Executive Marketing Consultant

Marketing 101 for Engineers: A Functional Introduction

Why you need marketing and what it actually does

Programming notes: this post is n in a series of indeterminate length on GTM topics mainly for startup people, mainly leadership, mainly coming from non-GTM backgrounds. There’s a list at the end.

Why Marketing

  • We need words to talk about what we’ve built
  • We need to get the product in front of some specific group(s) of people
  • We need to convince those people it’s worth considering and trying
  • We need to provide those people with a way to conceptualize, categorize, and compare our product to other things on which they could be spending their time, attention and money
  • We need to tell, or show, people what (we think) is important about the product
  • We need to give people the words we want them to use when they talk about it
  • We need the word to spread
  • We need to draw lines around what we are and what we definitely are not
  • We need to make money to stay in business to feed and clothe and provide health insurance to our staff and their families

Functionally Speaking

The fundamental purpose of marketing is to turn people into customers. There are other purposes, but any other measure is the wrong measure. Do your marketing efforts turn into revenue (eventually)? If they don’t, stop. Be clear about what you’re doing and why.

A smaller view is that the purpose of marketing is to generate qualified leads which sales turns into revenue.

A smaller view is that the purpose of marketing is to generate impressions, traffic, and signups which the product turns into users which the product and/or sales turn into revenue.

A smaller view is that the purpose of marketing is to do PR, comms, and events.

A smaller view is that the purpose of marketing is to buy ads.

Marketing, for better or worse, is an expansive set of disciplines. Going roughly from top of funnel to bottom…

Awareness (Top)

Sometimes Branding, PR, and Comms are called “Corporate Marketing”.


What are the messages, words, symbols, colors, typefaces, styles, tones of voice, etc… that represent the company, it’s products, and our position in the world as we want them to be understood by those with whom we interact.

Including, but not limited to:

  • Company name, taglines, boilers (short descriptions), etc
  • Mission, vision, values statements
  • Employer brand: how the company is perceived as a place to work
  • Product naming
  • Visual identity: logos, colors, typefaces, formal usage guidelines, etc

Public Relations and Communications

How do we speak in the world, who do we speak to, where do we speak, how do we spread the word. [Read more in PR 101 for Engineers.]

Including, but not limited to:

  • Building and maintaining relationships with news outlets, journalists, bloggers, etc
  • Pitching stories to journalists
  • Writing press releases and other formal, public communcations
  • Securing interviews
  • Securing bylines: articles or blog posts penned by one of our folks but published on someone else’s platform, like InfoQ
  • Securing speaking slots at events and running speaker programs
  • Providing editorial, logistical, speaker training, and other support to staff who do any kind of public comms
  • Crisis management (its own specialty): what to do and how to speak when something very bad happens
  • Investor Relations (its own specialty): crafting communications and staging interactions with investors, usually only a dedicated role at large orgs or public companies
  • Analyst Relations (its own specialty): crafting communications and staging interactions with industry analysts, usually only a dedicated role at large orgs [read more in Analyst Relations 101 for Engineers]

Acquisition Part 1 aka Demand / Lead Gen (Top)

Sometimes DG reports into Corporate Marketing. Sometimes DG reports into Product Marketing. Mostly, it’s its own functional org that is a peer to Corp and Product Marketing.

Paid (Inbound)

Where can we spend money to get in front of the right people who will come to our site, fill out a form and give us their email address, start a free trial, download the app, etc?

Including, but not limited to:

  • Search ads (SEM)
  • Banner ads
  • Ad networks
  • Sponsorships of websites, blogs, newsletters,video channels, podcasts, etc
  • Event Marketing: sponsorships, booths, and putting on events(its own specialty)
  • Paying people indirectly to do things, e.g. sign up and get a “free” t-shirt!
  • Paying people directly to do things, e.g. take this survey for a $10 gift card
  • Buying “influence”: there are “influencer networks” and “professional” influencers of varying degrees of shadiness you can employ, from bot farms to legit people of standing in a given field
  • Referral programs: paying people, either directly or indirectly, to refer other people
  • Creating, testing, and tracking various kinds of “offers” to incentivize lead generating behaviors, like the t-shirt for free trial example above
  • Creating, testing, and tracking call to actions (CTAs): things like “free trial” vs “30 day free trial” vs “get started” vs “read this blog” etc
  • Creating, testing, and tracking landing page targets for ads and CTAs

Organic / Unpaid (Inbound)

What are the things we can do that are not paying (I guess) that will do the same as the paid stuff above? And yes, this is a silly distinction that has more to do with job function and accounting than anything else.

Including, but not limited to:

  • Search optimization (SEO)
  • Content Marketing (its own specialty): writing and/or editing and/or project managing all the content coming out of the org across all channels, like blogs, newsletters, podcasts, videos, infographics, etc
  • Speaking at events (Speaker Programs): through merit or desirability, rather than by paying for slots
  • Running events: meetups, workshops, etc
  • “Influencing” influence: identifying, building relationships with, and generating positive feelings about our products with people of legit standing in the fields we care about such that they hopefully mention us often
  • Referral program: asking people (prospects or customers) to refer other people without paying them, which can be just a thing that happens in the product itself and never requires human interaction
  • Creating, testing, and tracking various kinds of free “offers” to incentivize lead generating behaviors, like gated content
  • Creating, testing, and tracking call to actions (CTAs): things like “free trial” vs “30 day free trial” vs “get started” vs “read this blog” etc
  • Creating, testing, and tracking landing page targets for organic search results


Instead of somehow bringing prospects to us, how do we go out, find them, and pitch to them. This is as frequently a Sales responsibility as it is a Marketing one.

Including, but not limited to:

  • List buying / building of companies and names to pitch to
  • Email campaigns (warm and cold)
  • Call campaigns (cold)
  • Event Marketing
  • Event sponsorships / booths
  • Field Marketing

Field Marketing

Marketing (meaning everything stated here) that exists specifically to support the field, or geographic localities or however else the “field” is split up, of sales teams and their efforts.

Including, but not limited to:

  • Event Marketing
  • Field-specific outbound email and call campaigns

Industry / Vertical Marketing

Marketing (meaning everything stated here) targeted specifically at a particular vertical or industry.

Sometimes the “field” is split on industry boundaries and Industry Marketing == Field Marketing.

Partner / Channel Marketing

What other companies can we develop partnerships with to get access to their megaphones, money, and people to reach an audience we cannot reach on our own — or for which we would have no compelling story without the imprimatur of the partner? Or to just drive their customers to us.

Including, but not limited to:

  • Joint PR
  • Joint Paid stuff
  • Joint Unpaid stuff
  • Product integrations
  • Joint “solutions”: software, hardware, services from both parties sold as a more-or-less-well-integrated package usually presented in one contract vehicle, but sometimes not
  • Kickbacks on referrals and sales

Sometimes partnerships are a sufficiently large driver of business that Partner/Channel becomes a separate organization with its own staff of marketing, sales, sales engineering, support, legal, etc.

Acquisition Part 2 aka Consideration and Conversion (Mid-to-Bottom)

Product Marketing

Product Marketing is a wide set of disciplines. Roughly speaking, it’s a mid-funnel activity — though depending on the company, it reaches all the way to the top (running campaigns and leading demand gen activities) and all the way to the bottom (acting as sales engineering) of the funnel. Sometimes it takes over many activities that are typically considered brand, communications, and even product management.

Including, but not limited to:

  • Messaging: all the words used to describe the company (complete overlap with Branding) and the product, the features, their functionality, the value, etc., for every medium and venue at which that’s needed — including in the product itself for things like prompts and tooltips and menu entry names
  • Positioning: placing the company and products in the market landscape, deciding how to state the competitive position versus other vendors
  • Sales Enablement: providing salespeople with the language and materials they use with customers, including things like call scripts and data sheets and objection handling and playbooks — as well as providing sales engineers with technical training on product/features
  • Analyst Relations
  • Public Relations
  • Demand/lead gen support: providing or reviewing all the content, messaging, etc., for things like landing pages, ads, CTAs, etc
  • Competitive Intelligence (its own specialty): keeping tabs on the competition (existing and emerging), what they’re saying, what they’re building, and keeping the rest of the organization informed
  • Market Intelligence (its own specialty): keeping tabs on developments in the industry, especially the specific ecosystem that the company operates within, that have (or might have) a material impact on the company’s ability to succeed in the marketplace
  • Pricing and Packaging (its own specialty) — figuring out how best to price products, how to package them into tiers, given the competitive and market landscape
  • Documentation and technical writing (its own specialty)
  • Customer Marketing (sometimes its own specialty, see below)
  • Technical Marketing (sometimes its own specialty, see below)
  • Product — collecting customer feedback, establishing and maintaining product roadmaps, coordinating launches

Technical Marketing (aka Product Marketing also aka Sales Engineering)

This is basically the technical end of product marketing and sometimes ends up being the same thing as sales engineering.

Including, but not limited to:

  • Creating and giving demos
  • Writing and verifying all the technical descriptions of the product, features, etc
  • Sales enablement
  • Sales engineering training
  • Customer training

Customer Marketing

Turning customers into marketing.

Including, but not limited to:

  • Case studies and testimonials in all the pertinent mediums
  • Securing customer references
  • Helping customers create and present their work with us at events
  • Encouraging customers to write about their experiences with our product
  • Providing customers with a platform to speak or write


Building and maintaining a community of users and partners. Generally something that’s done explicitly with open source oriented companies and/or companies with sufficient love from users to want to provide support for things like meetups, hackathons, etc. Otherwise, it tends to be one of the many responsibilities of someone whose main focus is something else.

Including, but not limited to:

  • Running events like meetups, hackathons, and conferences
  • Running forums, Slack teams etc
  • Providing monetary, logistical, and other support for user groups, meetups, and other events or activities initiated by the community
  • Building and running formal champions programs, technical advisory boards, customer councils, etc
  • Moderating things

Sometimes Community reports into Marketing. Sometimes not. It really depends on how the company thinks about what a community is and what the purpose of creating or supporting one is.

Acquisition Part X Account by Account aka Account Based Marketing [ABM] (Top to Bottom)

Basically all of marketing tuned to a specific prospect/customer — usually this is in support of “whale hunting” for accounts like a Walmart or WPP or JPMC.

Acquisition Part Millenials aka Growth (Top to Bottom)

Growth is a somewhat nebulous term that comes down to growing, or increasing the velocity of, the funnel. The term derives from consumer-oriented product-driven companies where the vast majority of prospect-user interactions with the company are through the product/website/app and the act of creating/finding “virality”, “flywheel”, or “network effects” is a function of engineering and optimizing user experiences for that purpose.

Growth is oftentimes considered its own discipline and, sometimes, its own line of business with it’s own marketing, product, engineering, and operations staff that experiment with and A/B test all aspects of the user experience leading to conversion and expansion, as well as things like referral marketing.

In my decidedly old-man-shaking-fist-at-sky mindset, this isn’t a discipline. It’s a dedicated funnel team that’s usually led from product and run like an independent operating unit. But every generation needs to feel special. So have your mantle.

Marketing Operations (Top to Bottom)

Marketing operations (and sales operations) is the technology and operational aspect of running a funnel. This includes selecting, buying, building, operating, scaling, and replacing (when necessary) all the tech and processes associated with running marketing (and sometimes sales).

Including, but not limited to:

  • Ad buying, testing, scaling
  • Marketing Automation: email automation, campaign building, lead attribution, campaign attribution, lead routing, CRM integration, data sanitation
  • Sales Automation or CRM: call routing, lead routing, lead attribution, campaign attribution, marketing automation integration, data sanitation
  • List building and buying
  • Reporting: KPI establishment, tuning, tracking, visualization, and report generation

Design (Top to Bottom)

Primarily graphic and web design, needed for everything from our website and landing pages to our conference booths and swag.

Design skills are needed for things including, but not limited to:

  • Visual identity
  • “Marketing” website: the parts of the site that are not the product or app
  • Ads of all types
  • Landing pages
  • Infographics
  • Diagrams, animations, backgrounds, mascots, etc
  • Swag: shirts, stickers, socks, totes, pens, etc
  • Conference booth graphics, structure, signage, etc

Good designers who can do marketing work are as hard to find as good designers who do product work.

Experiential Marketing aka Event Marketing (Top to Bottom)

“Experiential” comes from the world of consumer brands and luxury goods, where we try to craft a particular experience for people — who may or may not already be customers — to engender interest, loyalty, brand association with something, etc.

A great example of this is Color Factory.

When To Start

As soon as we start thinking about building a thing, we start finding it’s place in the world: how to talk about, who it’s for, and what it’s competing against.

So marketing happens at the very beginning and it never stops.


For better or worse, most of marketing is well trod ground. It’s a lot of manual labor, a fair amount of trial and error, and constant experimentation.

Anything we find that works will eventually stop working, or will only work to a certain scale. Tactics frequently change. They also tend to pile up, so we add new ones more often than we retire old ones.

Marketing has a different risk profile than many aspects of software engineering. Things like perceptions are not so easily repaired or debugged (or forgiven), once established. Leads can be “burned” and may never give you a second chance. Once a journalist puts you in a particular competitive bucket, they may never take you out of that bucket.

I would argue that it’s not hard, so much as it is a great deal of work.

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