My first serious interview was with the corporate office of a major homebuilder. They wined and dined us and put us through a day of rigorous interviews. The final interview was with a VP. When I sat down in front of him, he handed me a standard black business pen and said, “Sell me this pen.”
I stumbled over my words for a while and probably made up some selling points about how the pen’s stem was smooth, or how it offered the ability to retract, or some other obvious statements about the simple product I held in my hands. What I failed to do (and why I probably didn’t get the job) is ask him why he needed a pen in the first place.
Great marketing begins with understanding your customer. Think about getting a gift for a friend or family member. If you don’t know the person well, you typically default to a gift card, a box of chocolates, flowers, or some other generic solution.
But if you’ve spent time getting to know the person well, you’ll present a thoughtful, meaningful gift that warms their heart and shows you care. Maybe it’s something you made by hand, or you went out of your way to obtain, or maybe it makes them laugh because of an inside joke, but the reason it’s special is because it shows you were listening.
Marketing is like giving someone a gift they didn’t know they needed, but once they’ve experienced it, they become satisfied, loyal, and maybe even advocates for your brand. The trick is to make them realize they want it in the first place.
A company could have the exact same product, but the way it talks about that product to its target audiences will determine one’s success over the other. Marketing strategies vary widely, because in today’s dynamic landscape there are plenty of marketing components to pick from that allow you to craft the perfect package.
Those components are a representation of the four P’s we learn about in school: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion, commonly referred to as the marketing mix. The marketer’s job is to learn how to apply these components to achieve different objectives:
It includes components such as:
This refers to strategies such as:
It also includes considerations such as:
These might include:
Your marketing strategy will depend on many variables, such as whether you’re marketing a new or existing product, whether you’re a new or established brand, whether your market is well-versed in your discipline or whether you are targeting an entirely new audience with limited historical references. Let’s examine what a marketing mix for each might look like:
Example 1: You’re marketing a new product within a new company to an audience who is unsure what they need or how you can serve them
This might be a new hardware or software product from a start-up. You’ll need plenty of product documentation, including specifications and imagery, to help the customers understand what it is and why they need it. Since you’re a new company, you’ll also need to supplement your materials with references to existing customers, or if you don’t have any yet, provide quotes from prospects with whom you’ve tested the ideas.
One of the most important things, since this is a new market or audience, is to provide clear examples of use cases so the audience can imagine using your product the way you intend. Additionally, comparisons to competitors are useful to help the audience understand your positioning.
Example 2: You’re marketing a new product within an established company to an audience familiar with your company but unfamiliar with this product area
This might be a new high-tech gadget from a reputable tech company. The gadget is the first of its kind and is intended for early movers who get excited about new tech. You’ll need plenty of documentation and imagery via innovative, sexy product landing pages that show how the product should be used.
Customers already familiar with your brand might want to see other products in your portfolio to understand how this one fits in. They’ll want product images, specifications, and reviews. They also want to know how it stacks up against competitors, the support plan you offer, and more tactical information.
Example 3: You’re marketing an upgrade or new version of an existing product within an established company to an audience already familiar with the product
This might be an automotive manufacturer releasing a new model year of an existing vehicle. You’re targeting a specific audience of buyers who fits your geographic and lifestyle traits, and they may be brand loyalists and/or owners of competitor vehicles you aim to switch to your brand. You don’t need to focus on building the brand as much, only reinforcing it. And you don’t need to explain how the car works.
Customers are familiar with the product—it’s a car, after all—but they want to see the exciting stuff that triggers emotional responses: interior and exterior images from all angles, technical specs, and any promotions the company or dealers are offering. They want reviews of previous models. They also want to see creative advertising, such as commercials and videos, as well as influencers and well-known enthusiasts making their own videos covering the latest features.
To reach your target audiences, you may take several paths, and most likely a combination of all. But before you jump into creating attractive or engaging content and throwing it out to the masses, there are a few things you should do first:
Now that you’ve done the background work, you can make an effective decision about the marketing mix you’ll need for your product, depending on its stage of life and your customers’ familiarity with the product and your brand.
Speaking from experience, many product managers at enterprises and large companies are very siloed in their roles and rely on marketing teams to support product marketing efforts, from devising and launching campaigns, to measuring their effectiveness. This can be useful in allowing the product manager to develop a higher degree of specialization and focus on product development, but it can also be hindering.
At smaller companies, product managers have to play a broader role and truly act as the CEO of the product. This forces them to build empathy for their target audiences, and teaches them the art of storytelling to engage, plus drives an appreciation for analysis. With smaller teams and budgets, when you see something is working, you can continue investing in that approach. However, if you see something is not working, it’s critical to pivot quickly.
As a product manager, whether you are at a large company with bountiful resources, or at a smaller company with more time and resource constraints but higher degrees of creative freedom and decision making ability, you should guide the product marketing efforts. It will force you to think differently about your product from the beginning, and when you can anticipate your customers’ needs and questions, you can more accurately and rapidly develop the marketing mix you’ll need to sell them that gift you know they’ll love: your product.
Featured image source: IconScout
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