In 2015, chiefmartec.com reported a “staggering” 1,876 SaaS vendors. In 2020, there were over 8,000. That’s some serious growth.
Drift’s CEO, Dave Cancel, says there are three phases to every industry:
- The Edison phase, where companies are innovating and everything is new;
- The Model-T phase, where companies are improving early versions, and it’s easy to stand out because you’re one of the first, and;
- The P&G phase, where you have to find a way to be the top 1% in a saturated market either by becoming a massive global brand or a leader in your niche.
SaaS is in the final phase. It’s now winner-take-all.
Product marketing gives you the edge to compete in this hyper-crowded market—and win. It helps you pinpoint the unique positioning and messaging that builds an emotional moat around your brand.
In this article, you’ll learn how to design an effective product marketing strategy that propels your brand to that top 1%.
Table of contents
- Getting to know product marketing (and what it is not)
- Product marketing goals: Empowering GTM teams to excel
- Driving business success through customer-led product design
- Building a product marketing team: The crucial traits that spell success
- Build a distinctive, customer-driven product marketing strategy
Getting to know product marketing (and what it is not)
Product marketing is one of the most crucial yet misunderstood marketing functions.
One of the reasons for this confusion is its relatively recent appearance in the organization. The other reason comes from product marketing’s existence at the intersection of four critical departments: sales, marketing, product, and customer success.
As a standalone function, product marketing’s primary focus areas are positioning, voice of customer research, buyer intelligence, messaging, pricing and packaging, customer segmentation, and product launches.
While product marketing forms its own department, product marketers spend much of their time collaborating with each of the four teams.
Here are some examples of tasks they’ll perform in each department:
- Product. Reporting research back to product managers to inform future product developments, receiving key information on changes and updates across the product lifecycle, and gathering product usage insights.
- Sales. Assisting the sales team to develop content used throughout the sales process and leveraging insights from sales conversations to develop messaging.
- Marketing. Using research results to develop positioning and messaging that marketing teams can then access to promote the product and generate demand.
- Customer Success. Using insights from customer support conversations to understand common problems and solving these objections by creating informative content.
Product marketing’s main goal is to contribute to revenue generation; other marketing and sales teams are product marketing’s most important internal customers.
Product marketers help by:
- Educating sales on the challenges buyers are having;
- Conducting win/loss analyses to understand what’s working well and what’s not;
- Developing collateral and sales assets to help agents sell better.
They also work very closely with the product team, primarily on research tasks that inform product development.
They gather intel on competitors, perform market research, and deeply understand how other products function to inform the direction and roadmap of product development.
The role of product marketing is more about answering key strategic questions (who needs the solution, where are they, how do we reach them, etc.) than it is about running specific marketing campaigns.
That’s where we see the collaboration between product marketing and traditional marketing teams.
Product marketing vs. traditional marketing
Marketing is a broader function responsible for communicating value to prospects across various disciplines (content, performance marketing, brand marketing, etc.).
Traditional marketing usually focuses on developing brand awareness and generating sales opportunities, users, and conversions.
Product marketers are concerned with the success of the product at every stage of the product lifecycle.
The two functions work closely together.
Product marketing performs customer research, develops product positioning and messaging, and collaborates with other departments throughout the product lifecycle to understand how the product is performing from a consumer standpoint.
They communicate insights to the marketing team, who leverage this information to build lead generation or brand-focused marketing campaigns, reporting the results of those efforts back to the product team for further analysis.
Sales and product marketing: Who owns what? And why?
Product marketers are the masters of their product. As such, it is their responsibility to oversee all content and collateral used to drive the promotion of the product, particularly in the market.
However, this is rarely recognized by many startups. It’s critical to understand how to distribute ownership of certain duties across the two teams.
There are three aspects of sales that product marketing teams should own:
- Sales content;
- Competitive strategy;
- Messaging and positioning.
Sales teams own content creation for their pitch desks, product demos, email campaigns, etc. However, they should run everything through the product marketing team to ensure they’re positioning the benefits of a product accurately.
Take this slide deck from Leadnomics, a customer acquisition platform.
By having the product marketing team own the creation of assets like this, Leadnomics ensures their messaging is relevant and really speaks to the customer.
Product marketers are strategic thinkers. They’ve invested time in market research, so they know what their competitors are selling and their messaging and positioning.
Product marketers make it their job to understand the entire state of the market. As such, they can justify decisions with the most objective lens.
Messaging and positioning
Product marketers are best positioned to communicate the product’s value. They’ve researched and analyzed the market, informed and collaborated with the product development team, and developed the product messaging strategy.
Their product marketing team understands a common customer pain point: CRMs are often too feature-dense and difficult to use.
They address that pain point directly in their homepage messaging: “Powerful, not overpowering.”
Product marketers should be responsible for training marketing and sales teams on the best messaging narratives to keep the whole organization aligned.
Product marketing goals: Empowering GTM teams to excel
One major function of product marketing is to empower the teams responsible for go-to-market strategy.
This requires foresight and understanding—product marketing teams must know where buyers are today.
They seek to understand how an audience makes buying decisions, what criteria they used to assess solutions, and how that might develop according to trends.
They need to know the product and market today and have a deep understanding of what both will look like tomorrow to remain competitive.
Defining product marketing’s contribution to revenue success
As a function that sits between four major departments, product marketing owns a variety of responsibilities that work toward overall revenue growth.
Responsibilities can vary across industries (particularly in B2B vs. B2C). Broadly, product marketing duties include customer and market research, product positioning and messaging development, and collaboration with internal stakeholders at different revenue departments.
“Riling up” internal teams
Product marketers work with internal teams (particularly sales and customer success) to get them excited about how their product can help transform the lives of those who use it.
Product marketers design marketing plans for new product launches. They assess and analyze consumer sentiment to quickly adapt positioning and messaging if a product launch plan goes wrong.
Product positioning and messaging
Product positioning and messaging are major components of the product marketer’s role.
They research the competitive landscape to determine how best to position their product’s unique features and conduct studies, like voice of customer research, to inform and develop messaging strategies.
Creating sales assets and collateral
Product marketers collaborate with sales team members to understand weaknesses in the sales process and identify opportunities where conversations can be improved using sales enablement content.
For example, reps at the hypothetical productivity tool startup may find it difficult to communicate the benefit of the company’s minimalist UI. Product marketing can design a practical one-pager detailing the real-world benefits.
They would then manage the creation of deliverables such as pitch decks and product demonstrations.
Customer & market research
Research is an integral part of the product marketer’s role. Product marketers perform research to understand:
- The processes new customers go through before a purchase;
- The key considerations buyers make during the customer journey;
- What kind of messaging resonates best with their audience;
- The state of the market and competitive landscape;
- How competitors are positioning and marketing their products;
- Where competitors are falling short (and how to capitalize);
- Customer engagement with marketing campaigns.
Reporting back to product teams
Product teams develop a roadmap for product development. This roadmap must be malleable, and should be informed by product marketers’ research.
Product marketers report back to the product team on customer sentiment related to product updates and relay information such as competitor developments or common issues existing customers have to inform future product developments.
Product marketers use customer research to develop stories that resonate with their audience.
Take Pipedrive, a CRM platform, and the cases studies they share:
Case studies are an ideal storytelling method because they typically feature familiar story figures: the hero (the client), the guide (the business), and the villain (the issue the client was facing).
Align these case studies with your target audience to attract more of the right customers.
Product marketing success analysis
Being a highly-strategic function, product marketers regularly analyze the impact of their messaging and positioning to understand what’s not working (and get rid of it) vs. what is (and double down on it).
For example, the hypothetical tool’s product marketing team might analyze how their social media messaging resonates with customers. They determine that messaging focusing on reducing email and meeting load converts better than messaging about the tool’s technical abilities.
Product marketing uses the insights identified through various research undertakings to inform content creation for assets used in sales and marketing efforts.
Their Town Square business resource center is a powerful product marketing example.
It provides a comprehensive resource database for its target audience, delivering marketing information, data insights, and customer services.
Square also profiles users of their tool, using storytelling to convince and convert potential customers.
Measuring success: Product marketing metrics to track growth
There are many metrics marketers can measure, but everyone cares about one core metric: revenue.
Revenue allows companies to innovate and serve the developing needs of the market, and it’s why product marketers have paychecks.
Revenue growth over time (weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly) should be the primary metric product marketing teams pay attention to.
Outside of revenue, product marketing teams have multiple internal customers to serve:
- Customer Success.
This means product marketers should also be paying attention to the KPIs measured by those internal teams.
For example, your sales team’s win rates are critical to understanding how a market responds to your product.
Additionally, competitor presence in deals is an important metric to track. You can spot challenges before they become problems and get ahead of them.
Driving business success through customer-led product design
The products that win in today’s environment tap into a customer need that competitors aren’t filling.
Product marketers advocate for your customers, seek to understand the market’s needs, and work with the product team to ensure your product fulfills these needs.
They also work with sales and marketing teams to leverage the insights they identify through deep audience research.
Take Billie, a shaving and cosmetics retailer.
They made a stark discovery by studying the competitive landscape: most razor brands don’t show body hair on women in their campaigns. This omission really annoyed their customer base.
Billie carved out a niche by highlighting this pain point and launching a marketing campaign titled Project Body Hair.
By deliberately showcasing body hair on women in their ads, Billie appealed to a target audience of people who’ve felt alienated by unrealistic portrayals of the shaving experience.
Future-proofing your business
Product marketers help companies build and sell products for today’s market, but they also look ahead to determine what market demand will look like in the future.
Today, many verticals are oversaturated. While proper positioning is key to succeeding now, product marketers must understand how product, sales, and marketing can adapt and stay competitive moving forward.
Take Hyundai, a car manufacturer and proponent of electric-powered vehicles.
Hyundai’s product marketers know that Gen Z and millennials are more concerned about renewable energy than previous generations.
So, they launched a product line called Hyundai Home to capture the growing demand for home charging solutions.
With Hyundai Home, customers can capture energy using solar panels on the roof of their home, store it in Hyundai’s proprietary Energy Storage System, and use it to charge their electric vehicle with a Home EV charger.
Note that these products are unavailable, but Hyundai have a waitlist to generate demand for up-and-coming products and build an email list at the same time:
Building a product marketing team: The crucial traits that spell success
Many product marketing managers don’t have a strong understanding of how to structure a team or what to look for in a product marketer.
Most product marketing teams have a Product Marketing Manager at the head of the team (typically reporting to a VP of Marketing) and several product marketers with varying expertise (and various titles like PM Associate and PM Researcher).
As a general rule, you should look to hire for gaps in your own skillset rather than looking for clones of yourself.
For example, suppose you’re strong at audience research and developing product positioning but less well-versed in creating sales assets. In that case, you’d do well to complement your skillset by hiring a product marketer with content creation expertise.
Traits of a powerful product marketer
Beyond experience and expertise in specific product marketing functions, look for these traits when hiring and building your product marketing team.
Communication & storytelling
Research demonstrates that effective communication (in narrative form) leads to a coupling in neural activity between the storyteller and the listener, resulting in enhanced comprehension.
Hire product marketers with strong communication and storytelling skills. They’ll effectively present a message that will resonate with your prospects (and convince them to make a purchase).
Product marketers work intimately with team members from sales, marketing, product, and customer success.
They’ll need a team-oriented mindset and a degree of understanding of how those departments function.
Effective product marketers are those who demonstrate entrepreneurial traits.
They’ll grow your business by identifying gaps in the market, spotting weaknesses in your strategy, and keeping an eye on market developments.
Senior Director of Product Marketing at Outreach, Jordan Greene, offers his advice on product marketers:
“An excellent product marketer is customer-obsessed. They’ve built a set of practices that keep them regularly in touch with customers and ultimately produce significantly more effective messaging and content.”
If a product marketer can think like and sympathize with your audience, they’ll also understand how to put your product in front of them.
Great product marketers not only know your product inside and out, but they have a strong understanding of your industry too.
That means understanding who your competitors are, how their products work, and how they promote. It also means investigating market trends, customer pain points, and sentiment toward product direction.
Build a distinctive, customer-driven product marketing strategy
An effective product marketing strategy is driven by the voice of the customer and a strong understanding of the competitive landscape.
To differentiate your brand in saturated markets, you must understand what drives customer purchasing decisions and how existing competitors promote their products.
Analyze the market
Product marketing strategy is a research-heavy undertaking. In the early stages of a product’s lifecycle, an understanding and analysis of current market conditions drive strategy.
Market research breaks down into two main types.
Primary research involves conducting customer interviews, surveys, focus groups, etc. Organizations often outsource this type of research to an external company.
Secondary research includes analyzing existing data from internal sources, online sources, journals, and industry studies.
For the sake of speed, consider a hybrid approach.
Secondary research can access market insights, such as demographic makeup and demand for given product features. Then, use customer feedback surveys and brand tracking tools to assess more qualitative features, such as brand associations and perceived quality.
Take Drift. They invested heavily in customer feedback and user behavior analysis to understand what drives their target audience: Revenue.
Then, they go right after the pain point in their messaging.
Customer surveys effectively gather large-scale, quantitative data (like understanding which pain points are most important to resolve).
To establish qualitative insights (like how those pain points impact day-to-day performance), conduct long-format video interviews. Transcribe conversations using a tool like Rev for deeper analysis you can share between teams.
Complete a SWOT analysis
Use the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) framework to analyze your positioning strategy and to answer the following questions:
- Where does our product fit?
- How can we improve upon competitor offerings?
- What challenges exist that threaten our success?
Take this example SWOT analysis from a B2B shipping supplier.
A SWOT analysis for this company identifies a weakness in its email marketing initiative.
It also shows that sales conversion is increasing, which might point to a successful messaging change.
Use the opportunities section of your SWOT analysis to identify your product marketing strategy priorities. For this company, developing an effective email marketing strategy would be critical.
Identify your target audience
Use your market analysis and research into your current user base to develop user personas that can inform marketing campaigns, messaging, and product positioning.
Buyer personas should be heavily data-driven, using surveys and one-on-one customer interviews to develop an understanding of what drives purchasing decisions for your audience.
Adrienne Barnes, the founder of Best Buyer Persona, recommends interviewing three kinds of customers.
- Biggest Fans: The customers who use your product day in and day out, and can explain exactly why they work with you over anyone else.
- Greatest Enemies: Those who used to be customers but canceled abruptly and left a negative review.
- “Meh” Customers: The customers who’ve joined recently and can provide fresh feedback on the decision-making and sales process.
Talking to all three kinds of users allows product marketers to understand why customers buy, stay, and leave.
Drift, for example, already knows that revenue is a key driver for customer acquisition.
Their “Meh Customers” can teach them what recent revenue challenges motivated them to sign up. From their “Biggest Fans,” they can understand exactly how Drift delivers revenue growth for their clients.
Collate the answers across all conversations and divide insights into four categories to build out your user personas.
Craft your positioning statement and product messaging
You’ve done your research. You know who uses similar products and may have an interest in yours. You know your competitors, their weaknesses, and how you’re going to differentiate your product and brand to get ahead.
Now, it’s time to declare your unique value and communicate it to your target market.
For larger companies, product messaging may be segmented across the different audiences and user personas you’ve developed.
They offer a comprehensive tool with analytics and a design studio suitable for large-scale enterprise customers.
But, they know that startup customers use their tools to grow their businesses.
To cater to this segment, they created a landing page with that simple message: Mailchimp will help you grow your business.
Use your messaging to highlight the unique pain point to your target customer. Show them how you’ll help solve that challenge. Describe why your solution is worth choosing over your competitors’.
For Mailchimp, the target audience was small companies, and the pain point was driving growth. Their messaging demonstrates how Mailchimp is powerful and effective but affordable and intuitive enough for small businesses.
Product messaging should be short, to the point, benefit-driven, and within branding guidelines.
Take Yac, an asynchronous communication tool that stands against video meetings.
Their product messaging is direct and straight to a pain point.
Use simple language (no industry jargon) to communicate product positioning. Describe the challenge discreetly (Zoom fatigue), address your product’s primary use (async meetings), and the group of users you serve (remote teams).
Product marketing is one of the most crucial disciplines in today’s environment. It bridges the gap between product, marketing, sales, and customer success teams, and owns key initiatives such as market research, product positioning, and messaging.
Build your product marketing team by analyzing your own strengths and weaknesses and hiring to fill any gaps.
Then, engage in intensive market and customer research to develop a data-driven product marketing strategy.
Become great at product marketing by taking our Product Marketing Minidegree.