Imagine that your job is to champion projects that bring life-changing products to the market. Would you describe yourself as a product manager or a product marketer? Both answers are technically correct, but if you want to work in product, you should know that there are clear differences between product management vs. product marketing.
Product marketing and product management: What’s the difference?
The exact definitions of product management and product marketing can vary from company to company and often depend on how a company organizes itself and how it views these two roles, so it's important to note that there are no absolutes in terms of roles and responsibilities. However, each job does have defining characteristics. Understanding these characteristics will help you determine which product role might be best for you.
Product managers (also known as PMs) are responsible for the overall success of a product. They shepherd products through the entire development process, giving engineers and designers daily guidance on how things should work and what to build next. Product managers define a product’s functions and workflows and communicate key information to internal and external stakeholders.
Product marketing, or product marketing management (PMM) as it is sometimes known, is typically very focused on the customer. The product marketer is responsible for making sure that the company fully understands customer needs and builds products to meet those needs.
Product marketing managers also communicate with customers after a product becomes available, promoting the product so that customers understand how it fits into their lives and helps them to address a problem or issue.
Product marketing models and responsibilities
David Riemer, a Berkeley Haas Executive in Residence and seasoned marketer who works with Berkeley MBA students interested in product marketing, says that most companies use two different models of product marketing.
"In the first model, the product marketer is like a subcontractor who becomes an expert in first understanding the user and then communicating a differentiated value proposition to the right customer,," says David. "The product marketer supports the product manager in deciding where to take the product strategically based on customer input gathered and analyzed by the product marketer."
"In the second model, the product marketer is mainly responsible for communicating with the customers but doesn't play as active a role in informing the product strategy," says David.
In both models, product marketers work with a wide range of people on a daily basis.
"Product marketers work with researchers, customer experience designers, and other customer-facing resources in the company to understand the customers as well as possible," says David. "They may also work with engineers and data scientists to use feedback tools to get customer insights based on how people use the product. Once they have aggregated all of that data on how customers behave, they then work with the product management team to share what they have learned about the customers and what they think the product team might do in terms of setting product priorities to meet customer needs."
On the customer-facing side, product marketers work with communications professionals, including brand marketing, marketing communications, and growth teams.
"They work with those teams to develop the marketing communications and the access points where customers engage with the company or where they try to convert customers," says David. "The goal is to make sure the marketing team is coming up with the most optimal way of acquiring and retaining customers."
Skills every product marketer should have
David identifies several specific skills that will help product marketers succeed in their role. They should to be able to:
- Listen and talk to customers to understand their functional and emotional needs.
- Comb through large amounts of data to understand how a product is being used.
- Distill competitive information, customer information, and company capabilities to plot a strategic course for how a product will be positioned.
- Communicate well so that they can write a product story or give direction to others who will write a product story.
Product management responsibilities
Vince Law, former head of product management at General Assembly, who now consults and instructs individuals as well as organizations on product management and leadership, says that the primary responsibility of a product manager is to build a product that solves a customer problem.
"This involves knowing who your customers are, discovering why they are having problems, determining what you need to build to solve those problems, and deciding how to go about getting it built," says Vince.
The activities and responsibilities involved in understanding the customer is where product management and product marketing typically overlap. Both PMs and PMMs commonly work on conducting market research, market analysis, market sizing, customer interviews (also known as user interviews of customer development), and ethnographic research to find out who their customers are and to understand customer problems.
But figuring out what to build and how to build it typically falls squarely in the area of product management.
"There are a lot of different ways to find a solution to a problem and a lot of reasons why one solution might be better than another," says Vince. "Product managers need to brainstorm various ways to solve a problem in the most optimal way and prioritize the things that matter most. This may involve making trade-off on building something that is faster, more efficient, or more effective, but it may also involve other things, such as assessing market risk and determining how to mitigate those risks."
"Product managers might work with a team of engineers and designers as well as people in marketing, sales, and operations to come up with the best solution," says Vince.
Behaviors of successful product managers
Vince identifies several actions that will help product managers succeed in their role. They should to be able to:
- Conduct research and find the right pieces of data to understand customers and the market.
- Listen to customers and empathize with their pain points to fully understand the problems they are having.
- Stay objective through the process instead of making assumptions about which potential solutions might be the most useful.
- Use business acumen to make analytical decisions about trade-offs and risks.
- Lead cross-functional teams toward a goal and help them overcome any potential timeline and tactical issues that arise.
Which role is right for you?
Product management and product marketing overlap in many ways, but there are key differences. The PM works to create and define new products and features, while the PMM focuses more heavily on bringing those things to market. The core skills and required qualities for each role also vary and should be considered before determining which role is right for you.
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