Ask not what marketing can do for you, ask what YOU can do for marketing: a product manager’s guide to marketing

everything is marketing

I’ve been running Articulate Marketing for nearly 15 years now and, in that time, I’ve met a lot of product managers and technical specialists who see marketing as a kind of voodoo.

In their mind it is a tool for communicating the features of their product to the ignorant masses or, worse, it is a wilful trivialisation and misrepresentation of their product.

Clue: it’s not about features

Product people love their products. They know all the details and they know exactly how their product compares with their competitors’, feature by feature.

But marketing is not voodoo. It is also NOT:

  • Shouting about product features
  • A glorified feature comparison table
  • About ‘speeds and feeds’
  • A monologue
  • About the company
  • Focused on competition

Product marketing for product managers

Good product managers work with marketing. The best product managers also do marketing. These tips explain how product managers can do something for marketing.

Spend time with customersThe better you understand what customers need, what they know and how they absorb product information, the better you will be at communicating with them. Back when I was making computer games, some of our teams made games just for hard-core gamers but our most successful games were made for kids. We had to think about how kids actually played games without making any assumptions. The same thing worked for ‘BeerCo’ in this HBR case study.Create user personasYou can help marketers by creating personas for your ideal users. Share your ideas about how people will use your product and what problems it solves in the form of user stories. The benefit of writing personas – fictionalised individual users – is that it forces you to see your product in the context of a customer’s life. Unlike you, they DON’T spend every waking moment thinking about your product.





Ask ‘so what’Every time you mention a product feature, ask yourself ‘so what?’ What does it mean for the customer? Always give an example or user story about the feature. This helps marketing people understand the benefits. For example, when you say ‘it’s a cloud-based app’ you can add ‘so customers can access it from any browser on any device so they can work anywhere.’ If you can’t come up with a compelling story for a feature, it’s just not important for users.



PrioritiseCustomers don’t have infinite attention for details (and nor do marketing people, sometimes). There isn’t an unlimited advertising budget to communicate your features either. So you have to prioritise. What are the most important? What differentiates your product? What’s the shortest, neatest way of explain why it’s good. If you prioritise well – edit well – then you remove the need for marketing people to do it badly.Explain USPsYou understand your product better than anyone else. You also understand how it compares against the competition. Instead of sharing this information in a literal way, use it to identify the top 3-5 unique selling points (USPs) for your product. These are the things that you do better, cheaper, faster or whatever. Make marketing people happy by doing this homework for them.


Engage marketing earlierMarketing is not a bolt-on, go-faster extra to do at the end of the product development. Get marketers involved in product development. That doesn’t mean the usual corporate meeting nonsense complete with fake sign-offs and meaningless Dilbert-style ‘input’. Actually find some real marketing people and build a relationship and engage with them over the whole product lifecycle. Who knows? They might have some useful ideas.
Start a blogSome of the best blogs are written by product people. In software, for example, check out Signal vs. Noise or Rands in Repose. They are powerful marketing assets because they are authentic expressions of creators and builders, not marketing people. In every market and industry, there will be expert bloggers who add lustre to their company’s brand with their market and product insight. Be one of them.



Make an unboxing videoGo to YouTube and search for ‘unboxing X’ where X is your favourite gadget. You’ll find dozens of videos by enthusiastic reviewers lovingly taking a product out of its box and reviewing it. You can make videos like this to share your product expertise. How-to videos that help people solve problems or get the most out of your product are also helpful. You don’t need high production values, just good information.


Evangelise early adoptersEarly adopters, in any market, are very influential customers. Unlike majority customers, they seek out detailed information and compare products against their competitors. This is where your product and market expertise is an asset. Go out and engage with them – share your enthusiasm! For a great guide to product evangelism from the grandfather of the discipline, read Guy Kawasaki’s The Macintosh Way. It’s a free download. Yes, he was Steve Jobs’s first Mac evangelist.

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