Why Marketing Does Not Understand the Product
July 15, 2014

Why Marketing Does Not Understand the Product

by Keith Brown

Dear Marketing — You are the website content king, demand generator, social media maven, event execution guru, and big messaging honcho. You can deliver an email campaign with one hand tied behind your back while creating campaign codes and uploading the leads to Salesforce. You architect the tagline, select the corporate color palate, and police the company to make sure everyone is speaking in the proper “corporate tongue.” But, do you speak “product”?

Do you really understand your company’s product, how your customers use it every day and the value it delivers to their business?

Or, is that something you ask your favorite product manager or sales engineer to summarize for you so you can properly update that blog post or new corporate presentation?

I work with the marketing team at Aha! and have worked with brilliant marketeers and others who struggled to find their way. And often the difference is not based on effort—rather it comes from customer, product, and market engagement and a personal interest in the business. When product and marketing teams are working well together, products that matter are built and adopted. Unfortunately, when bad products happen marketing is often blamed. The thinking goes:

Product and engineering teams are the engine that drive the business forward and sales brings in the revenue. They are the most important non-customer assets in the company. You are overhead—until and if you ever deliver leads (and lots of them).

It is not always marketing’s fault, but often times it is true that a great product is misrepresented by marketing. When this does happen you will find a marketing team that does not know the customer, is struggling to work with the product team, or worse, has no idea what the product actually does.

You might think,“I’m only doing my job, why can’t product management do theirs and give me what I need?” But consider the following things you are likely avoiding and the harmful consequences. You probably already know the best path forward, but you may want to rethink what you are doing about it to really tell the underlying story of why your product is special.

Sure, to have a real impact on the business you need a solid product and a regular cadence of new capabilities to trumpet. But you need to stop doing the following things:

Hiding from customers
Marketing professionals often speak in high-level niceties that sound good, but do not tell customers a thing. That’s because it is hard to get to the essence of what you do not really understand. But, when given the opportunity to engage directly with a customer they are terrified of being found out. Guess what? Customers love talking about why they adore and hate your product, how they are using your product, and why it makes their job easier (or harder). And they do not care that you do not know everything about it. So, jump in and share an insight or two about the product or company and have a conversation. At the end of the day, the only way you are going to have true insight into why the customer is using your product is to hear it directly from them.

Avoiding the product
With consumer-facing products it is a no-brainer to use the product every day, but what if you work in a high-tech company developing security products for IT? You might be thinking, “How am I supposed to understand how security experts use our products because I’m not an engineer.” Well, guess what? You joined a high-tech company and it is time to learn the technology. As a marketing professional, that’s your job. Ask your product team or engineers to show you how your customers use the product and then find a demo or staging environment where you can tinker with it yourself. There is no better learning experience than through hands-on use. (And if you are marketing a product that is not available for your use—spend double the time speaking with customers.)

Ignoring the business
At some point, all hard-working professionals can be accused of putting their head down and just getting the work done. But, marketing in particular gets a bad rap for just focusing on the details and programs. Product management is typically responsible for the business case, but you need to understand it and where the product is headed. Understanding what’s driving the product forward will help you communicate about it and find opportunities for it to shine. You need to “be the business.” When you take an interest in and actively engage in the bigger picture—market trends, competitive landscape, sales channels, key financial metrics, etc.—your work improves and your career will flourish as well.

The best marketing professionals operate from a position of customer and market insight while taking on the responsibility of learning the company’s products and solutions.

Instead of asking the same product manager for the same information over and over again, your job is to graciously ask for what you need from the product team, educate yourself, and be the product and customer advocate in market.

If you work with folks in marketing at your company — does this ring true? Let me know what you think.

Keith Brown

Keith was a VP of Marketing at Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software.

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