I first joined the company. But there really had never been any strategic marketing involved in that group. It was an acquisition as well. And so I began, you know, by auditing, what assets, content, lists, and resources the team had developed to familiarise myself with what lay ahead because you can't necessarily go about planning strategically if you don't know what has already been done or what they already have. But you never know, you might find some golden nuggets along the way that might make your life way easier. So once I completed the audit, I then began developing the go-to-market strategies for each of the software products, including researching and fleshing out buyer personas, articulating the use cases of the products, conducting competitive analyses, identifying the problems that the software solved, things like that. And I then used that information to put together a messaging map that would serve as the blueprint for any and all positioning and marketing collateral. And because the group was an acquisition, they also needed help articulating who they were in the context of the Morningstar brand. So I conducted a workshop using design thinking principles to help key stakeholders identify the characteristics of the group that could fit into the mission and brand of Morningstar. So that was a really useful exercise for everyone involved, not just me, part of my role was change management and helping stakeholders understand the value of strategic marketing as opposed to performing random acts of marketing. And that really took shape during this session. So again, the importance of building trust and collaborating within teams is a really important skill to have if you're a product marketer. So essentially, once I had the story set, I continued to collaborate with my teams, especially product and sales to identify the most useful formats for sales enablement materials that we then plan to test in the market.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  17:20

And then in terms of those kinds of sales enablement assets, is that something that product marketing kind of builds or does that go out to a content marketing function? Or who does that sit with?

Maria Massad  17:30

Okay, yep. So great question, Bryony, it's actually a pretty cross-functional discipline at Morningstar, where the product marketer is involved from the get-go, because they've been so involved with the development of the messaging. We have a copywriter on our team supporting us. So we're able to bring in that Morningstar voice and condense the content into something much more digestible and much more readable so that it speaks directly to the audience and then we also work with the sales enablement team to make sure that what we are delivering meets the needs of the sales team so that they are best equipped to go out and sell to the market.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  18:10

Then how do you find, because I see a lot in our Slack channel, kind of within product marketing it's a bit of a pain point, that they'll be involved in this process of creating sales enablement assets and be giving them to the sales teams, but then they're just not getting used, or they don't know how to measure that they're getting used. So how does that work for you? Are your sales teams, would you say, quite receptive to all the work you're doing? And then how do you actually monitor and see if they're actually using these kinds of assets that you're involved with creating?

Maria Massad  18:40

Partnering with the sales team, I think, is the best way of going about this. Asking them directly, asking them questions about what has worked for them, what has not, what they like and what they don't is a great way to get to know what is best for them, right? Everyone has their own individual selling style, their own personality, and their own unique flavor when going out to clients in the market. So by partnering with the sales team at large, that's a great way of getting to know what will work for your product, what I'm doing for enterprise components right now because the sales teams are so large at Morningstar, it's not exactly feasible to meet with, you know, hundreds of salespeople all at one time. So what I'm finding is working best for me is by meeting with one or two salespeople who are a bit more experienced, who are more knowledgeable with the product and asking them what has worked for them in the past, getting to know their unique sales style and tapping into that as a representation of the psychology of the broader sales team. So let them go into the market and do what they will with those materials, right? And then come back after a reasonable amount of time has passed and ask them literally what works, what doesn't. So going back to that mantra, test, learn, and iterate. I think that's the way to do it.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  19:57

And it's one of those things as well, it sounds really simple, but it's something that's easy to forget. But you don't ask - you don't get, there's no harm in asking the question. So it's definitely a good thing to form part of your routine, I guess every time you're releasing those materials. So looking back at the whole kind of process you did in terms of building that product marketing strategy for the data management product line. Did you come across any kind of big challenges? And if so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

Maria Massad  20:25

Yeah, that is a great question. I think that the biggest challenge about building that strategy from scratch was quite candidly, the change management process. Change is really, really hard. And when you're used to doing things a certain way, having someone come in and revolutionize how your product is presented to your leads, and customers can be scary, right? That's why the ability to build trust and work effectively across teams is such an important skill for a product marketer to have. You basically have to have sincere empathy not just with your external customers, but also with your internal customers as well. And I overcame that by making sure that I was available to answer their questions at all times and by building a case for why strategic product marketing works, and by sticking to that strategy.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  21:06

Okay, well, then I guess in this next question there might be some crossover. What would you say your biggest learnings were from that project?

Maria Massad  21:15

My biggest takeaway from the experience was definitely the importance of setting a strategy and a plan early on. What is your end goal? Is it to increase leads or decrease the time that sales spend closing a deal? Defining that upfront makes your life later, way easier. And similarly creating a document with the framework that outlines the product’s unique differentiators, its value prop and benefits, is a massive help when going about this type of thing.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  21:46

Okay, cool. Thank you. Well, thank you for giving us a bit of insight into that one. So I know again, from discussions off-air that project's been and gone now, can you tell us a bit about what you're working on now?

Maria Massad  21:58

Absolutely. So my current product line, enterprise components, as I had mentioned, also has not really had too much marketing support. So I get to build another go to market strategy from scratch and see what new ways that impacts the business. So I'm currently putting the finishing touches on the messaging map while I work on refreshing our product sites with various stakeholders and teams within the company and building out the marketing plan for the rest of 2020 and early 2021. So I'm really looking forward to the next phase where I create those sales enablement materials that we've discussed and other marketing collateral so that we can test the messaging. I'm really, really excited to put on campaigns as well, to get more feedback from the market directly about the resonance of our positioning. I'm also leading several go to market strategies that involve other products as well. So there are broad initiatives that Morningstar product marketers are working on that fit into trends of the market in terms of regulations changing and just in general cross-product features that are being leveraged and launched to the market. So I'm busy putting together materials with others that help sales speak to why our solutions are best placed to help customers solve their problems.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  23:04

Okay, cool. And then I noticed from your LinkedIn profile that you do some work for Walt Disney birthplace as well? Could you talk us through what that initiative is? And then how you apply your product marketing knowledge and experience to a nonprofit? And I guess specifically like the demand Gen side of things as well.

Maria Massad  23:24

Sure, absolutely. I would love to. The Walt Disney birthplace is a nonprofit that is focused on the restoration of the home where Walt Disney was born. It's located here in Chicago, actually in the northwest side of the city, so it's not associated with the Disney Company. And we rely on sponsorships from businesses and donations from individuals to restore the house back to its original state. Essentially, our goal is to open the home as an interactive museum for everyone to enjoy, obviously, after the pandemic subsides and to use the house as a place to build community for the Centre for early childhood creativity and innovation Essentially, our goal is to nurture and inspire young children's interest in art. So I direct social media and digital partnership initiatives for the group. And I definitely put on my product marketing hat to help them position themselves and to put together messaging strategies that I test and the social media posts that I publish. Most of the work is what I would call traditional demand generation, as you said because I am literally trying to generate demand and persuade people to press that 'Donate' button to help us move forward to the next stage of the restoration using social media and digital partnerships, especially podcasts, for instance, to move our message in front of new audiences to expand our reach. So in the past year, we raised $14,000, more than the previous year, and increased social engagement quite significantly as well.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  24:47

Okay, nice, nice stats. And then what would you say the main differences are between using your product marketing hat in a nonprofit like that, versus a commercial organization like Morningstar?

Maria Massad  24:59

That's a good question, Bryony, this nonprofit, the Walt Disney birthplace, is in its infancy. Whereas Morningstar is more of a mature company that's been around for years. So Morningstar is really great at empowering its employees to pursue excellence in whatever ways best suits them and giving them the reins to do so. As I mentioned, the entrepreneurial spirit is highly valued there. But at the same time, it's a large company. The Walt Disney birthplace is a team of six total, including myself, so I have a lot more flexibility to conduct the initiatives that I think will be best at increasing awareness and conversions in real-time. So neither system is really better than the other. They're just kind of different.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  25:35

Okay, awesome. Final couple of questions. So penultimate one. What, if anything, within the industry as a whole, do you think needs to or should change about product marketing?

Maria Massad  25:51

That is a loaded question. But I'll be candid, I think that product marketing is highly valuable and it's more than a deli counter for sales and product. So though output adoption is an important measure of success, and working collaboratively is highly crucial to this role as we've discussed, we need to focus on output quality and the story that we're delivering and the strategy that we've committed ourselves to. So we, of course, need to be flexible and listen to the market’s needs. I think all of us have at least one story from when the pandemic first became a thing about listening to the market’s needs and pivoting. But we can't necessarily drop everything that we've planned for something that happens to strike someone's fancy every few weeks - aim and fire is not an effective approach to anything. So I think that product marketers, in general, have to stay focused on the goals that we set, and we must feel confident about staying the course because after all, there's a reason why you planned the strategy that you did. And something else worth mentioning here. It might not be something that needs to change, but something I'd like to caution against is to do your best to avoid false empathy. So empathy is a word in and of itself that is having a moment in the marketing industry and in tech as well. I think I've used it a couple of times, just in this podcast itself. So what I'd like to say is to make sure that you aren't using this word carelessly to fit in with the jargon of the day or to sound smart, be sincere in how you approach your customers when you want to step in their shoes. False empathy can occur when you assume you know the customer without actually getting their feedback, or when you think you know better than the client. So being self-congratulatory about being empathetic doesn't really serve anybody, especially not the client. And when you're not being authentic, people can see through that very quickly. So when building trust is at the center of what you do, it's important to strive to be genuine and not just empathetic for the sake of being empathetic, but for the sake of helping your customers, serving your community and helping your own team, so just some food for thought there.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  28:04

No, I totally agree. And I love your deli counter analogy at the start of the answer as well. Okay, cool. So the final question. If there were any new or aspiring product marketers tuned in and listening to this podcast right now, what would your advice to them be?

Maria Massad  28:24

My advice would be to learn, learn as much as you can, and develop the skills that you need to be effective. So study the greats and learn from their mistakes. Learning on the job is, of course, the best experience of all, but some of us are in a bit of a unique situation right now, where a large percentage of the workforce, at least in the United States, is unemployed. But there are so many ways to continue your learning journey either in online courses and certifications or by simply asking questions from your network. There's so much available online these days too, and there is almost too much information out there. So you can definitely educate yourself. And the other thing I would say is to learn about yourself too, you know, what are your strengths and what you can hone to build skills that fit into the product marketing tech. Your knowledge will serve you well in the future. So invest in yourself and learn.

Bryony Pearce - PMA  29:20

Okay, awesome. Well, that is all my questions today, Maria, thank you so much for taking some time out and for joining us on the pod today.

Maria Massad  29:27

Thanks, Bryony, I really appreciate it and enjoyed being here.

Written by:

Bryony Pearce

Bryony Pearce

Bryony's the Head of Content here at Product Marketing Alliance and you'll find her behind most things written!

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Product Marketing Insider [podcast]: Maria Massad