This article is based on Meghan’s brilliant interview with Mark Assini on the Product Marketing Life podcast. Check it out here!

Ever feel like product marketing and design are two on totally different planets at your company? 

As a PMM, do visual elements feel disconnected from your carefully crafted messaging and positioning

Don't worry – a better way is possible.

Get ready to find out how closer ties between product marketing and design teams lead to better products and outcomes. You'll get insights on:

  • The benefits of combining analytical and creative approaches
  • Why connecting product marketing and design teams is vital
  • The importance of fostering alignment for successful product launches and rebrands
  • Five keys to ensuring your positioning stands out

My path to product marketing

Before we dive in, let me introduce myself. My name is Meghan Pfeifer, and I'm a Senior Product Marketer and Brand Strategist at Innovatemap, a digital product agency. 

Like many PMMs, I took the scenic route to my current role. I actually studied industrial design in college; my background is in physical product design – or, as we used to describe it, “architecture for anything smaller than a house”. 

I got really interested in fashion and footwear design and ended up interning for Wolf & Shepherd when they were just starting out. I still remember holding NFL quarterback Brady Quinn’s shoes that we were shipping him and thinking “This is so cool!”

But soon after that, I had a bit of an existential crisis. I realized I didn’t want to specialize too narrowly. As much as I loved shoes and that experience, it was time to start looking for new opportunities.

That’s when, thanks to the Orr Fellowship, I connected with Innovatemap. At the time, they were just building out their brand services arm. With my design background, I was able to help Andy Kennedy, the creative director, establish Innovatemap's branding capabilities. 

I spent my first few years at Innovatemap as a brand designer. From there, I transitioned pretty seamlessly into product marketing. At first, I would sit in on PMMs’ meetings, positioning workshops, and messaging reviews, taking notes and soaking up knowledge.

In time, I started contributing ideas during those meetings. I realized I genuinely enjoyed this work, so I officially moved from the brand side to product marketing about two years ago.

Innovatemap offers more than just branding and product marketing though. As a digital product agency, we operate like a fractional product team for startups and scaleups. We fill gaps in clients’ product capabilities and bring in a fresh perspective.

On one side of the house, we have product marketing and product brand; the other side covers user experience (UX) and product management; and then our research section runs the gamut.

How my design background influences my approach to product marketing

A lot of product marketing – whether you’re building foundational statements or identifying top benefits and differentiators – is very analytical. It works the logical, fact-finding left side of the brain much more than the creative right side of the brain. 

But when it comes down to it, there’s an art to product marketing too. When you’re crafting external messaging, incorporating the brand voice, and tailoring your message for different personas, you need empathy and creativity from the right brain too. 

Thanks to my design background, I can easily toggle between these modes. I use my analytical side to find the exact words and facts to focus on when establishing a positioning foundation. Then I inject more creativity into outward-facing messaging. 

My past as a designer also helps me better communicate with creative teams. I understand where UX and brand designers are coming from; I get their motivations and ideas. This enables me to translate in both directions: conveying business and stakeholder needs to designers, and making designers’ contributions understandable to other groups. 

The power of collaboration between product marketing and brand design

Typically, when we think of product marketing, we see it at the center of sales, customer success, marketing, and product. However, we don't often talk about the relationship between product marketing and design. 

At Innovatemap though, we work closely with design teams to accomplish business goals together. There’s even a little overlap between the work of PMMs and brand designers – that overlap is where the magic happens.

We're all in the same kickoffs and discovery meetings, working toward the shared goal of setting a strong foundation for our clients. Part of that foundation involves words and messaging, which product marketing focuses on; the other part is visuals and aesthetics, which the brand team handles.

The positioning statement provides a core foundation that informs our branding decisions. After all, it’s hard to define an authentic brand idea without a solid understanding of who you are, who you serve, and what benefits you offer. You need to articulate those central truths before deciding on the right look and feel for your brand.

Audience analysis is where product marketing and brand overlap most. Product marketing focuses on what that audience wants to hear, and brand focuses on what they want to see. And then in client presentations, it’s typically a product marketer who writes all the messaging for the brand concept screens we show.

Let me give you a recent example of how PMM and brand teams work together at Innovatemap. Doodle, the scheduling tool, came to us last year to help them rebrand for the B2B market. They’d always been known as a tool for planning baby showers and barbecues – not serious business use. 

As a product marketing and brand design team, our goal was to change that perception. The product marketers did it with words and the design team did it with visuals. Throughout this whole process, both teams were communicating back and forth to stay aligned. For instance, if we highlighted a feature or benefit, how would that show up visually? 

When you start thinking this way, it's easy for product marketers and brand designers to work toward the same goal.

Why it’s vital for PMMs and product design teams to work together

Of course, brand designers aren’t the only designers out there. We also have product designers to consider. 

Product designers and PMMs don't always get to interact much at companies. That’s because product design focuses on users and user experience, while product marketing targets buyers and external audiences. As you may know, especially in B2B SaaS, buyers and users aren't the same people. That's often why those two teams don't collaborate more.

However, at Innovatemap, we believe that to create a better product you need to deeply understand both your buyer and your user. Persona messaging and user journeys have to be closely tied together. Even if buyers and users have different problems and motivations, how a company responds to each group should differ but still work toward the same goal.

The big difference with an agency like Innovatemap is that we bring product marketing in from day one when building a product, whereas at traditional tech companies, product marketing may not be part of the initial planning or development. 

A lot of companies are still defining what product marketing means internally and where it fits in the org chart – under product or under marketing? And teams are often siloed so even if product marketing reports to the product team, product marketers and UX designers typically don't collaborate. As an agency with both skill sets on staff, we can bring those people together in the same meetings and conversations to create better products.

Why tech companies should invest in product marketing from day one

In a product's early days, it's vital to get everyone on the same page, focused on the same North Star before the product even launches. Doing this won't limit what the product can do later; it will actually provide focus.

We advocate for bringing product marketing in from day one because we believe it's foundational. Product marketers should be helping to define the strategy from the very beginning.

This is often a steep learning curve for our clients, many of whom are founders who’ve identified a problem in their industry that they think can be solved with a new digital product. They engage us to build it but may not fully grasp all the product functions, like product marketing. 

While they understand brands and visual identities, most don’t realize the importance of a foundational positioning statement in setting the course for their product roadmap. We’re always preaching that the positioning statement should be that guiding light, but not all founders take it to heart at first. 

However, one client recently came back to us to talk about the positioning statement we’d crafted. He called out areas to focus on now, where he saw opportunities to evolve the product over 10 years, and where additional opportunities could emerge. I was so happy – finally, someone who gets that the positioning statement and roadmap are interconnected!

The keys to effective positioning

We use a few frameworks at Innovatemap to craft strong positioning statements and benefit pillars for clients. I’m not going to spill all our secret sauce, but what I can share is the rubric we call the keys to effective positioning:

  1. The positioning should be simple, avoiding exaggerated or meaningless claims – we won't say “world's best” in a foundational statement. 
  2. It must be relevant, directly addressing the customer's most pressing pains. 
  3. The positioning also needs to be repeatable – concise enough that people can consistently rally around and reinforce the same message. 
  4. It should be unique, claiming something none of your competitors are claiming.
  5. It must be authentic and in line with the essence of the company. 

That last one can be tricky to pin down because it’s so subjective. We recently created a new positioning statement for a client, and while they loved it, it didn't quite align with their identity. We had to rework that statement to capture who they truly are and what makes them stand out.

Final thoughts

That’s a wrap on our journey through the intersection of product marketing and design. If you’re feeling inspired to collaborate more closely with your design teams, fantastic! When these two worlds collide, some pretty amazing things can happen.

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