Just recently, I had the spur-of-the-moment pleasure of viewing the critically-acclaimed production of Hamilton at the majestic CIBC Theatre during my short visit to Chicago.
Weeks later, I’m still finding myself reflecting and replaying the mesmerizing tunes of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap-driven musical in my head. But while I enjoyed the show (yes, it really was that good) it’s what originally brought me to the Windy City that has me reeling with excitement.
The Product Marketing Summit—a world series of product marketing conferences built by the largest product marketing community—made a tour stop there in early November. I opted to take the trip from my home base in Philly and sat in the audience with over 200 other product marketing professionals.
I voyaged through my 8 pages of laptop notes, and here are a five of my key takeaways of why you should be excited to be in product marketing.
1. You get to embrace your inner scientist.
Elizabeth Brigham from Morningstar kicked off the conference on day 1 with a session on becoming a marketing scientist, a theme that truly echoed throughout the two day event.
I often evaluate the pros and cons of working for a large firm versus a start-up. Turns out a major advantage of the former is having access to sophisticated data operations which can be overlooked. Product marketers can add value to their marketing organizations by defining the who (i.e. your addressable market and which portion can be your clients less the competitive discount) and the why (based on your core competencies and how they differ in your industry). Pricing is then a mirror reflection of the two.
Then comes experimentation. Jennifer Roberts from Everlaw argued that you should always be experimenting and not to make assumptions. Make hypothesis! As a marketer with a professional audience just as a busy and risk averse, I have empathy for the unique challenges she experiences in marketing legal technology to lawyers. I was impressed with the lesson she shared about reassuring her clients of their voice in the creative process. Definitely something we should all be doing.
2. You are uniquely positioned to view the entire consumer journey.
Not only do we sit at the intersection of product, marketing, and sales, but we’re often relied upon by our marketing colleagues who specialize in different dimensions of the marketing funnel as an input into their craft.
Advertising, Events, PR, Direct Mktg, Social Media—some of the best marketers I know are specialists in these marketing mix disciplines, but they tend to focus on one sliver of the customer decision making journey.
As a product marketer, we can ensure our touch points are integrated and work together as a unified force. When was the last time you mapped out the entire customer or prospect experience and identified points of friction or triggers?
Try overlaying that experience with all your marketing touchpoints. Take it a step further by adding sales interactions. If you find that exercise difficult, it might be indicative that your marketing and sales teams aren’t as aligned as they could be.
During a coffee break during the conference, a few of us admitted to not having completed this exercise in a long time—some ever. Depending on how susceptible your product is to market shifts will inform how frequently this exercise should be done. I consider it a critical input to my product’s annual marketing planning process.
3. The demand for product marketing is increasing.
A big theme from my notes came from speakers who are focused on building out and scaling their product marketing teams. PMM is still a relatively nascent function and some speakers offered tips for building a vision and hiring talent for impactful work. Others focused on how to develop your professional self.
One of my absolute favorite sessions of the conference came from Robin Pam of Optimizely. She began her session noting how hard skills—like messaging and positioning, making a great deck, PMing a launch—are important but will only get you so far. Credibility, however, will gain you influence. She offered these 4 ingredients to credibility:
- Product knowledge
- Data ownership
- Customer empathy
- Constant communication.
My favorite was owning your data. As PMMs, few things are more important than revenue and having the right data helps you ask the right questions at every step to drive impact. Executives love to know that someone is looking at the right things. Get close to revenue and own the narrative.
Perhaps the most entertaining session came from Yoni Solomon, direct of product marketing at G2. He offered 5 product marketing personas:
- The storyteller (the J.K Rowlings)
- The performer (the Freddie Mercurys)
- The evangelist (the Steve Jobs)
- The strategist (the Marie Kondos)
- The playmaker (the Michael Jordans)
I feel I teeter between the evangelist and the strategist. The lesson of the session was all about building diverse teams with unique skills and how every team member has a unique role to play. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
4. You get to spend time with your customers
This one seems fundamental, but how many product marketers rely on sales to be the “inner voice?” Don’t do that. Tamara Niesen from Shopify Plus offered some quick tips to be customer obsessed.
- If you have a customer advocacy team, meat with them. Understand the drivers and detractors of your NPS.
- Go on a ride along. It’s common to feel like you’ll be a nuisance, but it’s all about preparation. Before going out, have an intended outcome. Ask them what business problems they are trying to solve for and what would make their professional lives easier. B2B clients want to be heard just as much as B2C.
- Bring customers together. Shopify hosted an event where clients came together in an intimate setting where they felt vulnerable enough to share where they have failed. Would love to have been a fly on the wall for that!
Andrew Peterson from Clozd also offered a position to interact with your clients post pitch. His presentation on tips for an effective win/loss analysis suggested going straight to the source—actual buyers and decision makers—to find why you won or lost their business; even better if you leverage a neutral third party for the sake of bias, candor, or bandwidth.
Try tagging and tracking key themes. It’s okay to start small. Just prioritize getting started. Then interpret the results, democratize the findings, and calibrate and expand over time. Be sure to
make continual improvements to your interview guide, sampling strategy, and steadily expand to cover more of your pipeline.
5. You get to tell stories
A common thread weaved through the majority of sessions spoke to storytelling. Anna Schena from Narrative Science spoke about how authentic stories start with people, not products and offered four key elements of great storytelling:
- The hook – Make it provocative if you can.
- Describe the old world
- Paint the new world
- Call to Action
Another speaker, Doug Weatherhead from Medable, shared a piece of feedback he received from Seth Godin,
“Tell true stories that resonate with the smallest viable audience and make them easy to share.”
Not sure where to start? Laura Oppenheimer from Quizlet reminded us to think of your firm’s brand framework as the internal OS for your company. It contains the building blocks of your story for you to create engaging content. Be sure your product’s positioning—from messages to copy—connect back to your brand’s purpose.
I left the conference feeling more excited about being in product marketing now more than ever. If you get the chance to swing by any of the other Product Marketing Summit stops, I’d highly recommend it.