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Product Marketer vs. Growth Marketer vs. Content Marketer: How to Choose Your First Marketing Hireby@oluwasegunoyebode
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Product Marketer vs. Growth Marketer vs. Content Marketer: How to Choose Your First Marketing Hire

by Oluwasegun OyebodeOctober 20th, 2022
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Product marketers help you find your product-market fit, act as the bridge to the customers for the product team and impact your short to midterm revenue goals. Growth marketers find out what works by running continuous tests and optimizing your marketing campaigns. This makes them excellent for achieving short term marketing goals and driving rapid growth. Content marketers build and execute mostly organic content strategies that offer long term and sustainable return on investment in the form of brand awareness and revenue generation through bottom-of-the-funnel content.
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Everything is falling in place.

Your engineers have put in the work, built and modified your product to near perfection. You’ve received a lot of promising responses from potential investors. Your valuation is a few million dollars shy of $10m.

Things are looking great and you’re only one or two years away from your dream ARR. The only question is — how do you get there? Of course, advertising and marketing will open up your company to opportunities you hadn’t considered before, but where exactly do you start your marketing efforts?

There are product marketers, growth marketers, content marketers, and that unique group of “marketing whisperers” on LinkedIn who swear that they can get you your customers if only you believe.

The line between these professionals (the first three, of course) is thin in terms of job description and skills. But the same line could make all the difference in your efforts and your ability to see actual ROI in your marketing spend.

I spoke to experts and did a fair bit of digging across all three fields with the aim of clarifying what they all do and how they might fit your needs as a tech startup. The insights I’ll share from those conversations and expert opinions should shed some light on how to make your first or next marketing hire.

Product Marketer vs. Growth Marketer vs. Content Marketer: Role Definitions and Descriptions

What precisely is the difference between these three roles? With almost everyone on LinkedIn being an expert in one or all of them, how exactly do you identify which would be most valuable to your company? Let’s take it from the top.

Product Marketers - Who They Are and What They Do

Product marketers study your customers and make sure that your product’s positioning, pricing, GTM plan, etc., are aligned with your customers’ wants and needs.

The whole point is to make sure that your ICPs are actively interested in buying and using your product. By doing so, product marketers contribute to revenue generation and customer acquisition. Pretty straightforward if you ask me.

But here’s the problem - that definition is a gross oversimplification of a product marketer’s job. 

Plus, I’m hardly a guru in the field. So, I took some time to speak with an actual product marketing expert – Ashley Faus, Director of Integrated Product Marketing at Atlassian.

The very first thing she noted in our conversation is how every product marketer is different, depending on the needs of the company.

“Sometimes they're closely partnered with Product Managers to ensure that customer and market needs end up on the roadmap, and then once those solutions are built, the customers and market know they're available. Sometimes they're most focused on sales enablement or different parts of the journey.” – Ashley Faus.

To fully understand this relatively novel branch of marketing, it might be useful to put the role within the context of its job description and brands that have successfully pulled off PM campaigns.

Product Marketing Through the Lens of Buffer

The Buffer that we all know and love today, with an ARR of $15m, launched humbly in 2011 with an MVP that only had two pages.

The MVP Buffer had, as seen in the screenshot above, led users to click on “plans and pricing.” Afterward, they’d fill out a form to submit their email address.

Simple as it was, according to Joel Gascoigne, Founder of Buffer, the entire purpose of that little experiment was to “check whether people would even consider using the app.” That minor activity was a form of product marketing.

Specifically, it was the process of finding out if there was a product-market fit before launching the full product. After receiving the emails and getting feedback from the first few potential customers, Joel proceeded to validate their willingness to pay for said product. 

Again, he launched a few pages with an email form. There, he included a section for people to see the tentative pricing and then indicate their willingness to use the product at that price.

This part is directly related to the pricing strategy job function of product marketers. After aligning on product-market fit as well as the pricing, among other things, Joel went ahead to launch Buffer and the rest is history.

Product Marketing Through the Lens of Ahrefs and Baremetrics

Contrary to a misconception I’d unintentionally strengthened with the Buffer example above, product marketing isn’t only useful for product launches. It can also be done on a continuous basis.

Two great examples are Ahrefs and Baremetrics.

With Ahrefs, a popular name where product-led growth is concerned, their product marketing comes in their testimonial section, among other places. There, they grouped all their testimonials by the different buyer personas.

This demonstrates attention to customer research and would be incredibly useful to a prospect who’s considering using their product but needs to be sure they actually solve a problem that’s unique to them.

To put this in perspective, the brand was founded in 2010. While they’ve been using testimonials for as long as anyone cares to remember, they didn’t start segmenting them by buyer personas until sometime in the second half of 2020, according to the WayBack Machine.

All things considered, this product marketing idea came up well after launch.

With Baremetrics, an element of their product marketing strategy is a live demo smackdab in the hero section of their landing page. 

This marketing asset focuses solely on the product and allows the user to see precisely what they’ll be getting. The best part is that it’s interactive.

Product marketing shows up in different ways and a PMM could likely list a hundred other campaigns in the field. The examples above are only meant to offer added perspective into the role.

Specific Skills and Job Requirements of Product Marketers

Skills

Generally, you might find companies requesting industry-specific experience and the ability to conduct market analyses to influence marketing decisions. Others would request soft skills and familiarity with the company’s tech stack. 

Ashley Faus highlighted three core skills she believes are essential to a product marketing manager’s job:

1. Customer and Market Insights: “They [product marketing managers] need to be able to find where gaps exist and translate those to the rest of the organization to help fill those gaps.”

2. Excellent Written and Verbal Communication: “Product marketers need to be able to adapt their language to the audience, including customers, product managers, leadership, and other marketers. They have to be the ultimate chameleons because they're helping to connect all the dots across disparate teams.”

3. Interdisciplinary Capabilities: Skills Across 1-2 Other Marketing Disciplines: “I do think PMMs need to have skills in at least 1-2 other marketing disciplines. It could be data, email, social, content, etc., but I find that most PMMs have a couple of other skills in their toolkit besides just knowing their product and market inside and out.”

Ultimately, in Ashley Faus’ expert opinion, the required skills of a product marketer depend on the focus within the company. 

Job Requirements and Responsibilities

Nearly every job ad will have one or more of the following in similar or different words.

  • Conducting in-depth customer research to inform marketing decisions
  • Building messaging, positioning, and value proposition for company products
  • Providing sales teams with sales enablement assets - product demos, sales toolkits, pitch decks, etc. 
  • Collaborating with the content team to develop product-led content where and when necessary.
  • Maintaining a deep understanding of the market and offering ideas, suggestions, and solutions when necessary.
  • Planning and leading GTM efforts to highlight new products and/or features for customers and internal stakeholders.

The Importance of a Product Marketer in Your Tech Startup 

At this point, it’s vital that we don’t lose track of the main purpose of this article - to figure out the difference between and importance of all three marketing roles so that you can make your first or next hiring decisions.

That said, the importance of a product marketer can almost always be linked back to improved customer experience and revenue growth. Backing that up, Ashley Faus said:

“I've seen product marketers reduce the steps in an onboarding journey to increase product adoption. I've seen product marketers create monetization campaigns that resulted in 80% conversion from trial to a paid account.”

No other words sum it up better than: “When PMMs are successful, they accelerate revenue growth.”

Speaking on how they do it, Ashley mentioned that: 

“Sometimes that's through acquiring more net-new customers, sometimes that's through turning free users into paid users, and sometimes that's through increasing the revenue-per-customer. But ultimately, they have a direct line to increasing revenue by increasing uptake of an offering.”

On the importance of hiring a PMM in an early-stage company, Yi Lin Pei, Director of Product Marketing at Teachable, simply said the following in an interview with Emilia Korczynska:

“If you started earlier and got a product marketer, it’s gonna help avoid so many issues down the line and help your company achieve a product-market fit so much faster. So, you can actually focus on the things that are important, like driving your business.”

Summarily, PMMs contribute directly to revenue growth while giving you the freedom to actually grow your business.

Growth Marketers - Who They Are and What They Do

While product marketers spend much of their time finding a product-market fit, among other things, the average growth marketer spends their time growth hacking to achieve the best possible results for your revenue as well as customer acquisition and retention.

If the phrase “growth hacking” sounds new, it’s because it is.

Sean Ellis, a former Head of Growth (Interim) at Dropbox and current Interim VP of Growth at Andela, coined the term roughly a decade ago. 

Since then, growth marketing and growth hacking have evolved noticeably into a process where marketers use multivariate experiments and A/B testing to determine which segment of a company’s audience gets to see which message and how they react to it.

Once that data is gathered, it’s used to create and optimize marketing strategies that are designed to be highly personal, offering a unique experience to each member of your target audience and providing the best possible returns on marketing spend. 

Again, I am not a growth marketing guru. So, I spoke to someone who actually has a wealth of experience in the field – Padmaja Santhanam, Partner and Growth Manager at FirstPrinciples.io.

In the simplest terms possible, she defined growth marketing as: “A structured strategy to grow your business by strengthening customer relationships while understanding their journey.”

Here’s an interesting catch, though. Rather than think of it as an independent field in and of itself, Padmaja approaches growth marketing as an umbrella field of sorts. Alongside her definition, she mentioned that content marketers, product marketers, and growth marketing managers have their parts to play in growth marketing.

This isn’t particularly surprising. More often than not, while testing, iterating, and optimizing your marketing efforts, as growth marketers often do, they’ll need the support of various specialized marketers. For instance, if your growth marketing manager sees the need to adjust email copy for a specific ICP, they’ll likely have to hire an email marketer to effect their new strategy. 

Beyond that, the idea of relationships with customers being important to the growth marketing process has significant backup, too. 

Noah Kagan, current CEO at AppSumo and former Director of Marketing at Mint Software Inc., made an explainer video about how he took Mint from zero to a million users in less than a year.

Two things that stood out to me in the 10-minute case study were the use of content marketing (blogging at the time) and email newsletters to build relationships pending the time that they perfected their product and launched fully.

https://youtu.be/5L9cilUWOrE?t=223

Growth Marketing as an Improvement on Traditional Marketing

You see, with “old” forms of marketing, the process was relatively simple — spend money doing something, get your results, rinse and repeat as many times as you can afford to. “Something,” in this context, could be an event, a PPC campaign with a couple of keywords promoted over a few months, a TV or social media ad with a really cool video and celebrity cameos, etc. Whatever it is, it’s often aimed at driving nigh-instant income that will contribute to the company’s ARR.

Unlike this form of marketing, growth marketing takes things a huge step further. Instead of simply sending out an email, growth marketing creates different versions of that email and sends it to different ICPs. Then, it measures the effectiveness of each and tweaks the next email for improved results.

Instead of simply putting up an advert on LinkedIn, growth marketing identifies the specific stage of the customer’s journey and then builds campaigns for activation, nurture, or reactivation as appropriate.

Essentially, growth marketers are hyper-focused on finding out what works for each person and then doing it with whatever form of marketing is available and practical.

Specific Skills and Job Requirements of Growth Marketers

Skills

The average growth marketing manager often has to do a lot of strategy. As such, they need to do a lot of critical thinking. Alongside that, to test multiple components and analyze data, they must have exceptional attention to detail.

Specific things they’re often good at include organic SEO, content marketing, search engine and social media ads, user experience, etc. 

Padmaja was particular about the need for growth marketing managers to have analytical capabilities, data-driven leadership, conversion rate optimization skills, etc.

Job Requirements and Responsibilities

You’ll find companies asking the following responsibilities from their growth marketers:

  • Taking charge of paid social and search channels for customer acquisition
  • Testing and optimizing email marketing campaigns for increased ROI 
  • Updating marketing copy across multiple or specific channels
  • A/B testing
  • Managing referral and affiliate marketing programs
  • Reporting results and progress to key stakeholders across the company

It’s important to note that these skills and job requirements often differ largely across different organizations.

The Importance of a Growth Marketer in Your Tech Startup

Given their primary job description of building and improving systems continuously, growth marketers often have a direct and almost immediate impact on whatever your company considers growth.

Let's assume, for the purpose of this conversation, that you’re running an email marketing campaign and you’re looking to increase open rates and CTR. A growth marketer could tweak the headline, email length, CTA, etc. a few times every month or week. Afterward, depending on the excellence of their work, they could instantly raise the number of opens and clicks in all your emails. 

If you’re looking to raise conversions on an existing social campaign, a growth marketer could update/refresh existing copy on your marketing assets. Doing so would likely lead to immediate results noticeable from your analytics dashboard.

Beyond having a nearly instant impact on your growth, these individuals can help you see the larger picture. After all, they’re in charge of reporting progress to you. 

Content Marketer - Who They Are and What They Do

This is likely going to be the easiest of the three to define, particularly because it's what I do. 

In the simplest terms possible, a content marketer deploys various types of content across different channels to achieve specific company objectives. Andrew Savage, CEO and Founder at Rank Copy, agrees strongly with this position, defining this class of marketers in very similar words. 

A little over a decade ago, content marketing was largely limited to blogs. Usually, companies would throw a significant amount of money into paid advertising. Then, to maintain an online presence when they were out of "advertising season," they'd hire a writer to "churn out" content and gain traffic because others were doing it. 

While this was close to the norm a few years ago, the content marketing landscape has evolved over the years. 

Speaking on this at the Demand Curve Growth Summit, Amanda Natividad, VP of Marketing at SparkToro, said: 

"I think we're finally starting to break out of this classic notion that content marketing means owning a blog and SEO strategy and I think more and more teams and more startups are becoming aware that modern content marketing is often much more than that. 

So, I think today, it's not uncommon for content marketers to also own a podcast, a newsletter, YouTube channel, social media or more than that. That's how I think we've seen content shifting in recent years."

The key idea to note here is that content marketing, as it's done today, puts out (mostly) organic and free assets through various touchpoints/platforms. 

Often, you'll find such variations as customer-focused content and product-led content, as is the case with brands like Ahrefs. But the goal is often the same: to hit certain metrics for the company by solving customers' problems.

Content Marketing Through the Lens of HubSpot and Copy.ai

With a total revenue of over a billion dollars in 2021, it's a bit of a challenge to cite HubSpot as an example in an article for startups. 

But, as far as content marketing is concerned, HubSpot is more or less the poster boy for this brand of marketing.

The company does nearly everything across every stage of the buyer's journey for customers and random members of their audience. This has offered them several million visits to their website every single month. 

Their content marketing strategy includes YouTube videos, blog posts, case studies, full marketing and sales courses, podcasts, webinars, social media content across nearly every platform, etc. Their share of earned media is equally incredible, with mentions on credible publications and social media popping up frequently.

HubSpot is what content marketing looks like at scale. 

But, if you're a tech startup, you'll likely want something that's closer to home. A great example in that regard is Copy.ai. 

Since its break into the market in 2020, the company has acquired more than two million users and $11,000,000 in funding. They did it by organically sharing original content across social platforms.

Other elements of their content marketing strategy include templates on their website, use cases for buyers nearing the end of their journey, and a thriving blog.

Specific Skills and Job Requirements of Content Marketers

Skills

Without mixing his words up, Andrew highlighted “a solid understanding of a client's buyer persona and audience” as a core skill that’s necessary for every content marketer to get their job done. According to him, “You need to speak to them at the specific stage in their buyer journey.”

While the thought of it is pretty simple, I think that it demonstrates yet another shift in modern content marketing compared to what was obtainable a little over a decade ago.

Specifically, content marketing teams are moving away from just putting out content haphazardly and shifting more into a strategic creation and distribution model, with measurement and optimization being a core part of the process. And, to map out that strategy, a deep understanding of the buyer persona and audience is incredibly important.

That said, in addition to Andrew's thoughts on the need to understand buyers and audiences, I’d say every content marketer has to be a great content producer.

I would’ve insisted on “writer” instead of “content producer.” But, there are content marketers who are solely focused on videos, podcasts, etc. While scriptwriting would be important to their shooting and production process, it’s not what the audience sees immediately. As a result, they might be able to get away with what would otherwise be considered awfully sloppy in B2B writing as long as the video/podcast presentation comes out well enough.

Needless to say, if you’d be executing a content marketing strategy that’s led by written content, excellent writing skills are absolutely non-negotiable.

Apart from great writing, I’d also highlight the ability to conduct great research. This is useful when trying to learn more about customers and about a topic to be written, among others.

A few other useful skills include project management, reporting, editing, and proofreading, etc.

Job Requirements and Responsibilities

Most startups require their content marketers to qualify in the following areas:

  • An understanding of the company’s CMS and marketing tech stack
  • Excellent writing skills
  • Industry expertise – this isn’t always a requirement, especially with non-technical industries or companies
  • Hands-on knowledge and experience with on-page SEO and its basic principles
  • Proven ability to develop and execute content marketing strategies to achieve specific goals
  • Ability to audit content and identify opportunities for content optimization, refreshment, and repurposing for amplification

The requirements, as always, vary from one company to another.

The Importance of a Content Marketer to Your Growth Startup

If you have a working system for revenue generation and don’t need to pressure your content to contribute to that, you’ll find that a content marketer can improve your share of digital space, build brand awareness and increase customer engagement.

To highlight a practical example, speaking on his experience, Andrew Savage mentioned he’d once helped a client acquire 5,000+ new website visitors on a single article. 

Of course, this led to heightened lead generation and conversion through a single source. But that advantage is already seeping into the revenue increase territory and we don’t want to mix them up just yet.

With specific reference to revenue, content can also be incredibly useful to your startup. Joe Barron, Senior Content Manager at Cognism, once discussed their content recipe and, in the process, revealed they created content worth $88,000+ for the company. There are other examples of content being solely responsible for demo bookings and acting as sales enablement materials for undecided buyers.

However you choose to look at it, a content marketer has the potential to help your company drive growth, improve customer engagement, raise brand awareness, etc. All these are important things you want to be doing as a startup.

The Perfect Addition to Your Marketing Team

Much as I'd love to tell you that a product, growth, or content marketer is precisely what you need, I can't.

For starters, if there was a one-size-fits-all marketer that’s perfect for all early-stage startups, there'd be no need for this article. I could simply make a Twitter post asking you to hire xxx marketer to drive growth in your company and that'll be the end of that.

Secondly, and most importantly, every company is different and it's impossible to say with certainty that this is precisely what you need without making the appropriate considerations. Only question now is "what are those considerations?" Let's find out:

1. Company Needs

A lot of what determines your next/first marketing hire lies in where you currently are within your company and what you need to achieve. I'll explain a couple of scenarios to help put things in perspective. 

Scenario 1: 

Suppose your founding team is largely made up of engineers and this is one of your first startups. Outside of the codes and technicalities of owning and building your product, you don't have much experience and haven't even figured out your product-market fit. 

In this peculiar situation, you'll need a product marketer. They’ll do all the customer research necessary and make key collaborations with your product team to improve your key offering while amplifying those offerings themselves to the audience. 

This is not to say that they'd be entirely useless if you've found your product-market fit, though. Joel, founder at Buffer, as mentioned earlier, was able to validate his idea in the early phases without a PMM. Still, he hired a PMM when the time was right.

Scenario 2: 

You've found your product-market fit. You know who you are and where you'd like to go. You've even raised some funds that you can afford to spend on marketing. You just don't know where to go with it and you need to find a way to scale quickly. Otherwise, you might have some challenges moving onto the next stage of growth in your business.

This scenario doesn't have so many specifics but the key problem is the need to scale quickly. In that case, a growth marketer might be best. There are two primary reasons for this assertion. 

The first is that growth marketers are often skilled at paid advertising for social media and search engines. As such, they'll be in the perfect position to help you get your name out there quickly. As a bonus under this point, the whole essence of a growth marketer is to find out what works, what doesn't, and to optimize for the former. While running your ads, they'd conduct tests and optimize along the way for your success.

The second reason is that growth marketers are naturally more inclined towards immediate or medium-term growth. With content marketing, the goal is often to build a relationship over time that would generate sustainable returns in the long-term. Growth marketing is simply more likely to hit those metrics you need to keep your head above water in the short term. 

This is a thought that Ashley Faus expressed in our conversation. 

One more thing she noted that I cannot fail to mention is that a product marketing manager could also be great for short and mid-term goals. This is especially because they're likely to be marketing generalists and could don the multiple hats that often come with running a startup.

Scenario 3: 

You have enough revenue to onboard a new employee, but your marketing and advertising budget itself hangs by a thread. 

An alternate way to paint this scenario is that a lot of your customers have shown up through referrals and this has kept you afloat. But you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket and you'd like to build something that can run long-term at the best possible cost.

In this case, a content marketer might be the best way to go.

It's incredibly important for me to state that recommending a content marketer in this scenario doesn't mean that content marketing is a cheap brand of marketing that should be treated as a passing thought or second-class consideration, especially if you're a SaaS company. Done right, it could offer sustainable growth for several months and years to come. 

The reason it's a valid recommendation is that I'm working under the assumption that you're an early-stage startup that's strapped for cash and would need to rely more on organic, sustainable growth. You can't afford to throw advertising money at all your problems.

While content marketers can utilize a marketing budget wisely, they're also at home with organic efforts, many of which can directly impact revenue, such as bottom-of-the-funnel content pieces.

2. Financial Requirements and Sustainability 

While the requirements for running a marketing campaign with each type of marketer are important to consider, they often vary wildly, depending on what you're trying to achieve, among other factors. So, I can't quite give specifics on that. 

That said, you should consider the cost of hiring your preferred choice of marketer. 

Note that none of these numbers are set in stone. Plus, they were pulled from reports done by Salary.com and ZipRecruiter and actual salaries depend on experience and negotiations, among other things. 

Still, seeing as you're in the first few years of your company, every penny counts and it's best to understand all these beforehand. 

If you find that taking one on in the long-term is too much of a risk, it might be best to evaluate your decision properly before finalizing it.

Final Thoughts

In your shoes, I'd build a marketing team made up of at least two of the three roles and I’ll make provision for freelancers to support their strategies. The product marketer would define my messaging. The growth marketer will fine-tune my marketing campaigns. The content marketer will lay solid foundations for long-term return on investment. 

If you can't afford to build a team like that, my next best piece of advice would be to hire someone who can wear different hats. A growth marketer that can build an excellent content strategy is scarce but if you find one, go for it. A product marketer that can latch onto an email marketing campaign and tweak it while working on your positioning is rare. But, again, if you for one, go for it. 

By hiring a person who can wear multiple hats, you'd get the chance to lay the foundation for your marketing such that you can scale and then expand your frontiers as time goes by. 

Finally, and this is pretty important, I'd advise that you hire a mid-level marketer, regardless of which one you go for. 

A junior marketer will likely not have enough experience to execute marketing campaigns that scale singlehandedly and without supervision. A senior-level marketer will likely be more focused on strategy than execution. This is besides the price their years of experience commands. 

With a mid-level marketer, however, you can keep your finances in check and work with someone that has enough experience to make things happen on their own. 

Header Image by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash