Why Your Product Marketing Is Struggling


Marketing is getting tougher, but product marketing is where things have really taken a turn. Difficulties with positioning, understanding customers, and simply adapting to difficult economic realities have all product marketers in a tough spot.

Even when you finally manage to find a successful strategy, it invites copycats and other competitors to mimic it and whittle away at your ROI. 

To make matters worse, you’re hardly in full control of your marketing efforts because you need to work so closely with product developers and even sales teams.

With all these challenges, finding success requires the right understanding of product marketing fundamentals, along with developing key strategies to maximize what you can do with your limited resources. Without those tools, you’re likely to continue struggling. 

But you can sidestep that struggle with the rock-solid fundamentals and innovative strategies below. They’ll equip you to transform your product marketing today, and well into the future.

What Is Product Marketing?

Whether they’re working in a B2B or B2C environment, one of the most common mistakes first-time product marketers make is assuming it works like any other marketing. So let’s begin by understanding what’s unique about marketing products.

First, product marketers need to adjust their activities to support products through a distinct lifecycle. That often means putting together specific strategies for a product launch, ongoing marketing during its life, and taking feedback to use in future iterations of the product. 

Each of these phases requires a different approach, and they may even run concurrently, potentially requiring product marketers to juggle multiple strategies at once.

What Is Product Marketing


Product phases aside, if great marketing is about the right message at the right time, great product marketing is about the right product for the right customer. A product marketer’s role is just as much about helping product developers craft the right product to begin with as it is finding the right customer for that product.

That’s why another critical element of product marketing is the way it brings together marketing, product developers, and occasionally salespeople. 

At a bare minimum, product marketers and developers must work together closely. Developers need to help marketers understand the product’s unique selling proposition, target audience, and how it’s supposed to provide value.

Marketers, on the other hand, need to ensure a consistent stream of feedback gets to those developers so they can understand whether their vision for the product corresponds to reality. The kinds of insights marketers and salespeople can provide product developers are invaluable, so creating regular feedback loops is a core element of good product marketing.

What Are the Goals of Product Marketing?

Breaking down the basics, successful product marketing begins with good product research. Marketers should always have an understanding of how their product solves a problem their customers have. Crafting and communicating that story is perhaps the most fundamental goal a product marketer can have.

The next goal is to drive that communication through effective customer targeting. This may mean something as simple as digitals ads, but it can also rely on community engagement depending on the type of product. This process can also involve a lot of competitor research to better understand how a product should be positioned.

Finally, the final goal of product marketing is to communicate ROI to stakeholders. Great marketing sadly requires this kind of work to ensure the value it provides is clear to senior leaders, ensuring marketing can continue to get the resources it needs to drive those results.

Product Marketing vs Product Management

One common mistake people make about product marketing is confusing it with product management. This can result in marketers being asked to justify or even make decisions about how a product is developed. So it’s important to appreciate the difference.

Put simply, product managers develop products that product marketers then market. But that doesn’t mean they should be totally distinct. Ideally, people in both of these roles will have a good level of understanding of the other because close coordination is so vital for their overall success.

Why Is Product Marketing so Important?

Without great product marketing, the people building products face a “if a tree falls in the woods” problem. In a globalized marketplace with a seemingly infinite number of products, it’s hardly surprising that amazing products get created every day. But not all of them are lucky enough to have great product marketers to bring them to the right customers. At the same time, great product marketers without great products are hardly likely to find success.

In an ideal world, product marketers go far beyond basic marketing and oversee a robust feedback loop of information between customers and developers. Without this feedback loop, even the best products will eventually lose out to competitors that are better able to evolve and adapt.

It’s as if someone asked you to design a car but you didn’t know anything about who it was for. Would you design something small, practical, and economical or would you go for a big pickup truck or SUV because of their popularity? Without knowing who your customer is and what their needs are, there’s no way to create and market a product successfully.

So the next time you hear a product developer say that their products practically sell themselves, remember that they’re just taking credit for your work. Luckily, there are ways to improve how you demonstrate your ROI to leaders, but we’ll get to that.

Common Product Marketing Problems

We’ve talked a lot about how product marketing functions in an ideal world, but reality is usually quite different. So really improving how your product marketing functions requires identifying and addressing some key problems.

Silos

With all the talk about how important coordination between functions is for product marketing, it’s no wonder silos can be so debilitating. 

For example, the product developers might have developed a specific feature to appeal to some category of customers, but without this knowledge marketers won’t know how to use that feature. 

Likewise, if marketers repeatedly hear that customers love or hate something about the product, it’s vital that information get back to the people who can use it to further iterate on the product itself. Without the free flow of information, everyone involved has to effectively work with one hand tied behind their back. 

One study found that the impact of keeping just data siloed can translate into a loss of 30% of annual revenue.

Silos Make Great Product Marketing Impossible

Differentiating and Positioning

Most product marketers are keenly aware that competition is on the rise. Rising costs, inflation, global competition, and supply chain issues are just a few things creating daily headaches. This is why positioning a product properly within a market and ensuring it’s clearly differentiated from the competition is such a tough challenge.

Throw in the reality of shortening attention spans, and product marketers have less time than ever to stand out in a marketplace that’s never been more crowded. Too often, this problem is left up to marketers to figure out long after a product has been developed, creating a recipe for failure.

Scaling

Congratulations! 

You worked closely with product developers to craft the perfect product for the right customer base. 

You marketed that product well and it’s taking off. 

Now comes the problem: scaling.

Even when you find a product marketing strategy that works, it’s not always easy to scale it up while maintaining your KPIs. In practice, this means product marketers need to be ready to adapt as they go, adjusting strategies to suit the unique challenges that arise when scaling.

Proving ROI

Taking the example a step further, sometimes you can find product marketing success only to struggle to prove the ROI to your stakeholders. Considering how difficult attribution is, it can be easy for salespeople to take all the credit or to struggle to demonstrate the value of an awareness-building campaign.

But proving marketing is contributing towards organizational success is the only way to ensure you get the resources you need to succeed. 

Otherwise, you risk getting stuck in a marketing death spiral where (assumed) poor performance justifies lower budgets which lead to even worse performance.

Not Having Enough Resources

Speaking of which, the perpetual problem of nearly all marketers these days is simply not having the resources we’d like. 

Often, leaders expect results to come before higher budgets, so product marketers need to figure out how to make something out of nearly nothing.

But it’s also easy to get caught up in wishing you had a bigger budget without being critical enough of how that budget is being used. Trying to do too much is a fast way to run through a budget before you’ve had the time to learn what marketing activities are going to be the most effective. 

Getting Quality Customer Data

We mentioned how silos can stop data and insights from getting to the people who need them, crippling your product marketing efforts. Well, often the challenge is getting that data to begin with. Even if you’re lucky enough to have salespeople feeding you great insights, those can easily be anecdotal and misleading.

Then there’s the issue of data analysis. Too often product marketers end up making decisions based on unreliable data, or simply data that’s not statistically significant. 

The result is marketers who aren’t just making bad decisions, they’re doing so with confidence (always a dangerous combination). 

Examples of Bad Product Marketing

For most product marketers out there, these examples should be heartening. 

They show that even the biggest budgets and fanciest agencies don’t always translate into success. 

It’s easy to point to big examples like Crystal Pepsi, the Segway, or Google Glass, but the more instructive examples are the smaller everyday ones.

You’re more likely to encounter everyday problems like hearing from sales that a customer asked for a specific feature and immediately going to your developers to request they make it. Several months and boatloads of money later, it turns out that feature doesn’t make a substantial enough difference to actually affect Customer Life Time Value (CLTV).

Or you might run a visibility campaign that helps bring in a ton of new sales leads. However, your attribution is a mess so as far as senior management is concerned, product marketing had nothing to do with it. Next thing you know your budget is cut and management is telling marketing they need to see some results.

In another case, product marketers might see clear data showing that customers don’t like a particular product. But the product development team insists that the product is great and the only reason for it not selling must be that marketing is failing. 

As a result, both teams go to management to ask for backing. Now instead of two functions collaborating to identify and fix the problem, you have a situation akin to two kids running to their parents and yelling about what the other just did.

When Product Marketing Goes Wrong

There are infinite examples of how things can go wrong, but these kinds of examples stem from a few key problems that are fortunately solvable. 

So now let’s dive into what you can do to create product marketing strategies that actually work.

Before that, why don't you quickly get our free guide on saving money with better marketing processes?

Creating Better Product Marketing Strategies

Although product marketing strategies always need to be tailored for the kind of product you create, there are certain principles that can enable your strategies to be more targeted, efficient, and smart.

Be Customer Centric

The foundation of any great product marketing strategy is customer centricity. Product marketers serve product developers, but their ultimate focus must be on their customers if they’re going to create products to serve their needs. 

Without this, it’s easy for marketers to get caught up trying to solve problems like low conversion rates or CLTV instead of thinking about the ultimate goal of serving customers. In practice, this can lead to things like deceptive dark patterns that make those numbers you want move but at the customers’ expense. The result is often short-term results that lead to long-term decline.

If you’d like to dive deeper into customer centricity, you can check out the dedicated carabiner course we created on it under the header below.

Set the Right Goals and Don’t Be Afraid to Change

If working hard to find the right goals for your strategies and being willing to change those goals sounds contradictory, it’s time to change your mindset. Being ready to adjust elements of your strategy, including goals, when circumstances change is just as important as setting the right ones in the first place.

That’s because, to paraphrase some military thinkers, “no marketing plan survives first contact with the customer.” 

It’s inevitable that you’re going to learn new things once you actually put your product marketing strategy in place. Often, the difference between success and failure is how good you are at taking that feedback and using it to improve both the product itself and how you market it.

That said, you still want to start with great marketing objectives that are tied with your broader strategic objectives and flexible enough for execution team members to find the best way to achieve them.

Shorten Feedback Loops

We’ve made it clear that feedback loops tying together customers, marketers, and developers are critical. But aside from setting those loops up, shortening them is one of the most efficient ways to improve the effectiveness of your product marketing. 

However, if that information arrived too late to be effectively acted upon, then it quickly becomes useless. That’s why feedback loops need to be tight, with a structured system creating regular moments where feedback is shared. 

The key word there is structured

Relying on everyone to find ad hoc moments to share such important information is setting yourself up for failure. So set up a system where relevant team members meet to pause, consider what relevant lessons they can share, and discuss how to use them to improve both the product itself and how it’s marketed.

Minimize and Optimize Handoffs

Handoffs are the bane of most product marketers for good reason, they can be extremely wasteful. Even when they only add a little extra time to any marketing process, that time adds up at scale. 

When handoffs add days (as they too often do), they make efficient and effective product marketing nearly impossible.

How Process Waste Adds Up

But you can’t simply eliminate all handoffs, so what should you do? Begin by using value stream mapping to determine how much value those handoffs are providing compared to the cost in time and effort. Based on that information, you can reduce handoffs to the bare minimum.

Then you can work on optimizing handoffs. For example, asking for input from someone who doesn’t have enough context can result in poor quality input that takes too long. Ensuring that work is accompanied by a summary of the context (goals, who has worked on it, what the definition of done is, etc.) greatly reduces the time and effort needed to start on that work.

Lastly, an effective way to tie all of this together is through a Service Level Agreement (SLA). These contracts (though they can be informal) specify expectations and standards between people. For example, your SLA might say that product development has 3 business days to give feedback to marketing. Ensuring everyone is on the same page about what is expected helps ensure work gets done more efficiently.

Collect and Use Data

We’ve talked a lot about how important feedback loops are, but those loops are ultimately only as valuable as the information in them. This is why collecting high quality data is essential. Without data to back up your claims, it’s easy for product developers to simply dismiss insights marketing may have, and vice versa.

Then, be sure to use basic statistics to ensure you’re taking the right conclusions. For example, you might run an A/B test and find one option was chosen 55% of the time, but without a statistical significance test, you won’t know whether that result should be acted upon.

Of course you might think you’re collecting great data, but in fact be falling prey to vanity metrics. This is when metrics look and feel important, but don’t actually translate into meaningful progress towards your core business goals. 

For example, you might think your social media marketing is going great because impressions are up. 

But if you can’t draw a direct line between those impressions and one of your KPIs then it’s a vanity metric.

The danger of vanity metrics comes when you optimize for them. Instead of making decisions based on what will actually get you closer to achieving those KPIs, you’re acting to boost those vanity metrics, hurting your marketing’s overall effectiveness and making it harder to demonstrate ROI.

Lastly, you should be using all of this data to regularly run well-structured experiments

This is how you learn lessons you can be confident in, as well as how you can get stakeholders to share that confidence. After all, saying “we ran a two week experiment and the data showed option A was better with 99% confidence” is much more persuasive than “option A seems to do better.”

Improve Efficiency and Effectiveness with Agile

Perhaps the core theme that ties all of these product marketing strategies together is a focus on reducing waste and improving efficiency. Besides following all of the advice here, the best way to do that is by adopting Agile ways of working. Improving process efficiency, embracing a culture of customer centricity and continuous improvement, running experiments, and creating feedback loops are all at the core of how Agile marketing works.

Agile makes a dramatic difference in how marketers do everything from connecting their daily work to broader objectives to feeling their work actually contributes towards the organization’s long-term success.

Better Product Marketing Begins with the Right Knowledge

With so many challenges and just as many ways to address them, you might be wondering where to even start to improve your product marketing. Instead of trying to drink from a proverbial firehose, you can use the series of courses we’ve created at The Ropes to ease yourself into what’s required to unlock all of the product marketing value Agile has to offer.

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