Silicon Valley Product Marketing

I am not officially trained in anything in particular. I’ve learned from practice for the past 22 years. Over the years, I have headed UX, Product Management, Training, Documentation and Product Marketing. Each area has a different set of mental models and techniques to do a good job. I have seen people who were masters of each area, but on average I find the quality level to be lacking. Maybe I have my bar set too high.

For product marketing in particular, there are a few areas that I think should be done much better than what I see. For the sake of discussion, I am going to focus on software companies in Silicon Valley.

Right now, if you take any “average” software company and ask 5 salespeople to describe their product. You will get 5 different answers. Ask random people in the organization and you will be lucky to get a coherent answer at all.

I remember one product marketer who sent this 4 paragraph text to every employee and called it “Our Elevator Pitch”. I immediately contacted them and said that most (almost all?) employees will ignore this. They needed a 1 sentence version for an elevator; ideally in story form. The marketer in question disagreed with me and the elevator pitch exercise just wasted everyone’s time. (Needless to say, no one memorized it)

Speaking of story format…
The best way to communicate what a product does is to tell a story. Rather than give a checklist of features (which most people find boring), give the sales people stories they can tell.

Simple example: The following is a story told to me at a conference last month. She said, “As a salesperson, when I make a deal, the next thing I want to do is find all the companies that are just like the one I sold and try to sell them too. You can penetrate a whole market that way. When I tell them their competitor has our product, they want to have it too.  Our product tells you the names of those similar companies and let’s you import the names of the people into your CRM.”

It took about 10-20 seconds to tell the story including what the product does and why you would want it. It’s easy to remember. It works because it is simple and compelling.

Way back in 2007, I told Marketo customers the story of trying to fix something on their website. I described how annoying the web developer was. Then I showed them how our landing page editor worked like PowerPoint. The story was compelling and the product sold well.

Stories always win. Product marketing is supposed to come up with these stories. However, most of the time, there is no compelling story and thus sub-par product marketing.

In addition to stories, you need to decide what exactly to click on and what to do. This is a crucial part of the demonstration process. Product Marketers SHOULD be crafting these, but usually it’s the sales consulting arm that creates the demo because they are generally more technical than the product marketers. It’s fine to bring resources to bear where they make the most sense, but I believe a guru in product marketing is putting their imprint firmly on the demo from top to bottom.

Competitive analysis
Most competitive analysis that I have seen focuses on the features that the competition has that we don’t, or vice-versa. However, I think the real question is how they are positioning their product versus ours. What stories do they tell? Are they more compelling than we are? How can we turn their story into a liability and support our own narrative. This is why you do competitive analysis. Additionally, I find that this information is often out of date and poorly maintained.

Battle cards
These are a spin-off of competitive analysis. If the customer says, “It looks like competitor XYZ”, then you say, “Ahh, that’s because blah blah”. It’s a question & answer format for any situation. I find the battle cards are not written well and not very helpful. Plus, the adoption by sales is usually poor.

Product info on the website
This is the area that product marketing has a direct and powerful opportunity to make people want the product. Most of the time, the text is banal and misleading. Usually, the text is not thought-through or even readable. Screenshots are too small and not well laid out. Worst, the personality is boring and unlovable. How can most product pages be written with such laziness? Yet, that is the way it is.

Videos can be incredibly powerful, but they are often done with no story telling or personality. The best videos I have seen are usually outsourced and are called “Explainer Videos“. They are usually animated with cute characters. Often, I see a product manager or product marketer do a demo or walk-through. These also can be used for educational purposes.  However, just because they are easy to make doesn’t mean you should skimp on the production quality. Make sure they look nice and have stories.

Feature Opportunity Assessment
This is sometimes the realm of product management, but I believe that product marketing should be able to asses the market opportunity of a particular feature. There was a feature I loved back in 2010 and it would have (imho) created an unfair advantage for ourselves in the enterprise market. However, without research and people on the ground asking questions, there was no way to know how much money we would generate with that feature. It’s not a complicated job. You ask a few dozen customers about the feature and collect the results. Then you make a judgement about how many more sales you would get.

Product marketing is a crucial craft in product differentiation and sales. A great product marketer can make a huge difference in the success of your company. If you are a product marketer, please read Made to Stick. Hopefully, this will help a couple of people go deeper into product marketing and create success for their company.


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