6 Ingredients for a Winning Product Marketing Strategy

In the new product launch world, it’s a metaphorical blood bath out there. According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, each year more than 30,000 new consumer products are launched, yet 80% of them fail in some way.

The sad part is that often the problem did not lay with the product itself.

Another Harvard Business Review article written by Joan Schnieder and Julie Hall makes it rather clear and direct,

The biggest problem we’ve encountered is lack of preparation: Companies are so focused on designing and manufacturing new products that they postpone the hard work of getting ready to market them until too late in the game.”

I suspect that the root cause of many marketing failures aren’t for lack of trying, but for lack of focus on the marketing strategy fundamentals. Marketing in a digital world is full of marketers who either ignore the changes happening in the digital world, or are suffering from acute case of “shiny objects syndrome“. Combine that common ailment with the “digital transformation” bandwagon, it has become understandably difficult to stay focused on the fundamentals of a product marketing strategy.

To be clear, digital transformation at a core business level is essential, and if your organization has not already gone through that, you’re already behind. But too many organizations fail to bring in the right digital-centered leadership, and end up treat digital transformation as an excuse to play a game of “hit or miss” with technology and marketing systems adoption.

“There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing — most of which happens to be digital.” ~ Brad Jakeman

I am certainly a believer in leveraging the many new digital platforms, systems and consumer behaviors to better connect and engage with consumers in order to sell them the products they need and want. Ultimately, despite the many disruptions and changes happening in the world of marketing, it has to still be about the consumer’s needs, and then positioning your product to meet that need.

In order to give a product the best chance of success, it must have a product marketing strategy. In it’s most fundamental parts, a product marketing strategy must clearly articulate that the brand understands the root pain points, and that your brand can guide the customer to the right solution. This assumes your product can meet the customer’s needs, and that there is a plan to ensure the right target audience with the need hears about the product.

Here are the 6 essential ingredients I have seen have to be present for a solid product marketing strategy.

1. Have a Great Product

Today’s consumer’s are more empowered, and have access to more information than ever before. The golden age of marketing where one could sell anything with the right creative is over. Marketing in a digital world also means that the line between product development and marketing is increasingly blurred.

“Don’t suck!” ~ Unknown Marketer

Use past marketing consumer engagement and efforts to gather data, measure, and learn about what are consumer’s pain points and needs. Sometimes, business intelligence and data from one product category can lead to insights about new products in other categories. And there is always third party data sources. The point is, know what your customer needs, understand what they are looking for, and align your product development to those insights.

Particularly when developing digital products, there is always the danger of over-engineering things, or in the process of designing the “best in class” experience, sacrificing quality over usability.

In today’s constantly evolving market place where startups too easily disrupt legacy heavy-weights, agility is essential to delivering a quality product to customers. As the next illustration shows, recognizing customer’s needs means realizing the customer doesn’t want a car–they want mobility.

Ultimately, people don’t want to buy things; they want you, the product marketer, to show them how you’re going to solve their problem. So, ask yourself what problem your product solves for the customer? How will it make their lives better? Answering the questions, “What problem does my product solve for my customer” and “How will it make their lives better” will help you identify the right messaging and emotional tone for your product brand story.

Don’t make the mistake of focusing on the technical or functional capabilities of your product. Your product development team might love you for it, but your customer is more interested in the value it provides. It’s about the benefits, not the features.

2. Who is Your Customer Persona

I know the use of persona’s is a controversial and well argued topic, but what I mean is make sure you know who is your customer at deep level. Some people prefer the term “customer segmentation”, but what is important is that you don’t lose sight of what makes them unique and different. You might have a great product, but if the customer you’re selling it to doesn’t have that need, your product will fail. Knowing who you’re targeting is essential. The amazing part of marketing in a digital world, is that there are vast resources and insights available to better understand who is your customer, and when are they in need of your product or solution.

There are many methods out there to guide this process, and plenty of arguments in favor of any of them. Ultimately, whichever approach taken, it is absolutely essential that the process of identifying the customer include actual customer interviews. There are no short cuts for the insights an actual customer can provide.

This is an approach essential to the Business Model Canvas template. The Business Model Canvas is a strategic management and lean startup template created by Alexander Osterwalder for developing new or documenting existing business models, but it can also be used to evaluate the viability of a product or to test the focus of a product marketing message. The most important activity in that methodology is to leverage a scientific method of hypothesis testing by talking to customers as early as possible and as often as possible (and often showing them early product prototypes). Set up phone calls, or better yet, in-person meetings and ask them about their preferences. Listen to how they talk and the language they use. Along with that, of course, there are the usual important demographic insights essential to your specific product niche or industry.

While I’m not focused on the Business Model Canvas per say, Osterwalder’s and the method’s focus on frequent and close contact with your target consumer is worth emulating regardless of the methodology you utilize. In a world where technology and digital platforms seem to create more separation between people, there is no better approach than to directly reach out, talk to and directly listen to your customer’s voice in relation to your new product.

Regardless of your methodology, figuring out who is your customer is about learning what are their pains, problems and needs, and also learning the exact vocabulary they use to describe their pain problem (and their positive experiences if it’s an existing product).

Along the research journey, you will discover unique or different qualities that differentiate your potential customers into various groups–your customer personas. That, along with your learning about their pain problems, will guide the marketing story in a more relevant way.

3. Craft and Tell Your Story

Once you’ve figured out who is your customer, and what is their need, you need to engage them through the process of story-telling. I like to use the term “story telling” because it helps lift the fog of “marketing speak” that muddles good, clear communications and allows you to focus your message creation around building an emotional connection to your customer.

According to Customer Thermometer, 57 percent of consumers feel trust when they’re emotionally connected to a brand, and that emotional connection is built through your story-telling. I’m not suggesting you turn your marketing into brand fluff — your story telling absolutely needs to sell to your audience. The “sell”, when done right, will engage them in a relevant way that communicates how your product can transform the customer’s experience of pain.

One of the best guys out there talking about how to tell transformative, impacting stories that drive business results is Donald Miller. He developed the StoryBrand approach for creating clear product and brand messaging. As the story goes, Don studied several hundred Hollywood blockbusters to better understand the power of compelling storytelling. Out of that, he developed a framework to guide effective, clear story telling. Your goal is to drive clarity in your messaging and ensure you have all the ingredients needed for persuading the customer to buy immediately.

If you haven’t, I highly recommend you read his book, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. Below is the 7 points of the StoryBrand framework he covers in his book, as well as his various workshops and certified brand marketing program.

  1. A Character usually the hero/ your customer [not you or your product]
  2. With a problem/pain/ need
  3. Meets a Guide [the brand]
  4. Who gives the hero a plan [precise steps to achieve a goal]
  5. That calls them to action
  6. That results in Tragedy [failure]
  7. or Comedy [success]

If you invested appropriately in the first 2 steps, you should understand your customer’s pains and problems and can effectively use the StoryBrand framework to write a brandscript for your product. Another well known framework with proven success is Ray Edward’s PASTOR Principles of Copywriting.

P – your customer’s pain/ problem/ need

A – amplify the pain. You need to amplify to contrast and register the pain.

S – your story/ solution to the pain

T – transformation and testimony, social proof that reinforces the credibility of your communications

O – offer that could be a price offer

R – the response that you want from he customer

Ultimately, it’s not about what framework you use. It’s about understanding your customer’s pain, and crafting your story in a way that shows your products value and how it must play a part in your customer’s journey. If there is one thing you take away, it is that CLARITY is the one single most important characteristic of compelling storytelling.

4. Form your product marketing “guiding” team

Successfully launching and marketing a product is absolutely a cross-functional, multi-team effort. As with anything related to dealing with people, this is never an easy task. Marketing in a digital world is about bringing together a collection of deep experts in the many technology driven functional areas, as well as the usual sales, product development, and customer support, and driving them towards clearly delivering your product’s story to your customer’s.

Today’s product marketers have to be effective and humble leaders. Marketing in a digital world requires deep subject-matter experts and is impossible for one-man/woman all-around marketing expert. So the key role of the product marketer is to drive focus and clarity throughout your organization and your marketing department to ensure alignment and drive clarity within the team.

Beware of the “pollyanna” leadership that ignores human nature and the challenges of leading teams effectively. The fact is, according to The Chartered Institute of Marketing, only 35 percent of marketers believe they understand their role in delivering a branded customer experience. A strong and strategic product marketer is responsible for telling the product strategy story and informing the entire marketing team and broader organization to ensure everyone knows the story and their part in it.

While I’m focusing on a product marketing strategy, extracting the value of your team’s talent requires tactical awareness. There are many tools available to enable marketing collaborations–that is a key part of effective cross-functional team communication and organization.

Many people think of communication as the same thing as collaboration. And while it takes effective communication to have strong collaboration, one can do a lot of communicating and still struggle with collaboration. As with the first question, every team leader needs to consider whether his or her team has the right tools to collaborate and share work output easily and effectively.

Marketing teams that overly depend on email put themselves at risk of overwhelming team members, and increase the risk of miss-communications in over-loaded email inboxes. Many of the top collaboration tools available include features that provide for automated creation of product road-maps, marketing planning, and managing task ownership.

Ultimately, a strong product marketing strategy comes to fruition by ensuring there is visibility throughout the project time-frame, and ensuring your talent resources know what is supposed to happen each step of the way.

5. Invest in the promotion

If there is one common shared consumer pain, it is the over-saturation of information. Your customer today is bombarded by marketing messages, and technology has leveled the competitive environment, enabling a number of small start ups to compete aggressively with legacy brands. Even if you’re building a local product marketing strategy, the digital evolution has also brought about greater globalization that ever before, giving consumers access to products from further away at competitive prices. To understand how technology has already, and continues to change the world, I highly recommend “The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century“.

If you start from a great product that addresses customer’s pain points, you’ve identified who is your customer, you’ve crafted a compelling story that emotionally engages your customer’s in a relevant way, and you have gathered a team, you are then ready to work on your paid (promotion) media plan.

According to CEB, 58 percent of consumers have tried a new brand in the last three months that they didn’t even know about a year ago. The difference is the investments made in promotion to help drive awareness among new customers.

Digital marketing is not a field of dreams. If you build it [insert your favorite awesome digital experience or product], it doesn’t mean they will automatically come. ~ Josue Sierra

One of the biggest mistakes major global brands are making is falling for the myth that doing more “digital marketing” is about engaging more on social media platforms. I’m not saying social media platforms don’t have a role to play in a strategic media mix. I am saying, this is one of the first symptoms of “next shiny object” syndrome, and there are many myths surrounding what is considered social media “best practices”. Beware. While many of the “mass media” channels of days gone past don’t work and are hard to measure, effective marketing in a digital world should be focused on making sure you own the relationship with your customers through effective use of data.

“Social media will continue to offer a powerful and crowd-sourced means to market your brand…” ~ Jeff Bullas

Social Media Marketing Blogger, Speaker and Strategist Jeff Bullas offers 4 digital savvy tactics that will ensure that you are investing time, effort and resources on digital tactics and channels you can own and control.

  1. Create and post content to domains you own
  2. Build email lists
  3. Invest in optimizing your blog or website for search engines
  4. Build followers and tribes on other social media channels

Product marketing strategies built for a digital world must take into account the power of data to give brands access to consumer’s, and provide insights into their actions and interactions. Additionally, a central quality of marketing in a digital world is the power to integrate tactics and channels.

To be fair to social media platforms, paid posts on Twitter or Facebook can be one of the best sources of new email subscribers. Additionally, social platforms like Instagram and Facebook can be fantastic re-targeting channels. Best practices research and data shows that re-targeting un-opened email subscribers with a social media post (via special audiences feature) can be a very effective method to maintain engagement, and personalize for channel preferences. When investing in the marketing tech stack, make sure your paying close attention to the platform integrations so on channel can “speak” to other channels.

One additional tactical point: modern product marketing strategies must take into account the central role Google and other top search engines play in consumer’s buying journeys (and the differences in markets like China and Korea).

“Your brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what Google says it is” ~ Chris Anderson

An effective website is not only a channel and storytelling capability–it is also a data collection and insight building platform. Additionally, a brand’s website fuels modern, digital driven brand marketing. An email lists is not just about direct-mail type selling messaging–email gives you access to a direct, ongoing relationship with your customer. These are two pillars on which to build the rest of your marketing strategy.

The goal is for the promotion plan to get your product’s paint-point solving story in front of:

  1. the right audience,
  2. at the right time and
  3. in the right place (location).
  4. Through the right channels (go to where your customer’s are already engaging)

Having followed the previous steps, these elements should already be falling in place for your product marketing strategy. This is where you start putting together a channel mix and investment levels needed to reach your objectives.

6. Plan to Measure and Optimize

It is a sad statistic that only 48 percent of marketers are consistently measuring brand, customer-related, and non-financial metrics of success. A product marketing strategy that is solely focused on financial metrics may unintentionally become short-term focused. A product marketing strategy is ultimately just that–a strategy. The power of marketing in a digital world is the ability to measure deeply, automate optimization, track results in real-time, and adjust course proactively in order to learn what is working and what is not, and ensure the best results possible.

Effective marketing starts with good listening, and executes with effective listening tools in place. From adjusting or personalizing the message, to customizing and adapting the channel at a one-to-one level, there are a number of powerful digital advertising platforms and tools that empower strategic marketers to watch, listen, optimize and find out what is working or not.

Vanity metrics are things like registered users, downloads, and raw page views. They are easily manipulated, and do not necessarily correlate to the numbers that really matter: active users, engagement, the cost of getting new customers, and ultimately revenues and profits. The latter are more actionable metrics.

Make sure you’re listening to the experts on the team (or consulting with outside resources), ask tough questions to hold them accountable and aligned to the strategic objectives, and ensure they are delivering actionable insights and results, not vanity metrics.

What essential part of product marketing strategy do you see most often missing?

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