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6 min read

Product marketer- service provider or master of the universe?

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Raman Sharma is the Vice President of Product Marketing at DigitalOcean. At the time of this presentation for the Masters of Product Marketing in October 2021, he was the Head of Product Marketing at the same company. Catch up on the presentations from this event using our OnDemand service.

In this article, we’re going to tackle an important question: should product marketers be master strategists, or should they be service providers, helping other teams achieve their goals?

The truth is, you can and should be both. We’re going to discuss the times when you should bring out your inner director and when you should bring out your inner assistant.

Main talking points

About me

My name is Raman Sharma, and I lead product marketing and developer engagement programs at DigitalOcean, a cloud services company.

I've spent close to two decades in the software industry. I moved from being a software engineer to a product manager. I’m now a product marketer almost entirely in the developer tools and cloud services base.

Non-negotiable elements of product marketing

Before we delve into the important question, I want to touch on the specific aspects of product marketing that are non-negotiable. These are the core values: the things that make you a product marketer in the first place. These things are true whether you find yourself in the lead or taking a backseat.

Understand your customers

This is true for both users as well as decision-makers. You need to know who they are. More importantly, what are their stated and unstated desires and problems?

Understand the domain

Do you know your industry, your competition, the trends happening in the industry, and how they impact your business?

Understand your products

Do you understand the product capabilities, the major use case scenarios, differentiators, shortcomings, integration points, and extensibility points? How do your products interlock with other similar products in the ecosystem?

An image of scrabble letters spelling out "people remember stories".

Bring it all together to tell a story

But not just any story, this is the story of how your products help your customers in their journey. A story not just about your products, but about your business and your company. Why do you exist and why does your unique point of view even matter?

I would go to the extent of saying that if you do not take on the burden of building this knowledge base, then someone else will do it for you. And you may not like the result, someone will craft a value proposition for you. Someone will define a competitive positioning for you.

And if you want to make sure that those things are rooted in a deep understanding of customers and domain, you need to own this problem and you need to make it known to everyone else that you are the one working on this problem.

Product marketing means different things in different contexts

Now that we have defined the non-negotiables, let’s get back to the important question: masters of the universe or service providers? Well, context, my friends, is everything.

Think about the kind of things product marketers do in their day-to-day jobs. As you know, they depend on multiple factors 👇

Four images that say "type of business", "type of go to market motions", "orientation of leaders" and "people on the job"

Type of business

What is the nature of your business? A product marketer in high tech will have a very different orientation from a product marketer in pharmaceuticals.

Type of go-to-market motions

The GTM motions of your business. A PMM who relies heavily on sales motions will be spending time on a very different set of things as compared to a product marketer working in a self-serve business.

Like everyone else, marketing leaders are shaped by their unique journeys. Some will come from a product-centric background, some will come from a brand and communications background. Some will come from a demand generation background. Their mindset and how they implement their organizational structure will also define how product marketing teams shape up.

People on the job

What are their unique strengths and passions? Also, determine what product marketing overall ends up becoming an organization. Product marketing, just by the nature of the job, tends to be a discipline that embraces people from a lot of diverse backgrounds.

I myself came from an engineering and product management background. I worked with people who came from customer success, evangelism, technical sales, support, and even finance. The team that you build up will determine what mode you operate in.

As I mentioned earlier, context is everything.

Sometimes you're the director of the movie

Image of someone holding a clapperboard.

Now, let's jump into the discussion of the exciting occasions when product marketers do actually get to call the shots. You’ll be glad to know, there are quite a few occasions like this when you're:

  • Launching new products,
  • Creating go-to-market strategies,
  • Crafting, messaging and positioning,
  • Creating amazing stories around products, around customers and around industry trends, and how your customers should care about those things,
  • Creating product content and collateral to create awareness and buzz, and
  • When you're shaping the story of your company.

In doing all of these things, basically, you're telling other teams to execute on your vision and on your strategy.

You're calling the shots, through the website, through content through emails, on ads, in documentation, etc. People will lean on you. And if you do not direct, things don't move.

So, this is where you are playing that critical role of a master of the universe.

Sometimes you're the production assistant

Image of hands typing on a laptop, with glasses, a phone, two pencils and a plant next to them.

And then there are other times when you're not calling the shots, you're just helping the production of a movie go smoothly.

Now, some people might look down on a production assistant but think about how vital they are to the movie-making process. They make sure that enough research has gone into building the characters in the movie, and help to review the script of the movie beforehand.

The parallel for this in product marketing is when you find yourself in the service provider category. And trust me, in any well-functioning marketing team, this is a very, very healthy thing.

Collaboration, not comparison

Now, as a service provider, you're basically providing product, audience, and domain gravity to all the other marketing efforts. You'll be working with product management to provide inputs into product strategy. You’re not owning it, you’re informing it.

  • You'll work with the content marketing team to provide input into content strategy.
  • You'll help validate that content themes are relevant to our audience, and help review content for audience fit.
  • You'll work with demand in teams to ensure the targeting is correct.
  • You'll ensure the ad copy is suitable for the landing pages
  • You'll work with the lifecycle marketing teams to ensure that our communications are all in line with the desires and problem sets of these customers.

A group of people putting their hands together.

People sometimes debate which marketing team plays a more important role, which teams are more strategic, and which are more logistical and more operational in nature. I honestly find such debates to be futile. The more time I spend in product marketing, the more I become convinced that adopting a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving invariably produces better business results.

An image of a drawing of a person with the words "Self awareness is the key to growth" over the top.

Wrapping up

Finally, a word about your own career growth as a product marketer. Beyond just helping your business, the sooner you embrace this service provider side of your job, the happier you'll be. You'll become an overall better marketer and an overall better business thinker.

Here are the two major superpowers you need for growth. Number one, build a better understanding of your customers than anyone else.

And number two, be deeply curious about every other aspect of your GTM machinery. Whether it's brand, communications, dimension, lifecycle, or content, you need to be able to rely on them and learn from them when you don't have the necessary know-how.

But regardless of what role you need to take up, you won’t be able to embrace it without self-awareness. Being aware of your own skills and abilities will tell you when you can rely on your own skills and when you need to seek help from someone else.

Written by:

Raman Sharma

Raman Sharma

Raman Sharma is the Vice President of Product Marketing at DigitalOcean.

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Product marketer- service provider or master of the universe?