Main illustration: Jason Murphy
There is a popular, but fundamentally wrong, analogy for how product management and product marketing work together: product managers put product on the shelf and product marketers get it off the shelf.
But the best products are built with the market in mind – and product marketing brings that dimension long before anything gets put on a shelf.
What is product marketing?
Product marketing is the process of researching, promoting and selling a product to a customer. Product marketers have a wide range of responsibilities that involve close collaboration with product teams and other marketing functions.
What product marketing means at Intercom
Here at Intercom, product marketers are responsible for product landing pages. And while it’s the most visible work we do, it’s not even close to the most impactful. Landing pages are just the tip of the iceberg – the visible culmination of our work. Our real impact comes in helping to shape what is built in order to announce a product that truly connects with our customers. When product marketers are a partner in the full product development cycle, rather than focusing primarily on landing pages and post-launch activities, the product to-be-released is more likely to achieve commercial success.
Having led the go-to-market efforts from start to launch (14 months in the making) on our newest product, Articles, here’s some of the work that happened before the product was put on the shelf, as well as a peek at the tools we used along the way.
9 core functions of product marketing at Intercom
Product marketing permeates every aspect of a modern organization, but we managed to narrow down the core functions at Intercom to 9 specific areas.
1. Understanding customers
Product marketing must be in touch with both the customer and customer-facing teams. Luckily we have a great research team to answer questions like:
- What jobs are customers hiring us to do?
- What are the most frequent feature requests?
- What workarounds or unintended use cases are happening in the product?
Product marketing pours over this research and then leads the go-to-market teams to collect data and synthesize it into digestible information for the product manager to incorporate into the roadmap. We do this by gathering closed-lost data from sales, conversation trends from support, and industry trends to list and prioritize feature requests that represent the needs of the GTM teams.
Deliverable: Go-to-market matrix recommendation (see below)
2. Competitor research
Product marketing conducts competitor research to understand which features are must-haves for customers to buy or switch (we call these “table stakes”) and which ones could help tell a compelling story. What functionality is industry standard that we believe is fundamentally flawed (support tickets, anyone?)? What must we build to have a working product that competes? What should we build to differentiate the product and leverage our platform in a way that only we can?
For example, competitor research for Articles showed that every other knowledge base was hard for customer support teams to keep updated (bad for teammates) and was primarily marketed as ticket deflection (bad for users). This helped solidify the product team’s decision to keep the Messenger on the Help Center so as to give users a way to get help if the article didn’t answer their question. It also helped them prioritize failed searches and insights on user conversations started from articles to make sure those conversations would help the team improve their content, not slow them down.
Deliverable: Competitive analysis (download our template)
3. Problem statement and solution story
Once something makes it onto the roadmap and it’s time to start working on it, the product manager writes the problem statement – thoroughly outlining the problem that needs to be solved, but with no indication as to how it should be solved. The product marketer responds with the solution story – if resources were not constrained, this is the story we’d like to tell that convinces people to buy or switch. The story is a vision for the future from which we get buy-in from the product team. It helps influence what gets built with the goal of achieving this story and, since it has consensus from product, we can revisit it to help prioritize feature scoping and resolve conflicts about priorities.
Deliverable: Interstory (download our template)
4. Beta testing
This is not just for product managers! Product marketers work with the sales and product teams to identify the right customers to join a beta. It’s important to find the right balance of use cases, company sizes, industry clout, and customer need since these beta testers will become your first testimonials. Then, crafting the invitation is the perfect opportunity to field test your messaging. Understanding their experience and feedback informs your announcement.
Outcome: Customer testimonials
5. Product positioning
Once feature scoping is complete, product marketing creates a resource for people in the company to understand what it is, what problem it solves for our customers, and how it fits into the market—where it wins, where it loses, and how it’s different. It’s accessible to anyone in the company and gets referenced by new hires, folks on our sales enablement team or anyone trying to better understand Intercom.
Deliverable: Positioning Guide (download our template)
6. Product messaging
Product messaging is what is shared with the outside world. This is how you describe the product, it’s benefits and how it works. To create this, product marketing drives a “build a box” exercise. The product manager, designer and product marketer each prepare messaging to fit on a product box selling the product or feature – similar to the packaging for a product like Fitbit.
The box forces brevity while listing the most compelling benefits of the product. We all share our messaging and then debate which elements make up the best “box”. The final box becomes the cornerstone for formulating all product messaging used by demand generation, content, PR, and sales.
Deliverable: Build a box (download our template)
7. Product QA and the “Marketing Asset Milestone”
Product marketers are nothing if they don’t know their product. Contributing to testing (i.e. breaking) the product is required for your own understanding and also helps the team make the best possible product. Recently we introduced the “Marketing Asset Ready” milestone, which is a list of features or actions that will be showcased in marketing materials. This way, the product team can prioritize improvements that will get real estate in marketing assets, in turn helping marketing meet their deadlines. Then things that will not be shown can be fixed closer to launch.
Outcome: Product knows exactly what visual changes they need to make for marketing assets and can prioritize those first.
8. End to end user experience testing
Too often, your customers experience your org chart.
Too often, your customers experience your org chart – just because separate teams are responsible for segments of the experience does not mean the experience should feel segmented. Is the experience starting with an ad (demand generation), leading to the landing page (product marketing), on to the shopping cart (growth), then landing in the product consistent? In preparation for the Articles launch, everyone responsible for visual design and content – brand design, product marketing, content strategy, product management, product design, and engineers – reviewed the experience from start to finish to make sure the “handoffs” were cohesive, clear, and concise.
Outcome: Everyone involved knows the minor tweaks they need to make to create a cohesive experience.
9. Training teammates
Product marketing drives the internal training process. At Intercom we do it “town hall” style with lots of opportunities to ask questions. The product manager demos the product while the product marketer shares the pitch to communicate the value and how we compare to the competition. Messaging and positioning needs to be understood by all teams so that we are presenting a consistent experience to our customers. To help with this, we create and share “battle cards”, a cheat sheet for what sets our product apart, where we win and where we lose.
Deliverables: Product demo, pitch deck, battle cards
Intercom’s approach to product marketing goes much deeper than sales enablement and marketing campaigns – we start crafting the story when the problem is defined rather than waiting until the solution is built. While the activities and tactics are constantly changing, the goal is always the same: help build and announce product with the market in mind from the very beginning. That way, when it finally makes it to the shelf, it won’t stay there long.