03008 How Can Product Managers Help Marketing?

Whether you as a Product Manager report into Marketing, Development, or another group, you play a critical role in helping Marketing position and explain the product so that the message resonates with your product’s prospects.

The Marketing folks are the experts at taking an image of your software product and polishing it until it really shines. They can make the product message sound truly compelling, and artfully express how you stand compared to the competition.

But except for a minority of exceptional “marketeers”, Marketing is submerged in the day-to-day mechanics of generating the message, the collateral, the supporting materials, and talking to all necessary audiences from media to investors to prospective business partners.

What the Marketing folks don’t have, and it’s the raw material that they absolutely need to portray the power of your product, is the specific and essential perspective on the business users of your product and why they use it.

Take a look at the ideas below to see how you as Product Manager– and you may very well be the only one who can do this — can contribute to Marketing in order to make your product’s marketing stand out in the busy, crowded, and uncertain software market that we find ourselves in today.

Ignite the Spark

Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing, a book considered a leader in defining the new marketing environment, has also just published a new book, Purple Cow. The main point of Purple Cow is that in order for a product, and its marketing, to succeed in an era where people are bombarded by marketing pitches and information, it must be remarkable (like a purple cow), or it remains invisible to the public (like so many of the ordinary cows grazing in the fields today).

As Product Manager, you can place yourself in that invaluable location where you have access to reactions from prospects and customers to the product. You can work with product research, including focus groups or more informal conversations where you talk with people about their needs and challenges and how your software can help.

Be on the lookout for the “Aha!” moment, where someone makes a seemingly simple suggestion that would make your product features radically different from its competitors, in short, remarkable. Like a new paint can design that makes pouring easier and eliminates spills. Somewhere, somebody noticed that everyone who uses a paint can winds up with pain dripping it all over the can and worse, and they realized that it didn’t have to be that way.

Look for that kind of breakthrough idea for your software product, and then communicate it to Marketing. Get Marketing to develop the idea’s appeal further, then use that information to develop requirements to feed back to Development. One of the points made in Purple Cow is that the kind of transformation that makes a product remarkable requires taking marketing ideas and changing the product design up front, rather than handing a fully designed product to Marketing and asking them to market it as-is.

For more information on the Purple Cow book (did anybody else receive their copy in a milk carton? That’s definitely a remarkable way to ship a book!), you can go to www.apurplecow.com or look on the Fast Company web site at www.fastcompany.com and do a search for Purple Cow.

Lead the Singing

Again, whether you report into the Marketing department or not, the Product Manager serves as the product’s biggest fan. Too often we leave it to Marketing to promote the product. As the Product Manager, be the one to stand up and speak out about how good the product is, and what it’s powerful features are, using the message developed by Marketing.

And make sure you use the message developed by Marketing, not a conflicting version you develop on your own. If your version is that good, work to convince Marketing to adopt it.

It’s not Marketing’s job to promote the product, it’s the job of your entire company. That’s where you can serve as a role model by leading the choir.

Tell the Stories

Far back before recorded history, people sat around the fire and passed on knowledge by telling stories. We’re hard wired to pay attention to stories, to remember them, and to pass them on. Just think about how effective office gossip is.

As Product Manager, you hear and collect stories about the benefits of the product, funny or scary or surprising examples of the positive impact your product had on a person or company. Make it a priority to tell these stories to everyone who will listen, but especially to Marketing.

If you give Marketing a good story, believe me, they know what to do with it. But Marketing doesn’t necessarily have the time, while working on all the mechanics of media and communications, to find those stories themselves.

Furnish the Metrics

So many times marketers find themselves at a loss as to how to measure the effectiveness of a marketing campaign or activity. As Product Manager, you are in a position to hear the reaction — at trade shows, at customer conferences, during sales demos — to such things as marketing materials, specific messages, and advertising efforts.

Be sure to bring back this feedback in as consistent a manner as possible to the people who designed the materials, messages, and ads. Whenever possible, try to provide a feel for numbers of people who reacted positively (for instance, one in five mentioned the promotion, and you talked to about 40 people).

These may be the only metrics Marketing is ever able to get on the response to a specific marketing idea such as a direct mail letter or a promotional post card. This helps Marketing know when they are on course and when they have to change their tack.

Dispense Wisdom

The difference between a brilliant young graduate from Harvard Medical School and a sixty-year old family practitioner is this: the sixty-year old doctor has three decades of clinical experience that can’t be obtained from any formal amount of learning. Clinical experience is what tells the old guy that Mrs. Smith’s elbow pain is in fact significant, because he’s seen something just like it fifteen times before in his career (and he never heard about it in medical school, either).

As Product Manager, your exposure to customers and their stories, to prospects with tales of the competition and failed initiatives, to your product trainers and consultants, gives you invaluable clinical experience that Marketing folks, because of their job priorities, don’t have the opportunity to gain.

Become a dispenser of this wisdom, this clinical experience. A Marketing person who is writing a brochure or an ad needs perspective on which message really grabs a prospect’s attention. When they are constructing examples — which always make the material more compelling — they struggle to figure out which examples are most realistic, most believable. This is where you can help by bringing your clinical experience, your perspective, to bear.

The five ideas described here represent areas where you as the Product Manager can make a breakthrough contribution to Marketing’s efforts that helps your product pull away from the pack.

— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges


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