In 199_ (and I’m not mentioning which year) I got my first product marketing job. It was all I wanted to do after I got my MBA — I wanted to drive the definition and completion of products. I was coming in from an applications (sales) engineering position right into product marketing, which I thought would give me a good view on what customers needed and what the product had to look like — and it did. I started right away defining a feature list, prioritizing them, cost-analyzing them, getting customer feedback, drive the schedules, etc. I quickly found out that product marketing is a thankless job: there are too many people to make happy (customers, R&D, sales, executives, partners, etc.) and there’s no way to make them all happy; and you’re constantly trying to connect all of the dots and pick up the loose ends.
During my first months of product marketing, one of the company’s more experienced marketers, pulled me aside, as he was leaving the company, and told me not to sweat the “small stuff” like features, etc. and instead focus my thoughts and work around positioning and the overall vision of how the product is changing the industry. That “lecture” didn’t make any sense at all! I had a lot of respect for him, so I did take note of what he said, but it really didn’t change the way I went about product marketing at the time.
As a few years have passed by and I moved up through the ranks and eventually became a executive, his comments began to make more and more sense. In fact, I have come to the conclusion than feature-driven product marketing only sets your product for long-term failure. It makes you focus on incremental change. It is very surprising that a lot of my colleagues and consultant, and some that I have the ultimate respect for (example), still predominantly push a feature-driven approach to marketing. I do realize that pitching a feature-driven approach works much better with less experienced CEOs and it is a better “consulting sell”, but I’m not convinced if it’s what really creates differentiation for their client companies. I’d go back to what my old colleague told me — product marketing provides a lot more value if focused on the overall positioning (i.e. how differently the product is solving the customer problem) and the long term vision of how it’s bringing non-incremental value to the customer (technically and financially).
One way to drive this point is to highlight that if someone in the car industry polled customers in 1900’s about how a car should look like, the customers would have all said they’d want a carriage with a horse that eats less and “defecates” less!
This post was written by Michael Sanie on March 16, 2009