The Truth about Marketing

The Truth about Marketing

Ashley Bailey October 25, 2017


What does it mean to you?

Making things look shiny? Flashy? Fancy? Fluffy? Pretty? The best in the world? One of a kind? A ground-breaking, cutting-edge, can’t-get-anywhere-else, best-in-class, buzzword, buzzword, buzzword thingy?

Making that thingy seem like something it’s not? Or, kind of is … with a stretch?

No, dear ones. That right there is spinning. That right there is an unfortunate misconception.

Once upon a time, I was very adamant about NOT being in marketing. Straight out of college, I landed an amazing role in product marketing for a fast-growing and truly innovative SaaS company. As you know, organizations are structured differently — sometimes vastly differently — from one to another. In this particular organization, product marketing was within the product department (versus the marketing department). And I loved it. I was proud of it. I felt tapped-in and part of the development action. There was talk every so often of “hey, maybe product marketing should be under marketing.” I thought (and voiced), “What? This makes no f’ing sense. I work with mostly product (engineers, ops, product owners, and product managers) and sales, and also marketing, clients, and support. Clearly, we need to be in product. I need product. I rely on product for all my work and then relay information to marketing so they can do their work. Can’t you see? I’m not marketing … I am product!” I wasn’t about to be associated as … one of them. Those marketers. The mostly female part of the organization that didn’t know what the heck was going on in the other parts of the business (not true) because they were 1) not at all technical (not always true) and 2) busy doing fluffy things like ordering SWAG, making the website pretty, running trade shows and “manning” booths (definitely not true).

Oh yes, that was indeed my perception. Oh yes, I was young and naïve and feared being “one of the pretty girls who didn’t know anything about the business.” I’m not 100% sure why I had this perception (perhaps others did too, and perhaps some at my current company feel this way too; I’m not sure), but I think it likely boils down to complete ignorance combined with some unconscious gender bias. Marketing = flashy nice-to-haves. At that point in my career, I lacked an understanding of what the marketers did and had the utmost respect for product. Yet, I was … a product marketer.

Mind you, I respected and made friends with individuals on the marketing team there. I just didn’t want to be in their shoes. And, I wasn’t sure if their shoes mattered as much as the shoes … err no shoes worn by those in product. A few years later, as my career evolved, I went on to become the director of marketing and communications for another tech company, and then on to my current role as marketing manager for yet another tech company. Each role has involved both product-marketing-type work and marketing-type work. I look back and laugh at myself and my true naïveté about what marketing was, what those marketers did, and the value they added.

Now, nearly a decade later, I find myself on the other side. Immersed in all things marketing and product marketing. And interestingly enough, my passions in my work have not changed: Effective communication. Listening to clients. Building the right products. Enabling sales. Beating the competition. Optimal positioning in the market. Transparency. Trust. Agility. Innovation.

Now that I’ve been in similar shoes as those marketers for quite some time, my perception is wildly different than it was. And, perhaps with the assistance of age and maturity, I have realized that our shoes are not that different after all and that they provide a solid footing for an organization to properly place itself in its desired market.

Companies whose marketers glorify and exaggerate their products and services will ultimately fail and/or have some really pissed off clients. Why? Because they didn’t reveal the truth. However, I will venture to guess based on experience that those people were likely not marketers at all, but rather people internally trying to get the job done to avoid hiring a marketing head/team and doing what they thought marketing does. Companies — especially those in the tech industry — strive for lean operations, and part of that is to keep costs low and ROI high. And when companies revolve around a brilliant engineering brainchild, marketing the thing isn’t always top of mind.

Genuine marketing seeks truth, reality, and clarity. We muddle through the muck and uncover what really is. Right now. Not next week. Not next month. And certainly not next year. We cringe at the thought of “selling futures” and don’t touch anything with a 10-foot pole that’s half-baked … unless it’s to put a launch plan in place. And by muddling through the muck, I mean translating the engineers’ brilliance and ensuring that clients, partners, the market, and internal folks understand what it is, how it works, why it’s needed, who it’s for, and when it will be available. Product marketers generally sit (sometimes literally) between product and marketing. They relay much of the information coming from product to marketing so marketing can create externally facing materials. Yet, this is where lines get a little blurry and roles and responsibilities vary from one company to the next. Many organizations do not have that product-marketing function — especially in small to mid-size companies — so marketing takes on that role along with other product-marketing-type work such as competitive analysis and market research. Both groups must be able to disseminate the technical speak and clearly articulate to each audience the key positioning, distinctive competencies, and value proposition. Both need to understand market problems, competitive landscape, buying processes, buyer and user personas, and use cases, and provide channel support.

My younger brain would have said “Whaaaaat?!?” Oh yes, marketing works directly with product, too, with the same end goal: Ensure we are building the right product(s) at the right time for the right target audience, and make everything extremely easy to understand — for everyone.

So that:

  • The market knows where and why we fit
  • Clients/partners know what our products/services are, what they do, and how to use/leverage them
  • Prospects know why they need us
  • The company is marching to the same drum, knows how to speak to our products and services, and knows how to sell them

To do this, there must be complete transparency between departments, and whoever is disseminating information must be tied at the hip to whomever is building/creating the goods — unless you want to watch a lost-in-translation shit show. Marketing needs to be dialed into product, and ideally both should be operating in an agile fashion in order to respond to change quickly and continuously flow enhancements/information into the market. On that note, it’s vital for marketing to be both fueled and navigated by data (i.e., website, email, social, consumer/user, pricing/packaging analytics).

On the “how” side are the various and virtually endless ways in which organizations convey their messages. If you ask me about it, I’ll be rather passionate and obnoxious about the importance of internal marketing. It pains me to see how frequently this crucial element of marketing is missed. If folks internally don’t know what is going on, how to sell it, and how to support it, then how the F do you expect for “it” to be a success? Email (yes, email is still a thing), internal wikis, technical and non-technical enablement sessions, and internal social collaboration can all be ways to relay products/services, use-case scenarios, and other relevant information to the team. External marketing, when done strategically and thoughtfully, will provide a well-defined position in the market without ambiguity and consistent with brand image and reputation. Press releases, blogs/vlogs and editorials authored by SMEs, websites, email, social posts, speaking engagements, webinars, and podcasts are all possible ways to accomplish that goal. Those are not exhaustive lists by any means. (It would require another post entirely to take a deep dive into strategic marketing planning and execution.)

As I mentioned before, roles and responsibilities might get a bit blurry when you have product owners, product managers, product marketers, and marketing, especially in smaller companies where the functions might be combined. For example, a product (or portfolio) manager might wear the product-marketing hat as well. If you’re in the mood to get geeked out on all things product and marketing and how they work together, I’m a fan of the Pragmatic Marketing Framework.

Marketing = flashy nice-to-have’s.

Marketing = getting to the bottom of it to convey clear and concise messaging both internally and externally (wearing whatever shoes you prefer).

Oh, and I’m outnumbered by men on our marketing team.