This time of disruptive change within entire markets, consumer bases and internal organizational structures has forced us to adapt abruptly. Changing market pressure and rapidly evolving buyer needs have Chief Marketing Officers and their product marketing executives in the hot seat. It has become imminently necessary to reprioritize and identify new opportunities.
In the latest Product Marketing Community webinar hosted by Meghan Keaney Anderson of Hubspot, Gartner's Todd Berkowitz and Forrester SiriusDecisions' Amy Hayes identified the challenges and opportunities that would affect our product marketing priorities in 2021.
The New Role of Product Marketing
Meghan kicked off the webinar by posing a question aligned to our community’s first growth pillar —build. "How have we seen product marketing's role and structure evolve as a result of this year?"
Todd started the discussion advocating that the product marketing team work closely with product management and sales. He suggested they take a more customer-facing, rather than internal-facing, view. He noticed that his clients had to start focusing more intently on their customers. As bringing on new customers became increasingly difficult, his clients saw that growth during 2020 required expanding existing client relationships.
Another significant change we saw in 2020 was the flip to virtual events—such as online events that will continue well into 2021. Product marketing needs to take a more active role in presenting content and ensuring that those virtual events are successful. With these changes comes the vital need for agility.
Because of this newly required agility, Amy mentioned how there's never been a more critical time to be audience-centric and how important it can be to restructure your team to fit these new circumstances. Marketing silos are gone, and Amy brought to light the term “portfolio marketing,” an umbrella term that includes product, services and solutions marketing. The portfolio marketing leader and their team must focus their planning on their buyers' needs.
The Adaptation of Structures and Strategies
Due to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, industries have changed overnight. The portfolio marketing leader must now forecast where the trend is heading next and anticipate their buyers' needs faster than ever before. As product marketers, we are at a unique vantage point where we can connect those buyer needs with the business’s capabilities.
There are significant indicators to predict where product marketing is going to be most needed in 2021. While examining your sales organization, it's essential to recognize whether buyers fall into one of three categories:
1. Thriving (i.e. Healthcare)
3. Struggling (i.e. Travel)
By understanding where your current buyers are, your product marketing team can pivot and strengthen the ability to upsell, cross-sell and improve your existing retention programs. This isn't to say that you can't go after new customers at this time, but we know that acquisition costs have always been higher than retention costs. Your product marketing team should be looking at how they can better assist sales in positioning and messaging for your additional solutions, telling a story across a portfolio rather than telling a story that's centered around a single product.
Thoroughly understanding the entire life cycle of the customer relationship, both pre-and post-sale, is something portfolio marketers will have to devote themselves to as well. Working with the customer success teams to design the exact interaction points needed every step of the way will make all the difference in retaining customers when demands begin to change.
When thinking about team structuring, it's essential to understand the three high-level approaches:
1. Centralized Portfolio Marketing - The team directly reports to Portfolio Marketing, which is common with smaller organizations.
2. Decentralized Portfolio Marketing - Portfolio marketers are aligned to a specific business unit in the organization.
3. Hybrid Approach - A portfolio marketer may work closely within a product portfolio but aligns to the work's continuity at the central level (i.e. messaging, persona definitions).
Amy mentioned a few common skills they've seen that are consistent across their high-performing clients’ organizations. These organizations are spending more resources on strategic work, on identifying market opportunities, and less on tactical execution. Most importantly, we're seeing that these skills are becoming more important than the organization's structure—adapting under a T-shaped organizational structure, with more expertise heavily at the top and then diving down into more narrow, specialized roles.
Overcoming Challenges into 2021
The challenge that product marketing executives are now struggling with is focusing on current customers as their key source of growth and how that’s translated into persona development. It's essential to understand the differences in your organization's preference of interactions between the buyer and customer personas.
“Companies do all sorts of research to establish buyer personas, but how well do you know how your customers’ needs and consumption habits change after they buy?”
said Meghan Keaney Anderson. “Make sure you understand the seasonality of your customers’ purchase behavior, as well as leading indicators that they may be losing interest or getting less value out of your product. Setting up these reports is as important as measuring the cost of acquisition or best conversion path.”
The shift to digital routes and outlets will continue to be an adjustment and challenge for product marketing teams, not only throughout the buyer journey but also in how your buyers will want to purchase your offerings.
Have you explored an e-commerce component?
Is an e-commerce outlet appropriate for your audience?
As in-person events dematerialize, one of our key sources of buyer insights has diminished. With those insights no longer available to us, we'll have to find alternative ways (virtual events) to discover what our buyers want. Remember, the ability to stay ahead of and forecast your buyers' needs will be the key to your success into 2021.
Trends to Focus on Heading into the New Year
Todd and Amy said they see new challenges in 2021, such as expanding their clients’ current customer bases and digitizing their go-to-market and feedback routes. However, Todd mentioned many of the trends Gartner saw with their latest survey were challenges that were already present going into 2020, and the current pandemic situation may have just exacerbated these. Some of those challenges included:
• Differentiating products
• Creating compelling messaging and content that tells a unique story
• Agile marketing
• Generating and nurturing leads
These are the challenges product marketers have faced for years. In 2021, the trend will be finding creative solutions for these challenges that fit our times.
“The whole world has changed,” said Meghan Keaney Anderson. “To assume the way customers interact with your business is unchanged would be a mistake."
For starters, the pandemic has meant that almost every aspect of the customer experience has moved online. How smooth and coordinated is that online experience for them? How many new points of interaction and communication have been opened up for product marketers? Heading into the new year, product marketers should take stock of how their customer expectations and touchpoints have evolved, then make sure to evolve their communications strategy along with it.”
Product Marketing Best Practices for 2021 and Beyond
As we go into a changing economy, mediocre messaging will no longer be sufficient. In years prior, as long as you had relatively strong brand awareness and demand was there, you could survive. In this new situation, that won't work. Your messaging should change as much as our buyer needs are changing. It should directly reflect what is happening during these difficult times to meet the buyer where they are in the market. When it comes to positioning as a higher-level effort in your organization, understand what you want it to represent in your market. Your positioning is something that will be much more evergreen to your organization.
When approaching annual planning for 2021, start with the priorities and strategic goals of your company. Marketing and product marketing must align with the organizations strategic goals as a whole before executing any plans.
Strategic and Tactical Metrics to Measure
To remain disciplined in your journey, understand what the impact is to your business at the highest level. Then start thinking about your readiness and ability to impact the metrics that your organization has set. Do you have the right skill sets, team members and technology in place?
Next is to look at the activities of your product marketing team. Are those activities well aligned with the goals and objectives of the organization? We often see internally focused metrics instead of metrics focused on our buyers' and customers' overall value.
2020 has been a year that, while challenging, has genuinely pushed us as product marketing executives and professionals to rethink our strategies. The takeaways shared from Todd, Amy, and Meghan can give you new insight into how you can succeed and grow a stronger team. Utilize this time of restructuring to creatively build a new annual planning blueprint for 2021 and be the architect of growth for your organization, in other words, a Marchitect!
View the webinar in its entirety here.