The State of Product Marketing: Growing Out of Our Teenage Angst
Last Friday, the Product Marketing Alliance released the first-ever State of Product Marketing Report, much to the excitement of Product Marketing professionals around the world, including the group’s 3,800+ member-strong Slack community. In short, we were stoked — I’m talking reaction emojis ranging from 🔥to 🎺. But, of course we were! For the 609 of us who participated in the survey earlier this year and many other product marketers everywhere, this report promised us something we’ve never had before: aggregated insight into our field. This insight is extremely useful not only for product marketers, but also for anyone who works with or is considering hiring product marketers at their company. Here are some key takeaways:
1. Product marketers are trying to escape an identity crisis
Product marketers everywhere and at every level are still seeking functional clarity. The number 1 frustration of surveyed product marketers was a lack of understanding around our own roles and responsibilities. I don’t mean to brag, but how many other functions can say that? That not even we know what we do? In all seriousness, this was probably the most reassuring insight of the report; an open acknowledgement that our field is still in its infancy and that it means something different at nearly every company.
This is one of the biggest differences between product marketing and other fields. Ask a salesperson what they do, and they’ll respond with some derivative of sell the product. Ask an engineer? Build the product. Customer success? Help customers be successful when using the product. Ask a product marketer the same question, and you’ll be lucky to escape in fewer than 5 sentences and a few “well, but I also"s. This isn’t just because we are, by definition, storytellers—it’s because our roles are often ever-evolving and extremely cross-functional.
But as it turns out, we like it that way! Respondents reported that the dynamic and cross-functional nature of the role were some of our favorite parts of being product marketers. There were, however, some important functional consistencies across most of the respondents, including responsibility for positioning & messaging (91.5%) and managing product launches (82.8%).
2. Product marketers want an earlier seat at the table
TL;DR: Throwing a finished product at a product marketer and asking them to deliver it to your market is a surefire way to create an enemy. Another top 3 frustration of surveyed product marketers was a lack of influence on the company. This manifested everywhere in the report, from only 33.8% of respondents citing product roadmap work as a core functionality, to only 24.6% reporting working at early stage companies, pre or post-product market fit.
Similarly, almost every interviewed product marketing expert listed product marketing being elevated to a strategic function in their top 3 pieces of advice to decision makers. Phrases like “launch machines,” “get stuck in the executional weeds,” and “not just a coordinator” were tossed around as common perception-related frustrations. Insight into market needs, ability to drive cross-department alignment and empowerment, and the skill to translate products into resonating positioning were all cited as core benefits of bringing product marketing into the product decision-making process, and having product marketing representation in leadership.
In short, product marketers want the rest of their teams to understand the value we bring at both ends of the product development process, not just when it’s time to sell it. Including product marketers at the ideation and planning phases of product roadmapping and development gives an additional perspective into the challenges customers are facing, and how your team can be uniquely positioned to solve them. They can also provide insight into emerging market trends and needs of potential future customers, driving innovation and pushing the envelope without over indexing on current customer feedback.
3. Product marketers really love our jobs!
The last undeniable theme across the report was that product marketers are certified superfans of product marketing. We really, really, really like what we do—but for a few key reasons that we’ll dive into.
The largest cohort of survey respondents have been working in product marketing for a relatively short 1-3 years, which is noteworthy because the relative freshness could contribute to sentiment around the field. It could also just be indicative of the field’s general infancy, and the fact that product marketing is, again, generally brought in as an established function once a company achieves product-market fit. That said, less than 5% of respondents reported plans to leave the product marketing field as their career develops, with 66.7% ready to take the next step in the product marketing career ladder and 17.9% being happy with their current position. The last 10.5% reported wanting to become an entrepreneur, which would safe to say give product marketing a very early seat at the leadership table.
Our key functions were also the ones we liked the best. As mentioned before, favorite parts of the role included being creative, cross-functional, and dynamic, which are required skills for key responsibilities like problem solving and collaboration with product and sales teams.
Overall, this report felt like a good gut check for product marketers—nothing overwhelmingly surprising, but reassuring that the way we feel every day is normal. There are a few confounding variables, however, that I was surprised not to see explicitly called out in the report.
The largest of those would be that survey respondents were recruited from an already engaged group of product marketers from the Product Marketing Alliance’s Slack community and other outreach channels. While this certainly provides a great jumping off point, it shouldn’t be misconstrued for being a true representative sample of all product marketers. PMA describes themselves as “a collective of passionate product marketing managers committed to driving demand, adoption and the overall success of their products,” which might detour a less ambitious or passionate product marketer away from the group. This could certainly influence the overwhelming positivity throughout the report.
Overall, the PMA team did a great job with this study and were sure to explicitly call it out as an “open conversation” as opposed to a definitive report. It was clearly designed by product marketers, for product marketers, and delivered what it promised: stats and facts that provide more clarity on the field as a whole and equip product marketers to approach conversations about their role with more insights.