Is the Product Marketing Role Becoming Extinct?

Here’s an interesting question for enterprises to consider: What if product marketers have no role to play in the future of your organization? Though provocative, it’s a question that cannot be answered without a common understanding as to what the modern product marketer actually does, and more importantly, what they should be doing. So with that as the backdrop, let’s take a closer look at the role.

Product marketing is typically viewed as the outbound product discipline. In other words, the product marketer (PMM) bridges the gap between customers, the product management team and the rest of the company.

Some of the practical responsibilities of typical PMMs include:

  • Developing the product positioning and messaging
  • Delivering a broad range of product-centric content to various marketing initiatives (e.g. website, events, webinars, digital content, data sheets, etc.)
  • Playing a major role in enabling the sales teams and partners by delivering sales tools, training and competitive insights
  • Being the master orchestrator of product launches
  • Supporting industry outreach, including press and analysts
  • Defining and reporting on the key product metrics (lead generation, revenue, discounting) and ensuring the business is heading in the right direction

As crucial as this roles sounds, in the past years I’ve increasingly observed companies who do not have the product marketing title in their marketing organization. This is not because the product marketing discipline or the responsibilities listed above no longer matter. Quite the contrary.

There are a few fundamental changes in both the customer buying cycles and product delivery discipline which in many cases are decentralizing the role of product marketing.

In a 2015 survey, 74% of business buyers told Forrester they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase. Moreover, 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally (SiriusDecisions). In addition, we know that the B2B buying cycle is increasingly becoming a multi-persona decision making process. Add to this the fact that there’s an increasing amount of noise and information overflow in the market and you’re facing a huge uphill battle to effectively market your product. We are experiencing the democratization of buyer education and are no longer in control of the timing and stage in which the buyer will find the relevant material.

These changes have had a profound impact on demand generation and how marketing teams organize. It is increasingly becoming a game of high quality content delivered to the appropriate persona through the most relevant channels. Sounds simple, but it becomes very complex as you’re trying to gain attention and interest from prospective buyers.

First of all, in order to drive success, the whole demand generation team is now expected to deepen its expertise in product value and target personas. It can no longer just be the PMM delivering the needed positioning and messaging as the complexity of omni-channel demand generation tactics require the team to be very thoughtful in how to deliver a well targeted, consistent experience across the buyer’s journey. They need to be able to think that through for multiple personas which significantly increases the complexities around certain assets (like the public facing website, for instance).

With buyers completing a significant amount of the journey without ever talking to the supplier, content marketing has become the key focus area for many marketing organizations. “Content is king” has a whole new meaning.  While PMMs tend to have good all around skills and have had responsibility for certain aspects of content, including messaging, presentations, videos, datasheets and more, their role and skillset has not been defined around managing a high-quality content pipeline. In fact, as buyers are now self educating ahead of time more than ever, the content needs to be very targeted and high quality.

As a result, we’re seeing directors of content and/or story tellers emerge as roles within marketing organizations. Not only do these people produce content themselves but they are also reaching deep into the organization to get access to the best technical expertise from subject matter experts in order to truly deliver content that goes far deeper than the content typically delivered by the typical PMM. SMEs include solution consultants who are doing customer implementations, for technical products it can include engineering, operations and product management team members who can go into the gory details and deliver the most insightful and educational content. Needless to say, this is more of an editor-in-chief role vs. a product marketing role.

Also to consider is how the Agile process has shifted the organization as a whole, marketing included. PMMs as they were defined were largely a stage-gate effort, not reflective of how products are developed or released. Marketing can no longer wait for these processes to come into marketing, but rather get involved in early PM decisions and roadmaps. The timing does not afford the previous sequential process.

With that, as product release cycles shorten and product development becomes more customer-centric, the expectations from product management have grown significantly. We don’t only see this in smaller companies but also in large companies like Microsoft where the product owners are now expected to own the product end-to-end. This not only includes being in charge of the product line metrics but also fully owning the agile product definition process.

This is in stark contrast to the PMM typically having been closer to both the business results and product definition. The latter was a shared PMM/PM discipline centered around MRDs and PRDs, now primarily owned by the PM as the product owner leading the agile process. Due to these changes the organization as a whole including sales, marketing and services tend to go directly to product management more than ever as they seek out the most up-to-date source of information.

With all that said, while I do believe that product marketing as a role (not as a discipline) will cease to exist within many organizations, I also believe others will continue to prefer keeping this role in place due to the nature of their business and organizational structure. Or said differently, product marketing as a role will not go extinct like the dinosaurs did but we are likely to see less of the marketing HC spend get allocated to this role as the demand for other titles such as demand generation and content roles grows.

But the future is bright for product marketers. In my experience, people who’ve fulfilled this role have had an opportunity to build out a very broad skillset including product positioning, customer success, G2M strategy, business development, campaign management, public speaking, and more.

So while there may end up being fewer jobs in product marketing, based on their strengths, we will see PMMs show-up in new roles. Primarily in content marketing, demand generation, product management, alliances, and many other roles within and outside the traditional marketing organizations.

What do you think? Is the role of PMM going away? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

A special thank you to Christine Bottagaro, CMO Rogue Wave Software for being a great sounding board and sharing her insights with me on this topic

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