How to do product marketing in 2021

Businesses face more competition than ever before, regardless of their market or industry, and consumers and decision-makers are becoming more discerning and demanding with every year that passes. Product marketing can be one of the best ways to differentiate your brand and what you sell, with a view to gaining market share and dominating your marketplace. It's no longer a nice-to-have element of marketing, given cursory treatment by marketing departments when they have the spare time. In 2021, product marketing should be viewed as an essential element of any marketing plan worth its salt.

In this article, we'll provide clarity around the somewhat mystical term 'product marketing' and get you ready to elevate your products and brand to the next level. We'll cover:

  • What is product marketing?
  • Who is responsible for product marketing?
  • Why is product marketing important?
  • Developing a go-to-market product marketing strategy
  • Developing a post-launch product marketing strategy
  • Measuring the impact of your product marketing

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What is product marketing?

A quick Google search will return definitions of 'product marketing' in their hundreds, many of which differ slightly from the next. Our definitive response to this question is:

"Product marketing brings a product to market using strategic messaging and positioning to create demand in the product's target audience. Once launched, product marketing makes sure that the product is successful and survives long term. Product marketing covers everything from conducting consumer research and developing a marketing plan, to managing the lifecycle, launching new features and making sure that the target audience really understands the value of the product in question."

Confusion often arises when people try to fit product marketing into the wider understanding of marketing. Should product marketing replace all marketing? Are they the same thing? Can one exist without the other? In simple terms, product marketing sits at the heart of product, marketing and sales.

Conventional marketing focuses on the entire marketing environment, from lead generation and SEO through to retention, branding and customer experience. Product marketing hones in on demand generation and uptake of a certain product, with a real focus on the steps that customers undertake before and after buying a product. It seeks to reach a deep understanding of a specific product’s audience, and focuses on tweaking the product's positioning so that it resonates completely with the target market. Product marketing oversees the launch of a product, its execution, its uptake, its marketing and its long-term success, which is why it sits so neatly between the previously mentioned three wider departments.

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Some typical product marketing activities include:

  • Conducting market research, interrogating the marketplace and determining key buyer segments and personas
  • Understanding the product's value proposition and how it can solve the problems faced by the target audience
  • Communicating the value proposition, positioning and messaging to the product team and the rest of the company
  • Working with multiple departments including sales, marketing and customer service to understand the customer journey and optimise it for sales
  • Go-to-market strategising that enables the sales team to successfully sell the product

Product marketing versus product management

You might hear product marketing and product management used interchangeably, but they are very different concepts and should not be confused. Product managers ideate, create and shape new products and their features. Product marketers then create a narrative around the product and help bring it to market.

Product managers are individuals who bring all involved teams and parties together, much like a conductor in an orchestra. They are responsible for the product roadmap and achieving its various milestones and goals, providing clarity and communication between different departments, from sales to IT. If the product fails, they are the ones who are held accountable.

Why is product marketing important?

Having an amazing new product ready to launch is every business's dream, but if you don't target the right people with the right message or make your target audience really understand the value it can add to their lives, it suddenly becomes worthless. A product — however great it is — will not reach its full potential and do your business justice without product marketing. Your product marketer(s) will help you to achieve the following:

  • Identify your customers and understand them on a much deeper level
  • Develop buyer personas to allow for efficient, effective targeting
  • Better understand the marketplace, competitors and customer expectations
  • Position the product appropriately in the market, creating demand and leading to sales
  • Align the business on what the product is and who it is for
  • Better understand if the market is ready for your product and whether there is room for it to enter and be successful
  • Discover ways to differentiate the product from direct and non-direct competitors
  • Define the product's USPs and value proposition
  • Better understand the product's potential for success
  • Better understand if the product will be relevant over time and could survive any potential threats

Developing a go-to-market product marketing strategy

Your new product is ready, you know you're on to something great and you can't wait to get it in front of potential buyers. Developing a go-to-market product marketing strategy is the next step! It's your plan of attack for putting the product in front of the right audience and creating demand. Here's our step-by-step guide to creating a fantastic product marketing strategy:

1. Gather research and validate the product's place in the market

The only right way to sell a product is to fully understand your target audience, and whether they will actually buy what you're trying to sell. Conducting market research using interviews, focus groups, questionnaires and surveys will help you to understand your target audience's issues, needs, expectations and motivations. Once you have this data to hand, it will be much easier to craft strong positioning and messaging that your target audience won't be able to resist.

You should also use this stage to look at your competitors. How do they compare to your company in terms of market share? How do they position their product and who are they targeting? What extra value does your product offer and how can you effectively communicate this to differentiate your product and gain a competitive advantage? In answering these questions, you'll be much closer to creating a narrative for your product that has room to thrive in the market. Validate your assumptions, get a clear picture of where your product sits in the marketplace, and move forward with decisions based on the insights you have found.

2. Create buyer personas for your key audience segments

By this second stage, you'll have already started to speak to your potential buyers and have a much richer understanding of who they are and why they will find value in your product or service. Further develop your understanding by creating buyer personas, which are a set of fictional customer profiles designed to represent your dream customers. Your personas should be highly descriptive, using as much information as possible. This will really help you to refine your positioning and messaging further down the line.

Even though your personas are fictitious, you should always try to make them as data-driven as possible. Use the consumer data you collect to flesh out made-up individuals with traits that you know your real-world dream customers share. Make your personas as human as possible. Give them names, occupations, jobs, home towns — anything and everything you can think of to make them seem 'real'. Think about each of them at a personal level. What worries them? What are their needs and challenges? What do they hope to achieve, and what is holding them back? The number of personas you create will depend on your market and product, so there's no right or wrong number.

3. Determine your product's value proposition and messaging

Your product has been created to serve a purpose. Maybe it fixes a problem or enhances a situation. Whatever its purpose is, the promise it makes to its buyers is its value proposition. You can focus on just one feature of the product, the problems it solves, how it makes the customer feel, etc. Whatever you choose, the value proposition has to be clear, unique and relevant to your target audience.

The next step is the fun part: deciding how your value proposition should be perceived by your target audience. Once you have made this decision, also known as positioning, your entire product marketing strategy will be focused on getting your product to that position. It's important to share your positioning statement with the whole company so that everyone is aligned in their thinking and the narratives constructed around the product.

Your positioning statement will also feed your messaging — how you talk about your product and the storytelling around it. Messaging is the way you speak to your personas about their specific challenges, needs and pain points, and how your product can help to resolve them. Your value proposition and positioning may need to be slightly tweaked per persona, as each of them will have a different, individual problem that needs addressing and solving. Your messaging is the pillar on which your marketing content sits. It will shape your campaigns and collateral, and guide your sales team in how they talk about and sell your product.

Ask yourself these questions when thinking about your positioning statement:

  • Who is our target audience?
  • Where will they use our product?
  • Why do they need our product?
  • How can it help to solve their problems?

4. Design your marketing strategy

Stages 1–3 are the building blocks needed to help you create a winning product marketing strategy. Your strategy should also consider the following elements:

  • Objectives — what are your goals? They could be how much revenue you hope to make in year one, or how many marketing qualified leads you want to generate. Make sure each goal is SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
  • KPIs and reporting — choose KPIs that reflect the progress you're making against your objectives. Create a reporting dashboard to track your performance and share your achievements with the rest of your company. Make sure that you can access all of the metrics data you need.
  • Channels and targeting — determine where you will promote your product and how you will communicate with your target audience. Wherever your audience spends their time — on social media, on search, on their phones, in their emails — that's where you need to plan to be.
  • Tactics — you know where you want to get to, but how exactly do you hope to get there? Create a tactical plan of the week-by-week activity, so you know who is doing what and when to bring your strategy to life.
  • Content — map out a content strategy against your target audiences' buyer journeys, from awareness through to conversion. What content can you provide at each stage to let them know how you can help to solve their problems?
  • Sales support — what can you create that will enable your sales team to really sell the product to your target audience? Content, resources and tools will all be useful.

Another key aspect of your product marketing strategy should be pricing. Your market research, competitor analysis, target audience and positioning will all inform your pricing strategy, which in turn should ensure plenty of sales and success. If you want to make a grand entrance into the market and outshine your competitors, you can opt for a pricing penetration strategy, whereby you enter the market at a low price to win initial business. This strategy isn't sustainable, but can help you to secure a high volume of customers early on.

Economy pricing is a great option for products whose value proposition and positioning are all about value for money, affordability and low cost. If your product is a high-end, luxury piece, then premium pricing will help to attract the right kind of audience you're looking for. You should collaborate with your finance team to determine the right price that works for your target audience, your market and the business.

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5. It's time to launch!

The launch of your new product is critical to its success and the success of your product marketing plan. Make sure that you're clear about your distribution channels and ensure everything is set up to support sales from day one. This could mean updates to your website, stock in your physical shop or warehouse, or sales appointments booked. The nature of your product and target audience will inform where you sell your product. You should also prepare a big launch event to really get people talking about your new product. Arrange a celebration — either in-person or virtually — and invite influencers, partners and press.

Developing a post-launch product marketing strategy

Product marketing doesn't end once the product launch is over. It's crucial that you keep interest and demand for the product alive with a post-launch marketing strategy. In doing this, you're also much more likely to meet the objectives and goals you set out in phase one of your product marketing plan. You should approach your post-launch strategy in the spirit of continuous optimisation and iteration so that you can create a marketing engine that works effectively for your audience and your business.

The first step is to evaluate your performance. We recommend waiting a few months post-launch before doing this. Interrogate your marketing and sales data, and KPIs, to evaluate how close (or far) you are from achieving your objectives. If everything is going to plan, analyse which aspects of your marketing are having the biggest and best impact and seek to replicate these. If you're behind schedule and not performing as you'd hoped, investigate why and what can be changed to turn things around. Speak to your customers, your leads and those in your target audience who are aware of the product but don't seem to be interested. Gather as much information as you can about why the product isn't selling. It's possible that the product is somehow missing the mark, which is crucial feedback that needs to be delivered to the product manager so that revisions and improvements can take place.

You should also be proactive in reviewing the market and the preferences of your target audience. Consumer needs and expectations change all the time and can be influenced by a multitude of external elements. You need to stay one step ahead of these changes so that your product and company can adapt where necessary and stay relevant to your target audience. Keep an open dialogue and feedback loop running with your customers, so that you can improve your product and add new features when necessary. In doing this, you will also stay ahead of new trends and problems that can pave the way to new product development. Keeping close to your customers and target audience can give you a really strong competitive advantage and help you stay well ahead of the curve.

A well-researched and well-planned pre-launch product marketing strategy means that you should reach a large number of your target audience with your carefully crafted positioning and messaging. However, there's a high chance that the majority of your audience wasn't ready at that point to purchase your product. In fact, it can take several interactions across multiple touchpoints to nurture a prospect from your target audience towards becoming a paying customer. Look for the people who have shown an interest in what you're trying to sell and focus your attention on nurturing them. They could be people who clicked your ads, opened your emails, downloaded your content or added your product to their shopping carts. These people have all shown a positive response towards your initial marketing, so continue to capture their interest with retargeting campaigns, email campaigns, free trials, first-order discounts and more.

You should also check in regularly with your sales team. Do they have everything they need to effectively sell the product to your target market? Have they received feedback on the marketing collateral used so far, or are there gaps in their understanding of the product and its positioning? Listen closely to their feedback and look for opportunities to really maximise the experience for the prospects they speak to.

Now that you have customers coming on to your books after buying your new product, you should start to make retention a business priority. It costs seven times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one, so once you have successfully gained your customers, it's crucial that you work extra hard to keep them. Keeping in touch, asking for their feedback and opinions, providing them with added value post-purchase, showcasing case studies and testimonials, collecting reviews — these are all great ways to show your customers that you value their business and the experience they have with your company.

Measuring the impact of your product marketing

If you're still wondering how exactly to measure the impact of your product marketing and feel unsure about which KPIs and metrics are the right ones to track, here are some starting ideas:

  • Revenue
  • Number of sales
  • Number of marketing qualified leads
  • Conversion rates (for lead gen and for sales)
  • Cost per acquisition (lead and customer)
  • Customer lifetime value
  • Net Promoter Score
  • Product usage
  • Retention rate
  • Market share
  • Frequency of key actions (content downloads, website visits, social media engagements)
  • Brand sentiment
  • Target audience penetration rate

Summary

Now that we've demystified product marketing, it's time to get started in your own business. No new product should be taken to market without a pre and post-launch product marketing plan.

Product marketers must bridge the gap between the sales, marketing and product teams to create a winning marketing strategy that will ultimately increase demand and lead to new customers and lots of sales. It's their job to reach a deep understanding of the product, of the market, of the target audience and of how to best promote the product based on each of these three elements.

Good product marketing will identify key buyer personas from your target audience and develop crystal clear value propositions that link your newest product to the individual needs and problems of your customers. From this, equally clear positioning statements can be crafted which will serve as the anchors for all subsequent marketing messaging, activity and collateral. Once you have your positioning statements ready to use, share them internally so that everyone within the business understands how the product should be perceived externally.

When it comes to creating your go-to-market and post-launch product marketing strategies, make sure that you set clear SMART objectives and supporting KPIs so that you can monitor, measure and optimise your performance. Your colleagues and senior leadership team will want updates on your progress and performance, so display your metrics in an easy-to-access, simple dashboard that can be disseminated within the company.

Think carefully about the channels on which you want to promote your product and aim to be as present as possible in the spaces where your target audience spends its time. Create a content strategy that mirrors the buyer journey, from awareness all the way through to becoming a customer, and seek to add value at every stage while reinforcing your value proposition and positioning. Work closely with your finance team to determine a pricing strategy that works for the business, for your audience and for the wider market.

When you're ready to launch your product, make sure that everything is set up in the backend of your business to make it as simple and easy as possible for your customers to buy. This might involve changes to your website, a new ecommerce functionality, a fully stocked warehouse, a trusted delivery partner, full shelves and POS marketing in your store, or a seamless made-to-order process. Arrange for a big, celebratory event that can be attended by members of the press, influencers who are pertinent to your industry, and your partners and suppliers.

Once your product has entered the market, don't be tempted to relax and hope the product will sell itself. Focus on optimising your marketing activity to do more of what is working and less of what isn't, and speak to your customers and target audience to find out their experiences of using the product or why they haven't purchased it yet. Nurture prospects who have shown a positive interest in the product and your brand — this could be a newsletter subscription, website visit or content download. Don't forget that it is far more cost-effective to keep your existing customers than it is to acquire new ones, so invest time and effort into creating a fantastic, post-purchase customer experience.


Net Promoter® and NPS® are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.


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