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What’s the Difference Between Product Marketing and Product Management?

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Conor Bond on Fri, Apr 9, 2021

The difference between product marketing and product management is not an especially clear one.

Within a given organization, both product marketers and product managers are intimately familiar with prospects’ pain points, customers’ frustrations, competitors’ value propositions, and, of course, the product itself.

Overlap aside, these two roles are considerably different — and equally important.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have an answer to each of the following questions:

  • What’s the difference between product marketing and product management?
  • What, specifically, do product marketers do?
  • What, specifically, do product managers do?
  • What do they have in common?

Let’s dive in!

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Product marketing vs. product management in a nutshell

Whereas product marketing is focused on driving awareness and adoption of the product, product management is focused on optimizing and executing the product roadmap.

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between the two roles. Product marketers are experts in the communication of value; product managers are experts in the creation of value.

Now, some of you may read that sentence and infer that product managers are more important than their marketing counterparts. This is not the case.

It doesn't matter if you’ve built the greatest product of all time — without someone who can skillfully take it to market and persuade people to use it, you're not going to see the results you're looking for. And that’s especially true if you’re operating in a crowded market with a growing number of competitors (as is the case for most businesses).

To more clearly distinguish these two roles, let’s take a closer look at each of them individually.

Distinguishing product marketers & product managers

Walking through the specific duties of product marketers and product managers, respectively, will help us to more confidently differentiate between the two. Let’s start with the former.

What do product marketers do?

Product marketers, as we said, are focused on driving awareness and adoption of their products. Towards that end, here are four of their specific duties.

Develop & execute go-to-market strategy

A go-to-market (GTM) strategy is a detailed blueprint created to maximize the success of a product launch. Generally speaking, it should, at a minimum, check the following boxes:

  • Value proposition. What problem(s) does the product solve?
  • Target customers. For whom is the product built?
  • Market intelligence. What, if any, alternatives are available?
  • Marketing & sales plan. How will demand and revenue be generated?

Product marketers, forever wearing a multitude of hats, are responsible for checking each of these boxes. They’re responsible, in other words, for (1) painting a picture of the target market, (2) making a plan to dominate that market, and (3) putting that plan into action.

Establish positioning & write messaging

With the exception of those on the bleeding edge, most product-focused organizations are dealing with at least one competitor at any given time.

Most product-focused organizations, therefore, need to differentiate themselves in the minds of their target customers — if they don’t, why would anyone choose to do business with them?

Enter: positioning and messaging. Positioning defines the unique value that a product brings to market, and messaging drives that value into the minds of prospective buyers.

To ensure resonance, product marketers often use buyer personas when working on positioning and messaging. Otherwise, they may inadvertently employ language or imagery that fails to strike a chord with the people they’re trying to reach.

Gather, analyze, & activate competitive intelligence

Effectively communicating the unique value of a product is a difficult task — one that is considerably more difficult in the absence of competitive intelligence. How are you supposed to position yourself in a unique fashion if you don’t know anything about the other players in your market?

It is for this reason (among others) that product marketers often dedicate several hours of each week to gathering, analyzing, and activating (i.e., distributing) competitive intelligence. Whether executive leadership needs help with long-term strategy or customer success needs help with retention, getting the right intel to the right people at the right time is a key component of the product marketing role.

Enable sales to win deals

Remember: Product marketers are tasked not only with driving awareness, but also with driving adoption — the number of businesses that purchase and use a product is largely a function of how well its value is communicated.

Sales enablement — the process of supporting sales reps with the tools, resources, and competitive intel they need to win deals — is one of the major ways in which product marketers go about driving adoption. Depending on the type of prospect a rep is speaking with — and where that prospect stands in the funnel — a product marketer may support them with a battlecard, a case study, a one-pager, or something else entirely.

What do product managers do?

Product managers, as we said, are focused on optimizing and executing their product roadmaps. Towards that end, here are four of their specific duties.

Define customers’ needs

When we say product managers focus on optimizing their product roadmaps, what does that mean? What, in other words, are they optimizing for?

The answer to this question varies from one organization to another, but in general, product managers strive to make their customers as successful as possible. Successful customers tend not only to renew their contracts, but also to evangelize — i.e., tell the world about how much they love the product.

In order to build products that help people succeed, product managers must work to understand their customers’ needs. When it’s clear which specific pain points are holding customers back, it’s clear which specific features should be on the roadmap. (More on prioritization later.)

Translate product requirements into engineering

Determining which features will enable customers to succeed is one thing; engineering those features and integrating them into the product is an entirely different thing.

In the early stages of a company, there may be one single person simultaneously playing the roles of product manager and engineer. At companies beyond the startup stage, however, product managers will need to work with their development teams to bring their visions to life.

This may sound straightforward, but it’s no easy task. Speaking with customers to uncover pain points requires one set of skills, and speaking with engineers to build out new features requires another set of skills. That product managers are able to consistently do both is a testament to their abilities.

Conduct competitive product analysis

The job of the product manager is not simply to build something that helps people succeed — it’s to build something that, compared to its alternatives, does the best job of helping people succeed. If one product helps its customers yield returns of 3x, and an alternative helps its customers yield returns of 5x, why would anyone buy the former over the latter?

For this reason, product managers need to consume and analyze their fair share of competitive intelligence (likely delivered to them by product marketers — more on this later, too). Though a roadmap should never be based solely on the movements of competitors, staying up to date on the nitty-gritty of alternative products can help quite a bit with prioritization.

Prioritize product initiatives

In dynamic, competitive markets — markets where customers’ needs and competitors’ products are constantly changing — product managers will never run out of ideas. There will always be a laundry list of nice-to-haves that, due to practical and financial constraints, will never make it to the development stage.

Not all ideas will warrant serious consideration, but many of them will — and that’s a fundamental challenge of the product management role. If Feature X could address Pain Point X, and Feature Y could address Pain Point Y, how do you determine which one is more worthy of your time and resources?

Different folks have different methods of working through questions like this one, but no matter what, it’s never easy to put an exciting idea on the back burner.

Commonalities between product marketers & product managers

As we alluded to in the introduction — and as you probably noticed at several points throughout the previous section — there’s actually a fair degree of overlap between product marketing and product management. Although they’re undoubtedly different roles, we can identify a number of critical commonalities. Let’s wrap up by walking through three of them.

1. Customer-centricity

In order to succeed in either of the two roles we’ve discussed today, you need to think about your customers almost constantly. You need to know what their job entails, what kinds of goals they’re working towards, what kinds of obstacles they’re trying to overcome, and so on. Customer-centricity is essential for both the creation and communication of value.

2. Competitive awareness

In order to succeed in either of the two roles we’ve discussed today, you don’t need to think about your competitors constantly — in fact, that would be detrimental — but you do need to be aware of them beyond the surface level. At a minimum, you need to know (surprise, surprise) how they’re creating value with their products and how they’re communicating value with their marketing. Failure to do so practically guarantees a lower quality of output from your company.

3. Revenue focus

Although salespeople are the ones directly responsible for securing revenue, both product marketing and product management are closely tied to the bottom line. Product marketers generate revenue by driving adoption, and product managers generate revenue by building something that customers can’t live without. Both roles should be (1) held accountable for revenue growth and (2) given credit when revenue grows.

The takeaway

A product cannot succeed over the long term without consistently stellar work from product marketers and product managers alike. As new demands, competitors, and constraints emerge, both roles need to be prepared to solve for the customer as effectively and as faithfully as possible. With the intensity of competition growing every year, the stakes are high.

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This is an update and expansion of a post published by Emily Dumas on Oct. 9, 2019.

Topics: Product Marketing

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