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Spotlight on Product Marketing: A Startup's First Must-Have for Marketing Success

Updated: Jan 16


As a startup founder, you have a lot on your plate. From fundraising to product development, countless tasks demand your attention. However, one area that often gets overlooked in the early stages of a startup is marketing, specifically product marketing. Many founders assume that marketing can wait until the product is ready to launch, but this is a mistake. Product marketing should be the first marketing function at a startup and it should be onboarded as an independent function, or at the very least, executed by other functions — before even starting the development of the product. Here’s why.


Key Insights From The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing

This Article Summarizes Key Insights From The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing

 

Tech Marketing

Marketing plays a pivotal role in the high-tech industry. It entails the process of identifying, anticipating, and satisfying customer needs effectively and profitably. It involves strategies and tactics used to communicate, promote, and sell products or services.

In established tech companies, marketing departments are usually led by a Chief Marketing Officer, also known as CMO, or the VP of Marketing, and are composed of these 5 teams:


  • Growth — which is generally responsible for the company’s digital assets ownership and operation, user cycles tracking and optimization (Marketing Growth sometimes becomes a stand-alone department combined with Product Growth);

  • Content — which writes and edits the company’s blog, case studies, reports, webinars, video scripts, and podcasts;

  • Communications — which manages the company’s brand awareness, social media, newsletters, PR, and conferences;

  • Design — which crafts the branding and online and offline marketing materials;

  • And, of course, Product Marketing — which sets the marketing foundations for the entire company by researching and analyzing market and product data, identifying the target audience, understanding their needs and preferences, doing positioning and messaging, planning GTM strategies, and managing the Sales and Customer Success enablement kits.


The Tech Marketing Department Outline From “The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing”

The Tech Marketing Department Outline From The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing

 

Tech Product Marketing


“Product Marketing is the key connector between technical product development and commercial gain, leveraging its understanding of the technology, market dynamics, and customer needs to drive product success.”  —  ChatGPT

Product marketing is a discipline that sits at the intersection of product management and marketing. Product Marketing Managers (PMMs) work closely with Product Managers (PMs) to understand the product features and benefits, and with the marketing team to develop messaging, positioning, and go-to-market strategies that resonate with the target audience.

While product management is typically more focused on the internal workings of the product, directing its development, defining the product roadmap, prioritizing features, and ensuring that the product meets business goals, product marketing is more focused on how the product is perceived and sold in the market, and its primary goal is to ensure that the product meets customer needs and drives business growth.

Think of the Product Marketing Manager as the marketing strategist, mirroring the Product Manager who serves as the product strategist. Both roles are pivotal in defining the company’s value proposition and setting the foundational pillars for its overall operations.


The Product Workflow Outline From The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing

The Product Workflow Outline From The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing

 

Product Marketing in Practice

Product marketing is a strategic process of positioning and promoting a product to potential customers, to drive sales and increase market share. It involves researching the market and competitors, identifying the target audience, understanding their needs and preferences, and developing a marketing strategy that resonates with them at the right time and place.

The key responsibilities of a Product Marketing Manager include:

  1. Market research & competitive analysis

  2. Market segmentation, customer profiles & Jobs-To-Be-Done

  3. Product positioning & messaging

  4. High-level go-to-market (GTM) strategy

  5. Sales & customer success enablement

  6. Pricing strategies & models

  7. Mid-bottom of the marketing funnel content development

  8. Product feature suggestions


Tech Product Marketing Manager Responsibilities Survey I conducted in the Facebook Group "PMMiya"

Tech Product Marketing Manager Responsibilities Survey I conducted in the Facebook Group "PMMiya"

 

Product Marketing Should Be the First Marketing Function at a Startup


I recommend appointing a product marketer as the first marketing role in a startup, and here’s why:

  • Product marketing helps you differentiate from competitors

In the crowded startup landscape, it’s more important than ever to differentiate your product from competitors. Product marketing can help you do just that. By conducting competitive analysis and developing a unique value proposition (UVP), you can position your product in a way that sets it apart from the competition. This will make it easier to attract customers and investors alike.

  • Product marketing sets the foundation for your product and marketing strategy

Product marketing is all about understanding your product and customers. By investing in product marketing early on, you can build a solid foundation for both your product and marketing strategy. You’ll gain a deep understanding of your target audience, their needs and pain points, and how your product can help them. This knowledge will inform all of your product and marketing efforts, from feature suggestions to messaging to channels and tactics.

  • Product marketing saves you time and money in the long run

With a solid product marketing strategy, you can save time and money on effective marketing efforts. You’ll have a clear understanding of who your target audience is, what messaging will resonate with them, and where is best to reach them. This will help you avoid costly missteps and make the most of your marketing budget.

  • Product marketing fosters collaboration and a unified approach

Product marketing involves working closely with other functions within the company, such as product management, sales, growth, and customer success. By investing in product marketing early on, you’ll foster cross-functional collaboration and ensure that everyone is aligned around a common goal: creating and selling a successful product that meets customer expectations and achieves business goals.


The Unique Value Proposition Outline From The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing

The Unique Value Proposition Outline From The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing

 

Essential Tech Product Marketer Skills


The Product Marketing Manager (PMM) role has gained tremendous popularity in the high-tech industry in recent years. Therefore, hiring companies and aspiring Product Marketing Managers should acknowledge the competitiveness of this field. To thrive in this dynamic position, continuous learning, adaptation, and strategic thinking are essential, and there should be deliberate efforts to attract empathetic, skilled, and wise product marketing leaders who can shape the internal marketing vision and contribute significantly to its external realization, directly influencing the overall success of the company.

Successful tech product marketers embody qualities like customer empathy, a data-driven approach, strategic thinking, storytelling, organizational skills, effective communication, negotiation skills, entrepreneurial mindset, and leadership abilities. They should have a minimum of 2–3 years of versatile marketing experience, including content writing, marketing communications, or digital marketing, either in high-tech or in a sector that is closely related to the product being developed. A diverse experience across various marketing roles broadens their understanding of the buyer journey throughout the marketing-sales funnel and enhances their ability to tailor well-rounded strategies to various marketing functions that resonate with potential customers at various stages.

PMMs usually progress to roles like Senior or Director PMM, eventually reaching VP of Marketing positions. Alternatively, some individuals may transition to product-related roles that can leverage their versatile skills.

 

PMM Hiring Process in High-Tech


In my experience, an effective PMM hiring process is a well-defined, transparent, and structured series of steps:

1. Job Description

A concise list of B2C/B2B/B2G PMM responsibilities, duties, qualifications, and a transparent salary range, which varies according to experience and desirability.

2. Resume Screening

Usually conducted by an HR representative, this stage involves a brief 45-minute phone or video call to discuss the candidate’s resume, role responsibilities, and salary expectations to determine compatibility. Checking the candidate’s website or portfolio and passing it to the hiring manager is crucial to evaluating their marketing skills, as there is no better showcase of a marketer’s capabilities than how they promote themselves.

3. Direct Manager Video Interview

The role of the direct manager is pivotal in the hiring process, as the decision to hire someone for their team hinges primarily on the chemistry with the candidate. Therefore, before requesting the candidate to invest extensive hours on home assignments, it’s crucial that they first meet their potential direct manager. The purpose of this video interview is to establish a working relationship and gain insights into job expectations and desired qualities. It’s preferable that this meeting occurs over a video call rather than in-house. If the candidate successfully navigates the interview and home assignment, the manager and team will meet them in person at a later stage, during a focused hiring day.

4. Home Assignment

An effective home assignment should be completed within a reasonable timeframe, ideally not exceeding 5 hours. It can focus on an imaginary product, a well-known product, or a product of the candidate’s choice. The goal is to provide an opportunity for the candidate to showcase their skills and talents without exploiting the situation for free work. The assignment should be thoughtfully designed to align with the most relevant skills required for the PMM position, such as research, data analysis, storytelling, or strategic planning.

For example, I completed a home assignment for a company, developing messaging, a landing page, and a go-to-market strategy for an imaginary new Virtual Reality (VR) product in the next phase of Zoom Video Communications. The hiring manager suggested the company and product, and I delivered the content, marketing strategy, and presentation.

To complement skills not showcased in the 5-hour assignment, candidates can be asked to present another previous project they are proud of in the next stage of the interview process.

5. In-Person Presentation and Team Simulation

On a focused hiring day, the candidate meets the hiring manager and the team in person to showcase their work, understand the company culture, and answer and pose questions. It’s crucial that all key members from the marketing and product teams attend the presentation to gauge the candidate’s past achievements and preferred work, and, most importantly, assess team dynamics and communication.

6. HR Final Interview

The concluding HR interview serves to address any remaining queries, reaffirm salary expectations (without reductions from the initial agreement in the first HR interview, considering the candidate’s investment in time and effort), and ensure the candidate’s continued enthusiasm about joining the company. This interview can be conducted on-site after the team simulation, or, at a later date via a video call.

7. References

While I have reservations about this stage, as references can sometimes have unintended consequences, especially for exceptional candidates who may have surpassed their previous managers, it remains a common practice among tech companies. Yet, it’s essential to prioritize the candidate’s personality, attitude, talent, and skills over external opinions. Given the high competitiveness in the tech industry and the scarcity of great management, careful consideration is crucial in the hiring process.


This underscores the significance of tracking and onboarding empathetic and talented PMMs who can serve as exemplary leaders, fostering collaboration, excellence, and visualization of the marketing strategy for the entire company.

Take The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing and Get The Ultimate Tech PMM Toolkit for Free!
 

Final Words

In conclusion, product marketing should be the first marketing function at a startup. Effective product marketing makes sure you get the right messages, targeted to the right personas, at the right time, and on the most appropriate platforms. By investing in product marketing early on, you’ll set the foundation for your marketing strategy, differentiate from competitors, save time and money in the long run, and foster cross-functional collaboration. Don’t wait until your product is ready to launch to start thinking about marketing. Start now and set yourself up for success!

If you wish to explore the intricacies of tech product marketing and discover how to become, as well as recruit, top-notch tech product marketing managers, I invite you to order my book or take my online course: The Compact Guide To Tech Product Marketing, a Mini Masterclass designed for all levels, and get PMM role description templates, real-life PMM interview assignments from leading tech companies, and a copy of The Ultimate Tech PMM Toolkit for free, where 80+ meticulously crafted, customizable slides and worksheets will be available for you to modify according to your professional needs.

Good luck!



THE COMPACT GUIDE TO TECH PRODUCT MARKETING

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