How Product Marketers Create a Product-Driven Startup

The ultimate challenge of growing a business today is aligning the vectors inside your organization. And to do this well, you need an identity. Any company with a strong identity (tight focus and high energy) will grow faster than those without. This is easier and more important for software startups as they charge into an established market.

You are already aware of companies that have a strong identity. They are the ones you talk about with your friends, the startups that just seem to have“it”. They know exactly what they stand for and are quick to remind you. They’ve harnessed the invisible winds of momentum in their favor. You can do that too, but you have to focus on it.
An identity can come in many flavors but I’d argue the most successful companies are product driven. What they sell, what they create, what their users experience, defines who they are and their message to the world. Because at the end of the day everything else is just noise. If your reputation can’t stand on the product you built alone, your company won’t last. We all know how important word of mouth is today.

To build a strong product driven identity you need a lot of things going for you. You need a great product and engineering team focused on building something great. You need leadership to recognize the power of being product driven and foster that culture.

And to bring it to the next level you need a strong team of dedicated marketers, embedded in your product team who are focused on bringing the story of your product to life, internally and externally.

It’s these folks, product marketers, who will ultimately keep your company on course towards being product driven product driven. This should be their singular goal.
Marketing teams sometimes have the habit of chasing top of funnel trends that drive views or building misleading narratives in the effort to close more deals. But when the whole team believes in your product and more importantly it’s narrative, your vectors align behind the most impactful story you can tell.

How product marketing creates a product driven company
As you go down this path, it can be hard to define exactly how your PMMs achieve their goal. It’s generally some combination of go-to-market, messaging, and product/market knowledge. But what comes first? What should they prioritize? What will help the most? To help establish this at your company I built a product marketing hierarchy of needs metal model. It works the same way as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — you can’t get to stage two until you’ve fulfilled stage one. Adapt this framework to your own organization and you’ve got a roadmap for a highly functioning PMM team that gives your marketing a product-driven identity.


1. Product:
It’s an important first step for PMM’s to build a tight relationship with Product Managers. There are different ways to slice it, but having a healthy and equal relationship focused on the advancement of the product is the most important first step towards a product driven company.

Having a strong relationship with Product will make it easy to become the expert on the product and the vision for it. Skills that every PMM has to have. If you are the PMM for a given product you should have the most knowledge about the product at the company outside of the PM. You can probably even step in and do some of the PM’s work if needed. However, you don’t own product development and to keep the relationship strong, you need to respect the decisions the PM makes and get what you need without slowing them down.

Example Tactics: PM relationship, product knowledge, roadmap knowledge, demo.

2. Market Research:
A great narrative is relevant and persuasive. Its rooted in the existing, issues, trends, and narratives in a given space. Product marketing needs to understand how this relates to their product before they can build a great narrative. This requires market research, competitive awareness, customer interviews, and a strong understanding of why the product was built.

This can come to life in many different ways. A total addressable market report can help businesses teams understand the landscape of a space and where the most opportunity lies. A competitive analysis report can help understand the value prop of similar products and help your team differentiate. A research report can help teams understand the target audience thinks and feels about core issues and where the trends are pointing people’s attention.

Don’t get too caught up in this step, it’s easy to. We’re not data scientists but we do need strong directional research to help hone our message. It’s my opinion that you want your message routed in data, but that trying to find the perfect marketing message based on data fails.

Example Tactics: Total addressable market (TAM), competitive intel, research report, customer interviews/survey.

3. Narrative:
Once Product Marketing has a strong relationship with PMs they should start to focus on telling the story of the product. A strong muscle for storytelling, solution selling, and persuasive writing are all defining characteristics of a good PMM. These skills, along with a level of technical comfort are what differentiate a PMM from others on your marketing team.

While PM’s should have a good grasp of their market and vision their product, PMMs should own the product story. The story (or narrative) should have familiar elements: a hero, a villain, a journey, and an outcome. This isn’t a fluffy creative writing exercise, it’s a simple, easy to remember story that should introduce context and current trends to the audience, and most of all set the stage for the product. Bring in market context and data with a good amount of research and analysis before you start writing.

Example Tactics: Positioning, value prop, vision/story, pitch, mock press release.

4. Cross-Functional:
A great story can’t go far if you don’t tell it. By name, product marketing is a very cross-functional role but it needs to go beyond just product and marketing. Product marketers need to get their stories in front of leadership, your other marketing teams, sales, services, and other relevant teams before you can think about a launch.

This pre-launch roadshow can do a number of things.

Give you important feedback on your work. Client facing teams especially can tell you whether or not they think your narrative will land or whether it has big holes. Listen to them and iterate
A certain amount of malleability is usually needed by other marketing teams to make your narrative work. Embrace this but also police the core elements of your messaging.
This roadshow will help other teams make your story their own. (Hint: When they do this it means it’s all working.)
Examples: Roadshow, product training, demo videos, public speaking, pitch decks

5. Launch:
A product launch is the culmination of all these efforts. It’s the fun (stressful) part. The big idea is to release the product and at the same time, or close after, release a flurry of marketing activity that helps achieve the goals of the product and the company. If things have gone well your top of funnel content, middle of the funnel acquisition strategies, and bottom of the funnel close efforts are all tightly aligned to the actual launch. By timing all the efforts in a way that ensures your launching a quality product you’ll maximize the impact of your efforts. Your quality condensed content will help you own the narrative for a period of time, you’ll parlay that into demand gen activities that capture this demand, and you’ll lose at a higher rate because sales are so focused.

Becoming a product driven company is (in my opinion) the best way to align your vectors. But regardless of what you do, always keep in mind your identity, and how you can move with focus and energy.

Originally published on Medium



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