Solved: The Differences Between Product Management and Product Marketing

three product managers working

What is Product Marketing? And how different is it from Product Management? The differences between Product Management and Product Marketing are not often clear. They have things in common: Product Thinking, methodologies like Agile and an interest in Stakeholder Management.

But, in substance, both disciplines have different origins and destinations.

In short, Product Management is a discipline involved with the conception, development and commercialization of a single “product” (an app, a piece of software or other traditional physical examples).

Product Marketing, on the other hand, is a position which is focused exclusively on the commercialization phase. It is still complex: profitability from products is dependent on its approach to defining target markets, distribution partners, launch schedules…

One fascinating thing, however, is to observe how both disciplines have evolved in practice. There is much to be learned from this comparison: keep reading!

What is a Product Marketing Manager?

Marketing is an old business. From traditional village markets to the digital marketplaces of today, strategies for promoting, launching and delivering products to customers have fascinated marketers. One remarkable break took place with the advent of the digital era. Analog marketing was a very structured and functionalist endeavor. It was all about the use that the customer would make of the product. Ford famously said “any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”.

Imagine how product personalization gurus of today must feel when they read this statement!

While a data-driven undercurrent always existed in marketing, it was limited to established techniques like focus groups or surveys. But, with the digital revolution, information about customers multiplied exponentially. What had been a demanding task for marketing psychologists (the development of user personalities) became an almost automated process. In fact, as everyone knows, this growth in personal data and advertising underpinned Google’s (and therefore, the Internet’s) early success.

This new stage opened the gates for a new market in digital innovation. The focus turned to providing solutions: customers and their wishes became king. The ideas of Ford were no more. This brought a new way of marketing products.

three wireframes

First, the four Ps were now taking place in the virtual universe. New communities like social media; lighter global logistics through freelancer platforms; and the supremacy of mobile; they all contributed to change the role of marketers.

Product expanded boundlessly. Early digital products were endearingly naive in their goals: they limited themselves to replicate existing analog systems, like libraries or universities. However, once computing power and bandwidth expanded, a “product” really became anything that could profitably be offered by a virtual platform. Today, moving smoothly around the city; finding your life partner; or learning a new language: these are all “digital products” that have to be marketed by these professionals. Focusing on features and having shorter change cycles has affected the way marketers think.

Their Price references went up in the air. Monetization has been an enduring challenge for marketers. Indeed, Product Managers have been able to come up with the most amazing solutions in the past decade. However, making them profitable has been a challenge too. Subscription services, freemium models, one-time payments, long-term profit plans… All sorts of solutions have had to be advanced by Product Marketing Managers to align makers’ dreams with reality. Some of the most interesting cases include products which were, at the time, building new markets. The VOD battle, for instance, began as one between subscription-based and pay-as-you-go systems; in the end, the user picks and it is the job of marketers to predict how they will react in this ever-changing digital world.

Their Place is… nowhere and everywhere! The whole world is now connected and business is virtual.  However, do not be overtaken by enthusiasm. The tech bubble burst in the early 2000s because investors thought that everything associated with “the web” was going to revolutionize the economy. Rather, the most successful products have understood the intersection between physical and digital. Physical-product marketers are trying to tie in virtual experiences. Equally, virtual product marketers are thinking more about real-world ways to promote their solutions.

a product manager designing a workflow

Promotion has, in fact, changed forever. The invention of social media dwarfs any previous media models: no newspaper, no television or radio network had the sort of reach enjoyed by Facebook or Twitter. Beyond this, building campaigns today is a complex art. Website design, messaging, videos, identities… All of these factors are involved in the mix: from commercial successes to political campaigns, a good marketer today is constantly seeking

Product Marketing is the result of all these transformations. A Product Marketer is responsible for conceiving a “winning” strategy for the stuff being sold. This includes, much more than it used to be in the past, being aware of development timelines and constraints. In the digital world, it pays if you have some technical knowledge whatever you do. So these Marketing Managers will be way more used to wearing different hats: having good relationship with internal stakeholders, for example, is much more important.

Equally, everything now revolves around experience. A product must produce a feeling over its users; something that makes them come back again and again. But “felt” elements like packaging, design; even the checkout page… they all involve an acute knowledge of customer desires that goes beyond the remit of old-style marketers. Product-involved work requires a change of focus, leaving “projects” aside and embracing the unfinished character of digital developments. All in all, Product Marketing Management is a vital function within a company that extends beyond business acumen into the realms of design, stakeholder management, tech skills, development process awareness and more.

But what distances Product Marketing from Product Management?

an open computer with a window open of an online furniture shop

Product Managers: More than Marketing?

A resounding yes!

Associate Product Marketing and Product Management programs are offered by Google and this generates confusion. After all, they both use the PM acronym and are both in-demand in Silicon Valley. Google needs both to continue generating growth and expansion; rest assured, if you manage to get into any of the programs, you are almost guaranteed a successful future. But these positions are not the same.

First of all, Product Management is much more inclusive. The transformations described above which have affected marketing and product; they have to be multiplied by three in the case of Product Managers. These professionals not only cover the commercial side of business: they also take care of product conception, development and user knowledge. These three spheres involve their own challenges, which are sometimes but not always relevant for Product Marketing Managers.

For instance, marketing might not need so much detail regarding the methodologies involved to bring a product to its final destination. What do they care if Agile or Jobs-To-Be-Done are supporting product vision and roadmapping? It does not really affect their work in the way that other issues do.

person holding his phone while his laptop is on

The Product Manager, on the other hand, must have marketing in mind when negotiating with other collectives. The way the product or feature will be released or sold to the public feeds back into its development process; and vice versa. Again, issues like social media promotions, landing pages, mailings, sponsorship partners… they all involve product teams because they highly determine the direction the product will take.

For instance, let’s think of a music streaming service. Will it work as a web-based app, or will it also have its own standalone app? Will it reach a targeted audience, or seek to attract the whole market? Will it make it a priority to connect bands with their audiences; or will it try to do other things, like sell you tickets to live shows or promote certain podcasts? All of these questions have an answer that, on the surface, seems like a market decision; but they have so many ramifications into product that requires the skills of a PM to solve them. This is because all of these choices determine the work of product developers, designers and marketers; while involving all of them. The only figure that can cross-communicate and maintain the coherence of a Product Vision is the Product Manager.

As a result, in many offices Product people are hierarchically above Product Marketing people. Whether this is the case, or even if they work side by side, the fact is that Product Managers are in control of many more processes than Product Marketing Managers. And this is reflected on the paycheck:

This difference is significant enough, more so if we consider that these rates are only averages.

Product Marketing or Product Management: Customers Matter

Certainly, if PMs and PMs have something in common is their enhanced knowledge of user desires and experience. Both types of product people put users at the center of their work. Sometimes called “the empty chair”, this factor goes unnoticed for most digital teams that do not need to interact with the public. Product Managers and Product Marketers keep an eye on the industry to ensure that they remain aware of what the competition is doing to attract new users.

empty office with a laptop attached to a bigger screen

This is fundamental for both types of professionals for the following reasons:

  • In the digital world, users are almost internal stakeholders. Not many people remember the times when products were released with a final form. This meant that one version was released, with a large marketing campaign, and that was it. Now, products are often “unfinished”, released in parts to be tested by the community. Users are more than testers, because they tend to employ the features in ways never conceived within company silos. Using customers to drive growth is important for both Marketing and Product Managers.
  • User experience is not secondary. The typical case for this is piracy. Before the great successes of Spotify and Netflix, both music and films were illegally downloaded by many. It was a challenge to monetize streaming services; however, money was not the issue. It was access. Pirated media was felt to be easier to obtain than legal alternatives. The companies above took great care to design their platforms in order to make them not just useful; but an addictive (almost essential) part of their users’ free time. This is a story of intelligent design that takes users into account from the start; and it involved canny marketing and technical prowess to be delivered.
  • Users are your past and future market. In the past, product communities were only really significant in certain markets, such as cars or musical instruments. Most other products, like home appliances, were not really seen in the same way. But today, even an events ticketing service like Eventbrite seeks to delight its users at every step. This is because Product Managers and Marketing Managers are aware that their communities help with gathering precious intelligence, generate product evangelists and contribute to next development stages.

Product Marketing Managers Have It Easy

Product Marketing Managers do not have an easier time than Product Managers. What we mean by this is that their unique set of skills makes them perfect candidates for the Product Management transition.

This evolution of the marketing profession is very similar to what project people had to do: turn their perspective from closed processes and towards open products. Both Product Marketing and Management professionals are therefore connected to the digital revolution.

Surely, Marketing practitioners have a lot of user knowledge. But they need to learn more about stakeholder management, tech skills and tools and development processes. If they manage to complement these weak points, they are perfectly able to join the Product Managers community.

That is, if they really want to! 

Are you a Product Marketing Manager? Have you worked with Product Managers? Tell us about your experience!

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