Kenneth Wong on the dynamics of a Product Marketer’s role

(Q) What do you believe are the primary responsibilities for a Product Marketer (PM)? 

(A) ” Product Marketers have a responsibility to serve as a conduit between the enterprise and its customers. That is, Product Marketers (PM) have a responsibility to insure that Product Managers understand market and competitive conditions, and a responsibility to insure that customers know and understand what and how the enterprise creates value for customers. PM’s cannot do that unless they appreciate that they have two sets of customers: internal customers (e.g. product managers) and external customers.”

“Product Marketers need to sell information and insights to Product Managers just as they do to customers. Just as in marketing to customers, a good PM understands its internal customer using the same tools and concepts they apply to marketing to external customers. Thus, while PM’s may not have, for example, bottom-line responsibility for a product, they need to be acutely aware of what drives that bottom line performance in order to understand the context under which a Product Manager will use (or decide to ignore) their advice. This raises some interesting questions: for example, if concepts like segmentation, positioning and branding are central to a PM’s responsibilities in dealing with external customers, do we apply these same concepts in dealing with INTERNAL customers? Surely these must be added to a PM’s responsibilities.”

“As scale and complexity increases, it becomes near impossible for a single person to serve both- the product manager and product marketing roles. Indeed, given the plethora of media now available, one person may not even be able to manage the Product Marketing function and other specialists may be needed. Strict definitions of roles and responsibilities may seem a logical way to allocate authority across many people but, ultimately, someone must coordinate and curate or decisions are made in silos. That “someone” is the product marketing manager.”

(Q) How can Product Marketers directly influence revenue growth, customer retention and awareness? 

(A) “There are only four ways to enhance profitability: Get prices up; keep costs down; get a bigger share of existing customers and expanding the base of existing customers. This is not opinion but basic accounting definitions. Thus, the question could also be phrased in four parts:

  1. How to support premium pricing and/or avoid price cutting (Answer: By meaningful and relevant differentiation)
  2. How to contain or reduce costs (Answer: Through scale, scope, organization and process innovation – the same as every other function)
  3. How to increase market share (Answer: Choose the right customers to serve; minimize waste/ lean marketing; better understand the path to purchase; know where we lose customers along that pathway
  4. How to expand market size (Answer: Refer to the Blue Ocean strategy).”

(Q) What role does a Product Marketer play towards helping an organization become market-driven?

(A) “Product marketers manage the interface between customers and the firm. This does not mean they are advocates for the customer but rather that they start their decision-making process, regardless of the decision area by asking, “What would the customer prefer?” Once known, economics will dictate how much of that preference can be accommodated.”

(Q) What challenges do Product Marketers face both within their organizations and externally as they look to help their companies become market-driven?

(A) “We court customers but we record our success with customers on financial statements like P&L. Within the firm, Product Marketers need to understand how their decisions impact those statements, including an understanding that, sometimes, firms will do whatever is required to support their bottom line regardless of whether the decisions reflect customer focus. Showing the long term implications of such shorter term thinking is vital.”

“Second, convincing the world that Product Marketing is NOT the same as advertising or personal selling.”

(Q) What metrics should a Product Marketer use to measure success? 

(A) “It all depends on what PM’s are trying to accomplish. You cannot manage what you cannot measure but since we adjust what we do, depending upon results achieved, following the wrong metric for your strategy means you only succeed via blind, dumb luck.”

Ken Wong is a faculty member and the Distinguished Professor of Marketing at Smith School of Business, where he has held both teaching and administrative positions. He was the principal architect of the first full-time degree program in Canada to operate completely outside of government subsidy: a distinction that earned him the cover of Canadian Business in April 1994. (The new Program has been rated by Business Week as #1 worldwide among non-US MBAs in the last four bi-annual rankings). Ken is also the Vice President, Knowledge Development for Level 5, a marketing consulting firm focused on brand strategy and execution.

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