The three biggest mistakes companies make about product marketing

In my last article, “When to hire a product marketer”, I spoke about the different types of product marketers and shared some thoughts on when a company should hire one. Now I’d like to share the top three biggest mistakes companies make about product marketing.

#1 Hiring a Product Marketing mismatch for the growth stage

Different growth stages require different Product Marketers. Most technology companies rarely understand the discrepancy between hiring a seasoned Product Marketer who has spent the lion’s share of their time in later stage companies on commercialized products verses ones who’ve spent a majority of their time working on an early prototype or MVP at a seed stage or Series A company. The title might be the only thing that the two roles have in common.

The day to day work varies drastically, and those who don’t have a high tolerance for risk and uncertainty might not be too interested in the “fail fast, iterate x 100 with little to no cash” phase of an early stage startup and product development cycle.

While most early stage Product Marketers focus on Market Validation, later stage Product Marketers might spend more time on launching and delivering the message, so you want to make sure you hire the for the right type of Product Marketer for your business.

#2 Hiring a Product Marketer too late

In my opinion, the best time to hire a Product Marketer is when you hire a Product Manager, or very soon after. Companies often get this wrong. They’ll coast for months or even years with Engineers and Product Managers without hiring a Product Marketer, and find themselves stagnated, with high customer churn, or with a very confusing value proposition and product messaging.

While a company that started out with a simple message or product may have initially thought they could do without a product marketer — over time, competitors, changing market conditions, and a new or changing customer base may result in a confusing message which will lead to a slow demise or stagnation over time.

Other companies hire a Product Marketer when they are only weeks away from a commercial product launch or even AFTER a commercial launch. If companies think that there is a magic bullet for a launch, they’re kidding themselves. In the worst case scenario, you’ll have to find a seasoned Product Marketer who can do their *best* to launch a product under these circumstances, but the necessary and valuable input of high quality market research cannot be completed in such a short period of time.

Product Marketers need enough time to do the proper due diligence and discovery for their customer market. This due diligence means competitive market research, in-depth customer interviews with the potential market, and a thoughtful value proposition that is built with your customers input. Ideally, you’ll want to hire a product marketer for the full three phases of a commercial launch. (See chart above.)

Lastly, it’s best to hire Product Marketers too early rather than too late. Companies should always aim to acquire as much information about their customer and potential market as soon as possible, and doing the research early can only help businesses with this goal in the long run.

In fact, having access to customer insight sooner rather than later will help when you’re building out your product narrative, which should change over time with the market changes and needs. Even if a company is a year away from a product launch, it helps to have someone largely focused on collecting customer and competitive market intelligence.

It can also help companies avoid making major pitfalls and mistakes about perceived or incorrect ideas about their customer. In short, it’s almost never too early to hire a Product Marketer — unless you haven’t yet hired a Product Manager.

#3 Hiring a Digital Marketer and confusing it with Product Marketing

Many companies have little to no understanding of the differences between Product Marketing and Digital Marketing.

A Product Marketer is responsible for the three step process outlined in the chart above, namely: market validation, framing the message, and delivering the message.

Digital marketers focus on demand generation campaigns, SEO optimization, SEM, promotions, direct advertising strategy, user buyer targeting, email marketing.

If you can afford it, it’s ideal to have both roles for a product launch, as these two roles work very closely together. As a Product Marketer, I would focus on customer research, building the right marketing strategy and positioning, and then work with a Digital Marketer to execute marketing programs based on company goals.

I’ve generally found that companies who hire the right Product Marketer at the right time end up winning in the long run. They understand their market, and know what story they’re trying to tell.

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I’m always interested in hearing from other Product Managers and Product Marketers. You can find me on Twitter, and you can check out my Online Product Marketing & Go-To-Market Bootcamp course if you’d like to learn more. Discount code is “FRIENDS20” for 20% off.

My book “Product Marketing Debunked. The Essential Go-To-Market Guide” is also available on Amazon!

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