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Product Marketing vs Product Management: What’s the Difference?

December 6, 2022

11 minute read

Product marketing vs product management – In a perfect world, different departments don’t operate in silos; they work in perfect harmony.

The ideal is a collaborative team of department heads – including product managers and product marketing managers – each aligned on a few broad goals:

  • Make great stuff
  • Impress customers
  • Grow the business

That should be how product management and product marketing teams work together, right? Their missions are tied to a singular north star, so their intertwining responsibilities should feel like a relay race, where the baton is handed back and forth with streamlined efficiency.

Only, sometimes that relay race can feel more like a competitive 100m dash. And that’s because product marketing and product management’s roles, despite having differing KPIs and roles, can overlap to the point where only a blurry line separates the two – and to where shoulders can get pretty bruised as they rub up against one another. 

And that’s not to mention that company and product objectives can really differ.

So it’s probably worth exploring what’s what. What, for instance, should be in a product manager’s wheelhouse, and where should a product marketing manager prioritize? And, most importantly, how can they work together to meet those three company-wide aims? 

Let’s take a deep dive into one of the business world’s most confusing battles: product management vs. product marketing.

In this article we’ll cover the following topics:

  • Product marketing vs. product management: What’s the difference?
  • Product management responsibilities
  • Product marketing management responsibilities
  • Product marketing: the basics
  • Product management: the basics
  • In practice: Separating the two roles
  • Product marketing vs product management: how can they work together?

Product marketing vs. product management: What’s the difference?

Ok, basics first. In theory, what we have here are two roles with equal footing – neither product marketing managers nor product managers have any real authority over the other. Instead, they should work alongside each other to unilaterally influence each other’s strategies.

The really (probably too) simple way to look at the distinction between the two is to say that product managers think about things, and product marketing managers think about people.

That is to say that, whereas product managers focus their efforts on designing and improving physical or digital products, product marketers look at that product and think about how to convey what it does to the people making up their target audience. 

The go-to-market strategy of the latter is based on what humans find engaging, whilst the former takes a more nuts-and-bolts approach with its roots in development and/or manufacturing.

If we were putting it into ‘college science major’ terms: product is about engineering, and marketing is about psychology. If you’d like an even more tortured analogy, please Tweet us @ProdPad.

Need more clarity? No problem; let’s break each one down and take a look at their main responsibilities. 

Product management responsibilities

Product management is about putting the product itself at the heart of everything. Whether it’s a digital service or a physical object, product managers beaver away with the sole purpose of refining that asset. As the head of a team, their responsibilities include:

  1. The design and development of the product
  2. Managing QA and product shipping
  3. Managing the product roadmap
  4. Clarifying the product’s value

1. Designing and developing the product

If the product is new, the product manager might be involved right from its inception, helping to find the product’s reason for being, direction, features, and use case. Otherwise, the product manager will take ownership of an existing product and champion its ongoing development within the company.

2. Managing QA and product shipping

The product manager is ultimately responsible for getting the product out the door – at its initial launch and during any future updates. That means managing the team that handles testing, quality assurance, and on-time delivery.

Futher reading: How does this compare to a product owner?

3. Managing the product roadmap

Linked to the above is product management’s role in designing the product’s future. In software, that means feature rollouts, bug fixes, and ongoing improvements. The roadmap is based heavily on the customer experience and any identified areas for improvement.

4. Clarifying the product’s value

While the marketing manager will package up and articulate the product’s USP for your target audience, the product manager does that internally – which helps define marketing’s direction of travel. This sometimes includes writing use case and case study documentation. 

Product marketing management responsibilities

Product marketing takes what’s great about the project and figures out how to explain that to people in a way that they find irresistible. Their general responsibilities include:

  1. Building a marketing strategy
  2. Empowering your sales team
  3. Making noise about the product

1. Building a marketing strategy

The go-to-market strategy is the summation of how marketing is going to proposition the value of the product to the people most likely to buy it. It’s the result of competitor analysis, market research, and clearly-defined documentation on how you’ll talk about the product externally.

2. Empowering your sales team

Product marketing management provides sales teams with crystal clear comms around the value of the product, shaping how it’s talked about with prospective leads. Your marketing manager may also be closely involved in shaping price and pricing tiers, based on market research.

3. Making noise about the product

Product marketing managers design campaigns that drum up interest for your project. They’re in charge of running demos and presentations, designing social media and content marketing strategies, as well as securing print, TV, and digital ads – all based on a strategy that clearly demonstrates the product’s benefits to your target audience. 

Product marketing: the basics

As we’ve discussed, product marketing is, in essence, the process of bringing your wares to market by drumming up customer interest. It differs from marketing in a more general sense because marketing writ large also includes brand marketing, digital attrition through tactics like SEO, and more generalized lead generation.

The core tenets of great product marketing combine to define your overall go-to-market strategy:

1. Market insights 

Product marketing begins with understanding the product’s place in the wider landscape. That means conducting research to learn what competitors are offering, how they communicate their proposition, and – importantly – how that’s landing with consumers. Done effectively, this market research will highlight a gap or opportunity that can form the center of the ongoing marketing strategy.

2. Product positioning 

Positioning is all about taking that gap your market research identifies and running with it. It’s about telling a story that answers questions about why your product exists, what problem it solves, who it’s for, and what makes it stand out. Telling that story effectively and concisely is what provides your product with a clear, rock-solid position within your industry.

4. Sales, customer success & partner enablement 

As part of your product marketing efforts, you’ll create collateral and assets that help sales, customer success, and partner teams drive growth. That might be video content that clearly demonstrates the product’s features, it might be a script that sales teams can use, or it might be brochures that sales team members can send to qualified leads. Product marketing and product sales teams are close allies, where insight and material from either one can help the other.

Product management: The basics

Product management is all about ensuring that the product at the heart of your business lives up to customer and stakeholder expectations. This role is even more important in product-led growth (PLG) companies, where the product is the star of the show, above and beyond the brand. Here’s what the product manager handles:

1. Product design and development

The product is planned as a solution to a problem that you know your potential customer faces. It’s then designed, built, tested and shipped, with the product management team overseeing all areas of the process. 

2. Product analysis

Does customer feedback paint a positive picture of how the product is performing? Or, with fewer Ps: how are things running? Product analysis is the art of learning what’s working, what’s not, and finding experience gaps that can be closed in future iterations.

3. Product innovation

With you analysis done, you can improve the product. If it’s software, that’ll be version updates with new features and bug fixes. If it’s a physical item, for example a running shoe with a big swoosh on the side, you’ll replace last year’s model with something even better. This is a cyclical journey, where analysis feeds iterative updates, and repeat analysis helps you discover further changes and improvements for the product roadmap.

In practice: Separating the two roles

In smaller companies especially, it can seem tempting to have one person operate as both the product manager and the product marketing manager. After all, they’re both roles fixated on building packages that drive revenue.

And there are some overlapping skills between the two, as well. Both roles tend to attract people who have a customer-first focus that defines their work. They’ll both know how to turn feedback into change, and they’ll often both like to move with agility to close gaps and make changes that have a clear impact.

But there’s a lot to do for one person. More importantly, any one person trying to fill both roles will always have an inherent bias towards one of the two disciplines, and that can lead to an unbalanced approach.

Product managers are often so laser-focused on improving the efficiency of the product that they can lose sight of what its actual customers are clamoring for, or miss vital commercial opportunities. Natural product marketers, on the other hand, can see commercial opportunities in what others might deem trend-chasing, and that can dilute what makes the product such a strong proposition in the first place.

In practice, product managers and product marketers should be seen as complementary roles – people that can help each other out. Here’s how…

Product marketing vs product management: how can they work together?

We get it, there are some obvious points of friction here. Companies in which these two titanic roles aren’t clearly defined, for instance, will run into problems with managers not understanding where responsibilities start and stop. Product and Marketing managers also usually have differing KPIs. Product managers live for great user or industry reviews and technical metrics like service up-time, while product marketing managers are geared towards things like share of voice and lead generation. 

And to top it all off, everyone has their own day-to-day work to be getting on with, which can make collaboration and unified thinking tough.

Product marketing vs. Product Management

But there are a few key ways companies can help settle the ‘product marketing vs product management’ battle, and help the product itself flourish:

Build a culture of collaboration

We don’t just mean collaboration between product managers and product marketing managers. Heads of every department should be involved in regular planning and update sessions, and this sharing of ideas should be baked into the fundamental DNA of the company. 

Building collaboration into a culture means regular check-ins with clear actions that are assigned to each department. Software that knocks down walls and makes the roadmap more egalitarian will dramatically reduce the chance of mixed messages and overlapping workloads.

Plan your roadmap together

Product and marketing managers can give the product in question the best chance of success by working together on a roadmap that’s informed by what they both know. Working on the long-term future of the product together will help identify clearer priorities based on both technical and market insight – rather than one or the other in alternate spurts. 

That’s customer use and customer trends working together to build a roadmap for the product that both stakeholders are happy with. No surprises, maximum teamwork.

Set shared goals and KPIs

First up, ensure that the purpose and boundaries of each role are clearly defined and understood. Who’s in charge of gathering specific insights or creating certain assets, and where does the buck stops on any given problem? Most importantly, what are each of you trying to achieve? Your goals don’t have to be the same, but they need to be mutually understood at the very least.

With those things aligned, product managers and product marketers should share the KPIs that matter to each, talk about how and why they differ and then move forwards by treating the improvement of every metric as a shared goal. 

That way, marketing metrics become product metrics and vice versa. Having dual ownership of these KPIs ensures that nothing gets wrongly prioritized or ignored – and it keeps everyone driving the product in the right direction for the business as a whole, rather than for a single department. 

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