The Case for Strategic Product Marketing


Tim J. Smith, PhD
Founder and CEO, Wiglaf Pricing

Published August 1, 2007

The trouble with the outbound role of product marketing is that we have an identity crisis on our hands-we’re misunderstood, misguided, and misaligned-and as a result, great products are either missing their potential or failing altogether. Executives and other members of management have wide-ranging expectations of product marketing that are almost never focused on strategy or the bottom line. Thus, we are usually confined to a tactical role supporting Sales and others, expending enormous resources on too many urgent tactics that are never measured and rarely appreciated. Uncertain about where our “turf” is located, we work in a state of reaction and firefighting, unable to contribute in a way that is meaningful to our companies or our careers.

We are misunderstood

Compared to positions like Sales or Engineering, Marketing is an odd bird.  Most people don’t really know what marketing is and believe it to be a “necessary evil” that eats up budgets and provides little-to-no return-on-investment. Others see it as an artistic venture, populated by creative people who are simply tasked with creating memorable ads.  With components that may include advertising, public relations, websites, lead generation, internal communications, collateral, media planning, branding, event planning, customer retention, channel training and so on, marketing is often defined by whichever activity the company has invested in most heavily.  Individually, these tactics may not be that confusing. It is the absence of a cohesive strategy for applying these tactics and how they’re organized within the company that causes perplexity.

We are misguided

We have a “misinformation proliferation” on our hands. Business schools seem to lack the focus needed to define the product marketing role and delineate it from other marketing functions. Another example is the lack of decent books and publications. Go ahead and browse® for the term “product marketing.” You won’t find anything of true relevance, other than books clearly (or not-so-clearly) targeted at product management. One of the books claims that, “Regardless of the industry, product managers…are responsible for the marketing of their product.” See what I mean?

We are misaligned

As a result of being misunderstood and misguided, the product marketer gets misaligned within the organization in a number of ways, including:

  • Reporting to inappropriate functions/departments like engineering, sales, or marketing communications
  • “One position, two hats” performing both inbound product management and outbound product marketing functions
  • Not existing at all

Primary responsibilities & objectives

The primary responsibility of the product marketing manager is to be the company’s audience persona expert-to deeply understand the people that impact decisions about which products to buy (buyer personas), and which products to sell (sales personas).

As a result of this expertise, product marketing is responsible for

(1) Aligning with sales channels to prepare them to:

  • Relate to buyers of all types
  • Focus on the most effective messages and programs

(2) Developing outbound marketing plans/programs that:

  • Generate awareness to get prospects into the sales funnel
  • Drive revenue and help prospects through each/every stage of the sale funnel
  • Increase customer retention/satisfaction to ensure customers remain happy and loyal

Here are the steps we took to influence our executives and elevate the role of product marketing within our organization.

Step 1 – Get grounded in process

Formal training can provide a clearly defined set of roles and responsibilities, plus the tools to collect and influence buying criteria, build a go-to-market strategy, align with the sales channels, and begin every program with the end in mind.

Step 2 Enroll key stakeholders in your vision

Gaining executive and management support for this is imperative!

Step 3 – Define the right structure

Documenting who has responsibility, accountability, contribution, and input might seem tedious, but it pays off in the long run.

Step 4 – Impact the culture through education and awareness

An internal campaign is needed to really spread the word and educate people about this process.

Step 5 – Align with the sales channels

Work closely with sales to document the entire buy cycle, in order to map specific activities and deliverables for each step throughout the process.

Step 6 – Apply these activities to a current initiative

After all is said and done, implement your process with an existing initiative.  Don’t forget to measure your progress!  What’s not measured cannot be improved.

In the end, the objectives realized include:

  • Delivering the information that influences buyers and sales people as they move through each step in the buying and selling process.
  • Completely understanding the messages, tools and programs that will influence both buyer and sales channel personas
  • Making a positive, measurable impact on cost of sales through a more effective marketing investment
  • Clarifying roles and improving morale-people know how to prioritize their time and can see the results of their contributions
  • Decreasing time-to-market for all of our products and services

About The Author

Tim J. Smith, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Wiglaf Pricing, an Adjunct Professor of Marketing and Economics at DePaul University, and the author of Pricing Done Right (Wiley 2016) and Pricing Strategy (Cengage 2012). At Wiglaf Pricing, Tim leads client engagements. Smith’s popular business book, Pricing Done Right: The Pricing Framework Proven Successful by the World’s Most Profitable Companies, was noted by Dennis Stone, CEO of Overhead Door Corp, as "Essential reading… While many books cover the concepts of pricing, Pricing Done Right goes the additional step of applying the concepts in the real world." Tim’s textbook, Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures, has been described by independent reviewers as “the most comprehensive pricing strategy book” on the market. As well as serving as the Academic Advisor to the Professional Pricing Society’s Certified Pricing Professional program, Tim is a member of the American Marketing Association and American Physical Society. He holds a BS in Physics and Chemistry from Southern Methodist University, a BA in Mathematics from Southern Methodist University, a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Chicago, and an MBA with high honors in Strategy and Marketing from the University of Chicago GSB.