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30 min read

Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Maria Massad


This week on Product Marketing Life we’re joined by Maria Massad, Senior Product Marketing Manager at G2 to take a deep dive into the world of narrative building. Maria shares her unique journey into PMM, why she loves the role, the distinction between positioning and the narrative, and why it matters, plus, tackles the MBA topic, and the one element of a PMM career that really grinds her gears.


Full transcript:

Mark Assini  0:03

Hey everyone, and welcome to the Product Marketing Life podcast brought to you by the Product Marketing Alliance. My name's Mark Assini, Product Marketing Manager at Jobber.

As part of this series, we're connecting with PMMs all over the world about various product marketing topics. In today's episode, I'm chatting with Maria Massad, Senior Product Marketing Manager at G2.

Maria has one of the broadest ranges of experiences I've come across, ranging from digital content and media planning at PBS and the Chicago Tribune, to social media and digital partnerships at Walt Disney Birthplace, and finally, product marketing at Morningstar and G2. Maria describes herself as being passionate about helping mission-driven organizations reinvent themselves.

In her spare time, she attends evening classes at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in pursuit of her MBA, while trying to perfect her yoga game.

At G2, which is a company I'm sure almost every product marketer is very familiar with, Maria uncovers customer needs to drive growth and reinvent the G2 Track's narrative. G2 is where professionals go for software, has the world's largest tech marketplace where businesses can discover and review the technology they need to reach their potential.

G2 Track is the platform used to manage that software to achieve sustainable growth. Today, Maria and I are discussing product marketing's role in narrative building and bringing customer communications to life. After having just revamped her products website, I'm sure Maria will have some great insights and stories to share.

Alright, with that out of the way, let's get into it. Hey, Maria, how's it going?

Maria Massad  1:29

Good. How are you?

Mark Assini  1:30

Good. Thanks so much for joining me today. I'm really looking forward to our chat.

Maria Massad  1:34

Same here. Thank you so much for having me.

Mark Assini  1:36

Yeah. Happy to have you. All right, let's get right into it. Before we dive into our topic of narrative building, can you tell our listeners a little bit more about your career path so far and what you do at G2?

Maria Massad  1:47

Absolutely, I can trace it all back to when I was writing stories as a young kid imagining far-off lands and staying up late to put those daydreams to paper. I loved diving into fantasy worlds and creating new ones in my spare time. And I brought that passion and love of storytelling as the common element shaping my entire career trajectory.

I would say that my first role related to my current career was not at the Chicago Tribune or PBS. It was actually at my alma mater, Wesleyan University, where I had the opportunity to conduct research for a professor who focused on medieval European history.

I was diving into books that hadn't been checked out in literally almost a century from the university's library to understand bishops and their horse’s travel patterns in the 1400s, write stories about my findings for the professor, and advise on lectures and publications with my research.

Was this job my calling? I love history a lot. But even so, spending time in a dusty library just wasn't for me. Still, though, it was the cornerstone of my entire marketing career.

Because from there, I was able to leverage that research experience and writing experience to run digital campaigns and produce multimedia content to promote PBS's documentary series American experience.

And that led me to the Chicago Tribune where I learned all about the digital ecosystem, how to best serve customer needs with media planning, and what it meant to work for an agency within a brand.

Then I was promoted into demand generation because I had a budding interest in marketing and wanted to more directly liaise with customers. So when I had the opportunity to get my hands dirty, building up a marketing strategy from scratch for an entire business unit, I jumped at the chance and went off to Morningstar.

When I was there, I created entire business plans, ran product launches for mobile apps, and led go-to-market strategies, all while wearing multiple hats, ranging from product marketing, demand gen, sales enablement, marketing operations, copywriting, budget planning. What else? Event planning, website development, stakeholder management, data analysis, and content marketing. It was a lot and all of it fell into the hands of product marketing.

Phenomenal experience, but I decided to take my talents to G2 because I wanted to work for a company that understood how to value great product marketing and did not take advantage of product marketing's lack of common definition when compiling a workload.

And since I've joined G2, we have only continued to strengthen the company's understanding of what product marketing is, and what it is not, while shining an intense spotlight on the central role of storytelling in product marketing.

So while I've created product positioning, built out product narratives and messaging houses, and launched new products and refreshed websites, I've also acted as an unofficial ambassador for product marketing internally.

I walked into a scenario where marketing did not trust the business unit that I was supporting, and where the business unit did not trust marketing fully. And I single-handedly turned that perception around within the first few months of my tenure, building relationships with my team and helping them feel supported thanks to how I position myself and the marketing team at G2.

I've also recently been tasked with working with the emerging markets team to uncover the positioning of a product before it is completely fleshed out, truly honoring the part of product marketing that represents the voice of the customer and takes those insights into the product development process.

This will enable me to execute on strategy even more than I have previously and I'm very excited to have been selected for this at G2. It all comes down to figuring out how we will tell stories about our products to our target customers, it keeps things interesting.

And in the meantime, I still get to flex my leadership and love of history by volunteering at the Walt Disney Birthplace. I've built a several-thousand-strong community on social media to celebrate Walt Disney's first home in Chicago, and act as press liaison and soon-to-be podcast host for the nonprofit to evangelize our mission. Without storytelling, I don't think I could do any of that.

Mark Assini  6:24

Wow, I absolutely get the sense that you're a storyteller by nature, just in that answer that you just gave - incredible. I felt like I was following your whole story arc from beginning to not end because obviously, that story is still very much being written. But that was awesome. Thank you so much for that level of insight into your journey so far.

I think you said a lot of things that our listeners and other product marketing managers, or product marketers are probably very familiar with themselves. That's sometimes walking into situations where the relationship with some teams and marketing isn't, let's say, as healthy as it could be.

I'm curious if you wouldn't mind maybe briefly touching on the approach that you took to turn that around so quickly, because you mentioned you were able to do that in such a short amount of time.

Maria Massad  7:05

Yeah, absolutely. It is paramount, I think to really, as a product marketer have a good handle on strong relationship building, and really in any business role because ultimately, at the end of the day, you're collaborating cross-functionally with so many different people at your company, even if it's a slim startup to a huge enterprise, you're interacting with multiple people every day to get the job done, and to really advocate for the customer. So what I did in this situation was to approach my internal customers with empathy.

I think in the product marketing community there is a lot of emphasis on serving customers and being empathetic with customers. That is, of course, a given and 100% important. But I think that there is also something to be said for being empathetic with the people that you work with day in and day out.

Obviously, if you're not being respected in your role, I can't tell you what to do there, you might want to consider looking elsewhere where your talents are more valued. But more frequently, I think what a lot of the time is, is that there's just a misunderstanding between sales, product, and product marketing as to how product marketing can truly add value.

So at G2, the way that I've built up trust after learning from mistakes in my past lives, is that I really need to envelop people who aren't necessarily product marketing into the process, and make sure that they know exactly what the plan is, and be proactive in articulating that moving forward. That helps, I think a lot because it really helps others in the company feel comfortable and confident in your decision-making and strategy as a product marketer.

Not only that, but once you really start building rapport with these people who have been at the company for longer, and who are veterans in their field, and who are experts in the product, and all that good stuff, once they really see that you are open to feedback and are open to learning more and consistently improving, they will at the same time begin trusting you more.

And so at G2 when I was working on the product G2 Track where essentially there hadn't been a full-time marketing resource before, the way that I kind of went about it was to dive in as deeply as I could into the product and ask questions. In the past, I have been extremely curious, in every one of my roles and asked questions.

Sometimes it hasn't been received particularly well because it's been seen as a bother or a hindrance. In those situations, I would just say, "Keep confident you're asking the right questions for a reason. And it's only to the benefit of the business to have everybody on the same page".

Luckily at G2 people were open to me asking questions and they saw it as a sign that I wanted to learn more, that I wanted to align with teams, and that I wanted to ultimately bring this product to market in a way that not only benefited G2 but really our customers.

So I would just say, ultimately, the TLDR is to be yourself and to ask good questions, and to really see the people that you are serving as your internal customers and be as empathetic as possible with them. From there things should I think, stem pretty easily.

Mark Assini  10:33

I agree. I think that's fantastic advice and one I'm sure a lot of our listeners will really take to heart. I've heard similar questions asked to other partners before, which is I wanted to get your unique perspective on it because I've heard other people respond to that question by saying it's all about coming into a new role, and really delivering early on to develop that credibility.

I think the answer that you just provided provides a little bit of a different path, it's less about what can you prove to those teams in terms of what you're capable of, and what product marketing can add immediately. It's more balancing that against that empathetic approach, like you said, that we often as product marketers take towards our customers, but sometimes fail to do to our own internal customers, as you so aptly described them.

I think there are some great insights there and I'm sure our listeners will take that away. A lot to listen to and dissect from there. So thank you for that.

Maria Massad  11:24

Yeah, absolutely. If I could just add one more quick thing. One of your comments really struck me about how a lot of product marketers are trying to prove themselves. And I think that there's always an element of that, especially in this day and age where social media makes it so, so, so easy to compare yourself to other people.

But ultimately, what I've discovered is that if you have to prove something to someone, there's not really a way for you to feel like you have fully convinced them. I'm speaking from experience on this. If you have to really convince someone of the value of what you bring, as someone the company hired themselves, it's a really disheartening situation to be in.

That's kind of what drives my own philosophy on product marketing as something that's very empathetic and collaboration building, as opposed to stemming from a need to prove that product marketing is valuable.

Because the right people will understand that what you're doing is valuable. I think that's an important message to share. I'll get off my soapbox now but I just wanted to say that.

Mark Assini  12:35

I think that's an absolutely important perspective for our listeners to hear so thank you for sharing that. Moving on, I'm interested to dive into this topic a little bit more as well because I come from a similar educational or academic background as you.

And one of the questions I've heard product marketers ask themselves, whether it's in the PMA Slack community, or just more generally, is, should I get my MBA? I know early on in my own career that an MBA was something that I always wanted to pursue, it wasn't really that hard of a question for me. But it's not necessarily that easy for others.

I'm curious, what drove you to pursue your MBA and how you're finding the experience so far?

Maria Massad  13:19

It's a great question and something that I thought about for a very long time, it did not come naturally to me. My background is in liberal arts, as I mentioned, I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut and when I was there, I picked up a double major in history and biology.

You can probably guess that neither of those programs related to each other and that it was a lot of work but to hell with that, I'm curious, I want to know everything about everything that I'm interested in. So I got the double major.

And when I graduated, I realized that I didn't really know that much about the business world. I mean, I had the critical thinking skills, the analytical skills, and the writing skills, from my liberal arts experience, as well as just general professional experience from internships. That has all been very invaluable throughout my career.

But I felt when I graduated like I was starting at stage zero in terms of business acumen. I come from a family of Greek immigrants who built their lives here from nothing. Most of my family works in medicine so I had to figure everything out for myself from scratch with trial and error. I was hungry for experience and intent on finding a career in media and marketing.

That's why I wound up at the Chicago Tribune on the business side. And when I was there, I noticed that many key decision-makers had an MBA. I then worked at Morningstar and again, notice that the ones leading the teams usually had an MBA, and though it's less common at G2 in a maturing startup environment, many leaders again have an MBA.

So for me personally, I discovered over time that if I wanted to lead a marketing team one day, which I do, it only seems fitting that if I wanted to continue to learn, and satisfy my curiosity, if I wanted to know more about how the best brains in business make decisions, if I wanted to lead that team, and quite frankly, unlock more earning potential, it seems like getting an MBA was worth it for me. So that's kind of my experience in deciding how to get an MBA.

Mark Assini  13:21

I think that's some great insights there around some of the thought processes behind whether or not an MBA is a good fit for you. I was fortunate enough to actually work prior to pursuing my MBA at the University at which I studied.

So I have a bit of a unique perspective and something that we've often told potential candidates is really for an MBA if you find yourselves in an industry where like you did yourself a lot of senior leaders, or let's call them thought leaders, or people who are seen as leaders within that space, have an MBA, if you too want to see yourself at that level in the future, it's likely that an MBA could help you get there.

Now, obviously, there's a lot of other factors to consider, of course, but I think the reasoning you outlined is definitely one of the ones that we encourage people to consider to look critically at within their own industry. So I appreciate you sharing that.

What I'll also say is, one of the things that I think a lot of product marketers often neglect, or even just more generally, people in business, is some of the skills that you mentioned you picked up at Wesleyan, and that's writing and critical thinking.

I can't tell you how grateful I am to have had spent time in my undergraduate career writing essays and writing different theses about different historical or political topics before really diving into business and how much that's helped me with my own communication and writing skills.

So I would encourage anyone if you're a budding product marketer, and you're still doing your undergraduate studies or still in that academic environment, to take courses that are really going to challenge and stretch your writing abilities because it will pay dividends as you move on.

Because as product marketers, as I'm sure you know, we do so much writing, whether that's for internal audiences or external. I think that's something that I would encourage and it sounds like, as you mentioned, has definitely benefited you in your career.

Maria Massad  17:13

Absolutely, I 100% agree with everything that you said. Writing is a skill that will serve you in product marketing, beyond product marketing, taking the time to really hone your writing skills and how you think critically about the world, forming your own opinions and judgments is something that will serve you throughout your entire life.

Mark Assini  17:33

Absolutely. Awesome. Let's dive into the meat of our conversation today and that's on this concept of narrative building. The word narrative often gets thrown around a lot in product marketing. I've heard it used interchangeably with positioning, but also as something that should be driven by your positioning.

Can you help honestly, me, and some of our listeners better understand exactly what a narrative is?

Maria Massad  17:55

Yes, happy to. And to be clear narrative is not the same as positioning, though they are very, very related. I'm sure that's where the confusion lies. Let's break it down. Positioning comes down to how you plan on differentiating your product or product suite within the competitive context of your business. What does that mean? Ultimately, it comes down to this question here.

Why would somebody want to buy your product when there are 1000s of alternatives out there? And especially if you're in a growing industry, more and more products are coming out each and every day. Articulating a very strong positioning statement is critical to the success of the narrative that you build.

The narrative you can think of as kind of like the story that appears in everything that you build around the positioning statement. Whether it's a website, a deck, a campaign, or internal sales enablement materials, the product story, grounded in the positioning that you defined, should be able to shine through.

The way that I think of positioning versus narrative ultimately, is that positioning is like the thesis of a book, you have a central idea to everything. The narrative then is how that idea is brought to life throughout each chapter. So the narrative is how you tell the story of your position.

Mark Assini  19:17

I love that. That's something that I think would resonate so much with history buffs or people who have spent time in that space, whether it be history, political science, and so forth. Because as you just mentioned there as well, the thesis is kind of like, whenever you're conveying an opinion or idea, the most critical component. It's everything that you write, or that you're trying to communicate is grounded in.

As you explained it, the narrative is kind of the meat that goes around it and that helps you tell that thesis in a way that becomes that much easier to digest through a story. So I think that's a great analogy to leverage and I definitely would encourage our listeners when they're thinking about that relationship between positioning and narrative to reference this conversation and use that as a guiding light because I think it's very succinct and very clear.

Something that I think will be very helpful to a lot of product marketers who are trying to answer this question themselves.

Maria Massad  20:10

For sure.

Mark Assini  20:11

Awesome. So when it comes to building your product’s narrative, do you have a set approach or process that you follow? Or do you adapt your plan of attack based on their product or audience?

Maria Massad  20:20

That's a great question. I'm not sure I would call it set since I change it frequently to customize it based on the unique goals related to the product and the needs of the specific audience. But I do have a go-to approach that jumpstarts narrative building that doesn't relegate product marketing to the party, simply taking notes or collecting feedback to act on.

This framework empowers product marketers to take the wheel and drive messaging ideas forward with a team. I actually spoke about it during the Product Marketing Alliance's Product Marketing festival this past June, if you had the opportunity to attend that. But in a nutshell, the process I follow is fairly simple.

Get your main stakeholders in one room, in a judgment-free zone, you have to make sure that you say that because everyone I think comes into things feeling a little nervous. And once you have everyone in the same room, hash out as a team in a workshop format, what your customers’ pain points are and how your product is positioned to solve them.

You can use multiple creative exercises to kind of go through this with your team and make it fun. The final output should be a problem statement that you can easily reference to focus on when creating the positioning statement and the product's narrative.

So even though the workshop framework and outcomes are the same each time, Mark, it will always be grounded in the unique distinctions of both the product and the audience.

Mark Assini  21:41

I love that and quick plugs, because I think you mentioned them quite nicely there, if you aren't a member of the PMA, you should sign up. And then you should also look back at Maria's session to get some more insight into this topic because clearly, she's an expert in this area. I would argue she's an expert in this area. So if you are a member, definitely look that up.

I think you're exactly right around, it's good to have this framework in place and this general approach but much like everything we do in product marketing, you're gonna want to cater it to the participants, the audience, the product, customers, there's so many factors. But I think if you can leverage Maria's insights through that session, and have a general approach, it'll make future iterations or future narrative exercises that much easier.

Which we're all about, being efficient, and getting as much done in as little time as possible because we're asked to do so much as a product marketer. So anytime saved by having that framework, I think is going to be of a lot of value.

Maria Massad  22:36

Absolutely. I mean, I'm a big fan of the Product Marketing Alliance, myself, I've gotten a lot of use out of it. So hopefully, my session is helpful to you too.

Mark Assini  22:48

I can't imagine how it wouldn't be. Awesome. So sincere narrative building is very much a product marketing-driven concept, and as you said, it's more about product marketing just attending and taking notes, it needs to be driven in part by product marketing.

I'm curious if you've ever struggled to explain it to nonproduct marketers, and how you've overcome those struggles? Is there a particular approach that you've found makes narrative building more digestible for people outside of product marketing? Or is it again, one of those situations where you cater to that specific audience?

Maria Massad  23:17

That is a fantastic question, I think. So let me break it down. I think that, like possibly everyone working in product marketing, I have had multiple opportunities to explain what product marketing should and should not look like.

And part of that goes hand in hand with what you're asking, how to empower others to understand what the role of product marketing is, and how to work with us as we do our thing. I'll give you an example of when writing narratives that I think will make what I mean clear.

I've worked with sales teams who are really important stakeholders in the process, and each sales team and each salesperson has their own unique personality and selling style. But some sales teams, and it's not a bad thing, just want to sell, sell, sell, and will do anything it takes to close a deal. And so for these teams, the narrative doesn't even register as a priority.

Throw a couple of slides together, they're set. So when you tell them that you'll be rehauling the entire narrative, and will need to take just a little longer than they'd ideally like on updating collateral while you complete your narrative work, you'll need to ease some concerns.

Helping them understand the importance of having a story and explaining its benefits to someone in sales might work but it might not if they're already doing a fairly good job at closing deals without one. What usually tends to work is by inviting them into the narrative building process and collaborating with them on incorporating their perspective on the customer.

An invitation to participate in making their own materials better has in my experience done the trick for easing fears around materials not being created fast enough for their liking, while still giving them the ability to firsthand experience the narrative building process themselves.

And in the meantime, learning by doing, how stories can enhance the selling process, it is amazing to see the change in a person's relationship working with you when you invite them into something, when you include them, when you value their expertise, and when they see firsthand what a difference a story can actually make.

That's an example for a team that I've worked with on the business unit side, on the product sales side. But I've also worked with several editorial teams who haven't been clear on the role of product marketing.

At some companies copy is brought on the level when the messaging houses are still under development, to shape the tone of voice of the messaging early on. And so at organizations that employ that framework, you will need to partner very closely with the copywriting team to ensure that your subject matter expertise doesn't get filtered down for the sake of making something sound good.

You do that by building a good relationship with a copywriter where you can because you will have to respectfully provide feedback to enhance the story without anyone's ego getting bruised. So, Mark, I think ultimately, to answer your question, again, going back to what I said at the beginning, you kind of have to approach things empathetically with nonproduct marketers.

Ultimately, because product marketing wears so many different hats, working with someone and including them in your process really helps assuage any type of fear that one might have about working with product marketing and understanding that we are working together on this and it's not somebody trying to take something away from something else.

It's simply to do the job of product marketing and to ensure that we are serving our customers as best as we can.

Mark Assini  26:50

That's fantastic. Two things I want to quickly add to that because I think there are so many good insights in that one answer alone. The first is, and this is something that I've had to learn early in my career just through making mistakes as one does and growing and that's to never just produce something and throw it over the fence and hope that teams will catch it and be like, "Yeah, this is great, I love it and I'm going to use it".

To your point, you really have to engage the audiences and the teams who are going to leverage that output early on in the process and really throughout it so that buy-in starts from day one and they feel as though they were part of it from the beginning.

As I said, I've made mistakes where I've involved people too late, sometimes not at all. And those projects tend to be the ones that I look back on and think "Wow, I probably could have done that a lot differently and had better results". So I think that's an important insight that you touched on that I want to just reiterate for our listeners.

But then also, I really like the approach you took around working with editorial teams or just copywriters in general, I think oftentimes, as product marketers, if you don't come from a background of strong writing or a level of comfort with writing customer-facing copy, the let's call it default approach is "We'll just give it to the copywriters, they'll make it sound good".

But there's a balance that you have to strike between giving it to the subject matter experts and people who are good at writing strong copy for the audience we're trying to speak to, but also not losing the essence of that story that you were trying to tell.

So it's a very delicate line to walk, as you mentioned, and I think if you find yourself in this situation, Maria is definitely an excellent person to reach out to for guidance here. But also just work openly and as Maria said, with empathy with that person and just understand what their motivations are, how they might interpret that story, and balance that against ultimately, the story you need to tell and how the audience and the customer needs to digest it. Those are two really good insights you shared that I just wanted to quickly recap, they were phenomenal.

In the build-up to our conversation, you mentioned that you recently revamped your product's website. Can you explain to me what role you played in that and how your product's narrative helped drive the execution of the revamp?

Maria Massad  28:53

I'm so glad you brought that up. Because it is without a doubt one of my favorite things that I've had the opportunity to work on in my career thus far. I completely refreshed the brand for G2 Track, the product that I was supporting. It's a platform that helps finance and IT professionals keep track of their company's SaaS utilization and spend.

And for that product, in particular, I really had to act as a subject matter expert in understanding the product and the audience. In doing so, I led the whole rebranding project strategy for G2 Track from creating the messaging to bringing it to life on the website pages.

In fact, the website refresh I'd say was the culmination of months of work conducting customer research, repositioning the product and the marketing landscape, and generally just crafting a brand narrative in tandem with four distinct messaging pillars that focus on different value props for G2 Track.

Not to mention the results of multiple successful relationships that I built with the creative team that really helped bring the vision I was responsible for crafting to life. And the central focus for all of us working on the website was the messaging, the narrative because It was one common language for us all to rally around in communicating the messages that we crafted to clients.

So it's really important to get that right because everything else that you do stems from that. I'm very thankful for my team who helped bring it to life online and grateful that they gave my leadership such a positive review. It's just so rewarding to hear our head of brand say that it was the smoothest website launch that she's ever worked on, period.

And so being able to facilitate and hear people's perspectives, and be open to different ideas, I think, is what made that execution so successful. But having that narrative from the get-go, from the beginning to help teach people internally about a product that wasn't as well known, I think, is really important just to align things from the get-go.

Mark Assini  30:52

I couldn't agree more. As someone who's done the website overhaul myself relatively recently, I love this. I actually wish I'd maybe chatted to you before executing that project, of using the narrative as that guiding light or north-star for the website itself.

I think, oftentimes when we look at websites because it is often the first way a customer interacts with your brand or your product, when we get into the revamp stage we think about how do we want it to look? What designs do we want to use? And what should the layout be and the page structure? And those are obviously all very important questions that you need to answer.

But I think fundamentally, what needs to be the driving force, as you said, behind that website project is the narrative and I can't agree more with you of how powerful having that guiding light is, and would make the project generally that much easier.

Because when you're asking those other questions, it becomes about how do those decisions land in the context of that larger narrative we're trying to tell? So it acts as that guiding light but also as a frame of reference through which all other questions can be answered.

So I love that and definitely, like I said, some advice I wish I had heard prior to jumping into that website project that I just wrapped up a couple of months ago there. So thanks for that insight, I'm sure other product marketers will hear that and take that advice to heart. You work at a company that I think most if not all, product marketers at some point in their career have heard of G2.

I'm sure it's an incredible place to work, I'm sure you've got nothing but great things to say about working at a company like G2, and I'm sure a lot of product marketers strive to work at a company like G2. But I think at the same time as well, much like any larger company, there are pros and cons. We won't spend any time getting into the cons because that's not really the point of the conversation here.

But what I do want to know are some of the inherent challenges that might come up as a result of working at a company like G2, which offers so many different products and services and is quite large, especially in the context of the narrative building.

What kind of flexibility and leverage do you have to own your product’s narrative relative to the larger G2 narrative and that of its other products?

Maria Massad  33:01

It's a really, really good question to think about, and one that you have to start thinking about pretty early on in the narrative building process. Because even though your own product has its own competitive landscape, its own audience, its own buyers, I'd say that ultimately, you have to connect to the broader company narrative.

I'll say this about G2, as it's scaled and grown to over 450 people, it has never lost its unique flavor to encourage its employees to explore new terrain and try new and creative ideas to connect with our target audience and customers.

For me, G2's brand tagline currently is where you go to discover, buy, and manage software. And G2 Track fully represents the 'manage' part of that tagline. So in that manage piece, I had the opportunity to expand on what that really meant. I think there was quite a bit of flexibility in my interpretation of that.

As the first full-time marketing employee, supporting G2 Track I was entrusted with quite a bit of leverage to do as I saw fit with the narrative, of course, it's a given that I won the team’s buy-in quickly but really had the opportunity to dig in deep. I suspect it just has something to do with the company's culture and the empowerment that exists at G2.

But I will say that for those at larger organizations where there is a lot of bureaucracy if you can find connections to that broader brand narrative that your company is telling you, if you can fit into that somehow, I think that it just provides a lot of opportunity for you then to tell your product's narrative in a way that serves the customers, in a way that serves your target market.

I think that the way that you can handle it really is just by having a very frank and open conversation with your brand marketing team or with whoever is responsible at your organization for crafting that overarching high-level brand. And having those conversations, I'm sure that they'd be more than willing to brainstorm with you for how to make those connections or advise on where not to go.

Because those insights are quite frankly, just as important as where to go with the narrative. I would just really encourage employees at other companies in product marketing to really think through how to make those connections and associations and existing customers' minds about where your product can fit into that broader brand.

Mark Assini  35:44

I think it's great to hear that, a company like G2 is so willing to enable their employees and their teams to have that level of flexibility and creativity around their own products or even just the decisions they make day-to-day. I think oftentimes, there's an inherent fear that as a company grows and scales, some of that creative spirit and flexibility can get bogged down in things like bureaucracy or just processes.

I find it quite refreshing to hear a company of G2's size and stature and reputation, still have that as its core ethos, which is I'm sure part of the appeal of why you enjoy working there so much. One thing I will add to your answer there, and as you were speaking, it kind of made me think of this analogy.

If you look at the organization's broader narrative, or the brand's broader narrative, and then your own product and how it fits within that, I always think of it as like a spin-off of a sitcom. The sitcom that originates that spin-off has obviously a very well-established cast and themes and style and story. But oftentimes, if it's successful enough, a spinoff needs to work on its own.

But it also needs to live and make sense of the context of that original sitcom. So as a product marketer, if you're looking to write your own product or service's narrative, I think your advice is spot on, think of it in the context of that larger story. And think of it as a sitcom.

Think of it as if you were to spin this off, if someone was watching that spin-off, could they watch an episode of that, and then watch an episode of the main show, and still feel like, "Oh, I can see how these two stories or how these two shows live within that same creative world".

Maybe that's just my own cheesy analogy at play there but I think there are some similarities that product marketers might be able to leverage.

Maria Massad  37:25

Totally and I think that's a great analogy, not cheesy at all. As someone really interested in media and entertainment, I loved it. But I will say that for that analogy, too, I think you can build it out even further and say that for each episode of the sitcom, it has to make sense, in terms of who the characters are, and what stories they're telling, and what they're saying.

I have definitely watched a few shows where a particular episode doesn't make any sense in that context of the grand scheme of things. And if you view each episode as part of that overall brand, ultimately, you aren't telling as good of a story as you probably could have and you lose people along the way.

So it's really critical to make sure that the story that you tell in software, the story that you tell at whatever business or industry you're operating in, I think that it's important to think through, not just from like that spin-off example, where episodes are separated from the main story, how the brand team is really going about telling each and every individual story in those episodes.

Hopefully, that makes sense. I think I was kind of amalgamating a little bit of a couple of different analogies there. But yeah, hopefully, that makes sense.

Mark Assini  38:45

Amazing to think we're already at the end here. It went by so quickly. But here's my last question and it's one that I ask all of our guests on the show. What advice or tips would you have for people looking to get into or even build their career in product marketing?

Maria Massad  38:58

Wow, that is a heavy question. A very good question to ask, though. I think the best way for me to go about my perspective here is to simply be blunt. For people who are looking to get into product marketing, or building their career in product marketing, which I still am too, my one piece of advice would be to not let people tell you that you're not good enough to work in product marketing.

Anyone can do product marketing if you have a supportive enough environment that encourages your growth and that guides you in your early learning stages. If you work in a completely different field right now, I guarantee you have transferable skills in product marketing.

It grinds my gears that hiring managers and recruiters alike are searching for the perfect candidate who already has x number of years of experience, especially in this job market where people are leaving the workplace in droves. Guess what, the perfect candidate doesn't exist. I think people in this field like to make product marketing sound like they're doing the work of God sometimes, and I am personally guilty of that.

But it's not the case. It's simply not true that only a select few are chosen to make it in. Be unafraid to make your case for why your skillset relates to product marketing, and the right people will listen to you. As for those building a career in product marketing, I think the same message holds.

Don't let people tell you you're not good enough to work in product marketing. You might, unfortunately, run into people who don't believe in you, who block your career, who tell you that you'll never make it and that you should just quit. But if you really love product marketing, you shouldn't need others’ validation to pursue that.

It kind of goes back to what I was saying at the beginning, where we had a conversation around how social media really causes everyone to compare, and have a need to prove everything to each other. But ultimately, you yourself are enough.

Let's say that you are failing, it's not the end of the world, do what you love, even if it means that you fail and fail and fail again, you always have to keep trying. And if product marketing for you is what you are really passionate about, go all in. That's my little spiel, I guess about the advice that I would give to people in product marketing looking to grow or looking to start.

Mark Assini  41:32

I love that. I think that's such a fantastic message. Actually, I think a great message to end on. With that I'll just say thank you so much for your time today, Maria, this has been a great chat. I love learning a little bit more about your career, how you came into the role of product marketing, and your really unique backstory there as well.

And for this idea of narrative building and how critical it is to company and product success. I think for anybody who has questions about narrative building, you're definitely a person to approach and ask questions to.

So I'm sure our listeners will appreciate the insights you shared today, as well as reach out to you afterward for some more help. And if that's the case, if anybody would like to reach out to you, what's the best way to get in touch?

Maria Massad  42:11

Absolutely and I really encourage it. I am always looking to meet new people and mentor to be honest. But if you are looking to reach out, feel free to follow me on LinkedIn by searching my name Maria Massad. Or you can follow me on Twitter and my handle is @Maria_Massad.

Mark Assini  42:30

Awesome. Well, again, thank you so much, Maria, this has been fantastic. I really enjoyed our conversation today. With that, I will let you go. Thanks so much and I'm sure we will chat again soon.

Maria Massad  42:39

Thank you so much mark and to the whole Product Marketing Alliance.

Written by:

Stephanie Whalley

Stephanie Whalley

Steph is Senior Copywriter here at PMA and you can usually find her crafting content, writing words and sniffing out typos (or making a cup of tea!)

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Product Marketing Life [podcast]: Maria Massad