The End of Product Marketing

I would like to introduce our guest blogger Dave Wolpert who has a very interesting opinion on the state of Product Marketing to share. Dave is the Founder and Principal of Swordfish Communications, a product marketing and content marketing services firm in Austin, Texas. Previously, he was a product marketer at pcOrder.com, BroadJump, Convio, and LibreDigital. You can also find Swordfish on Twitter at @SwordfishComm. Enjoy the post and looking forward to hearing your thoughts. 

The product marketing function in tech companies is heading for extinction. The work product marketers currently do will continue to be performed, but by different people.

Preparing for the Asteroid Impact

To simplify the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, product marketing provides two broad functions, which can be loosely grouped under inbound and outbound activities. Both of these functions will continue to be of critical importance, but will eventually be de-coupled and performed by others.

On the inbound side, product marketers represent the “voice of the customer” to various groups within their company. Tactically, that means they solicit input from both current and prospective customers, as well as survey competitors and the market-at-large, through a variety of channels. They then synthesize that information and present it to the appropriate internal stakeholders to guide decision-making.

Of course, this is precisely a part of what most product managers do today. And, moving forward, I believe they’ll do it more often to feed progressively faster product development cycles.

On the outbound side, product marketers typically create a spectrum of marketing collateral, from product-focused website copy to white papers. Unfortunately, most product marketers aren’t the best writers, so this work is increasingly “insourced” to a MarCom group or outsourced to marketing agencies or individual copywriters (a.k.a. content marketers).

Product marketers also create “sales tools,” such as PowerPoint decks and sales proposal content. But this is increasingly outsourced, too. Sales can build their own sales decks, and MarCom can make them visually compelling; most copywriters can write persuasive proposal content.

You see where this is going. As product managers become the primary conduit for collecting customer and market insights, and the content creation piece is insourced or outsourced to those with better writing and design skills than the typical product marketer possesses, what is left for product marketers to do?

My answer: nothing.

Aren’t You Forgetting Some Things?

Sure, someone still has to perform the bit roles product marketers play (organize the infamous quarterly sales trainings, plan product launches, define positioning, and so on). But these ancillary roles don’t collectively constitute a full-time job. And again, much of it can—and in some cases should—be sourced to others.

Why can’t Sales organize their own training? Why can’t MarCom or other marketing team members plan a product launch? (After all, launches increasingly involve activities that others manage, like events, social media and PR.) And isn’t product positioning fluid, anyway, often defined evolutionarily by Sales based on what resonates with prospects?

You might be thinking that it’s advantageous to centralize all these roles with one person. I disagree. Part of my frustration as a former staff product marketer was that I was constantly asked to do too much, too quickly, while delivering consistently excellent work. (To wit, check out this exhaustive list of typical primary and secondary product marketer functions.) With so many good outsourcing options available, why would any company want to overload their staff and sacrifice quality?

What Happens Next

The product marketing extinction event won’t be as dramatic or as quick as a giant asteroid hitting the earth. Instead, the role of the product marketer will be peeled back in stages.

This has already begun. At many companies, product management has already replaced the inbound function I described earlier. At others, product marketers have evolved into field marketers by focusing mainly on sales tools that are only used internally; development of externally-facing content marketing tools, like technical white papers, are sourced to others.

Eventually, all the strategically important roles product marketers traditionally play will be stripped. This will inevitably result in reduced wages and, ultimately, product marketers disappearing by forced or voluntary attrition.

Survival is Possible

Will any product marketers survive the mass extinction event I’m forecasting? Only those with an exceedingly rare combination of talents: someone who is exceptional at customer interaction, and who is a superb writer, and who excels at understanding the needs of the Sales team, and whose technical knowledge is comparable to that of the product managers. I’ve met very few such individuals over the years. Ones that good are often promoted to Director or VP roles in their organizations, go off to be independent consultants, or start their own companies.

I paint a gloomy forecast, but if there’s a silver lining in my argument it’s this: individuals with any of these superstar skills will always be in demand. Their job title and department they report to might change, but in the end, companies will find a place for those with valuable skills.

So don’t obsess over how to build a career in product marketing, because that whole field is on the endangered species list. Rather, focus on advancing the skill sets that an ideal product marketer would have. That’s the best way to survive.

 

Image Credit:  viking_79

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