Product Marketing: Why You Need to Be Telling Product Stories

There are hundreds of companies out there that might be doing something similar to you.

There are a million features out there that are similar to the features your product has.

You can find almost anything on the Internet, and as a result, it’s easier than ever for prospects to evaluate your product and make a decision without ever having to interact with you (they don’t have to start a trial, talk to one of your reps, and they really don’t even have to visit your website).

So how do you get people to use your product over someone else’s?  By telling a great product story.

Yes, marketing is responsible for feeding sales with leads – but they should also be responsible for creating a strong and consistent product story (great stuff on this topic from Rick Burnes in “An Inbound Marketer’s Guide to Product Marketing”).

A great product story will help prospects navigate the jungle of competitive offerings and find their way to you – and this will help grease the skids for sales.


What Makes a Good Marketing Hire

I got this question recently and struggled to come up with a clear answer.

So I asked a bunch of people who do marketing or work with marketers at tech companies to try and find out what they thought, and here’s what I learned: I couldn’t come up with a clear answer because there isn’t one.

Hiring marketing people is tough because there’s a wide range of personality types and skill sets that might make someone good.  I know former engineers and investment bankers who are now great marketers.  I’ve seen MBA grads struggle, and people with 0 experience crush it.

But while there is no perfect mold for what makes a great marketer (and as Noah Kagan likes to point out, “most marketers suck”) there are a few things that they all have in common:

They have a deep understanding of the customer and the market.  Not just because they wrote up a bunch of questions and sent a survey out to customers.  This understanding comes from things like sitting in on sales and support calls, and most importantly getting outside of the building.

They are great writers.  In tech marketing, a great writer is someone who can easily turn product features into customer benefits and tell stories with their writing.  Evernote is a great example of this.  Anyone off the street could write about their product’s features and say things like “note taking functionality” or “we offer unlimited storage space,” but they got someone who understands the importance of value and the benefit to the customer.  The result is a message like: “Capture your ideas. Save all of your ideas, things you like, things you hear, and things you see.”

@dcorms: No one cares about your actual product.  They care about what that product does for them.  Ex: People aren’t passionate about email marketing; they’re passionate about their business and email marketing helps them be successful.

They are excellent communicators.  Marketing touches all parts of the organization.  Great marketers understand how to change a conversation based on who they are working with, whether it be sales, support, product management, etc.

They are technical.  They don’t have to have the same understanding as a product manager would, but in order to be effective they need to have some technical chops and know (and use) the product inside and out.

@mendelj2: You don’t need to be an IT pro but understanding technology can surface opportunities for growth and operational efficiency before the competition even sees it.

They pay attention to what’s going on in the industry.  It’s not a coincidence all the good ones read and tweet about a lot of the same things.

 They aren’t afraid to fail.  A good marketer will try 100 different things just to find one that works.

@inthekisser: You need to be fearless about trying new things and not being afraid to fail – because if you don’t fail sometimes you’re not trying hard enough.

They are focused on the right data.  Data-driven marketing.  We get it.  Everything is measured now, and we obsess over numbers and analytics.  But not all metrics are worth focusing on (“How many Twitter followers did we get this month??).  A good marketer will find the ones you should care about

They get things done.  Regardless of whether it fits in their job description.

Customer Development: The Difference Between What People Say and Do

One of the things all great marketers share is a deep understanding of their customer. This understanding is often the result of a ton of research.

I’m a huge advocate for research, especially when it involves spending time outside of the building and talking to customers in real life (great article on the importance of getting out of the building here), but research is not always a good indicator of success.

Just because someone says they are going to do something doesn’t mean that they will actually do it.  This is the reason why we have closets full of clothes we never wear, cabinets full of appliances we never use, and New Year’s resolutions that have – well, never been resolved.

So when it comes to your customers, there’s a huge difference between what people say and what they do.  The data that you get from surveys, questionnaires, sign-up forms etc. is definitely valuable, but to really understand a customer, you need see what they are actually doing.

Add to Your Arsenal of Research Tools

Here are two things to try/suggest to your team the next time you’re thinking about doing customer research:

  1. Make friends with the UX team.  Find out who’s responsible for user testing, buy them a coffee, and instead of sending out yet another survey, see if you can start sitting in on user testing.  Ask questions, add value and show that you aren’t just some guy from marketing – and they might even let you add in some questions for the next round.
  2. Create fake doors.  A “fake door” is a methodology that can be used to help predict if someone is going to use a particular feature or not.  Basically, you put a fake door in your product and see if people try to open it.  With web products – as Jess Lee points out – a fake door basically means you pretend a feature exists by serving up a button or an overlay, and then you see if anyone clicks on it.  Lots of clicks = build.  Not a lot of clicks = don’t waste your time (Jess has an awesome five minute presentation on fake doors and her learnings here).

The best part is that you’ll get actionable learnings fast.  The real question now is what will you do with all of the time you had blocked off to write survey questions and analyze the data?

Writing a Cold Email That Gets a Response

I’ve been on the receiving end of a handful of cold emails lately, and I haven’t come close to answer any of them.  But on the flip side of things, I’ve been sending a bunch of cold emails lately, and the majority have not only received responses, they’ve led to in-person meetings.

So what makes a good cold email?

There certainly isn’t a set formula, but whether you are reaching out to a prospect, pitching a reporter on a story, or just asking someone you don’t know to meet for a coffee, there are a few things you can do to give yourself the best chance of getting a response.

Subject Line

The subject line is the single most important line in your entire email.  Emails with subject lines like “Coffee?” or “Meet Up?” won’t stand out in a crowded inbox.  The subject line needs to be relevant, valuable and super clear.  For example, if you are looking for advice/networking with someone you don’t know:

  • “Advice for a fellow Product Marketer?”
  • “Chat biz dev with a fellow BC alum?”

Additionally, one of the best ways to get someone’s attention is to put the person’s name in the subject line.  This approach has been super effective for me with one-to-one communications.  For example:

  • “Chris – source for your article on Facebook IPO”
  • “Karen – quick chat about integration opp?”

Be clear why you are reaching out to them

Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton and author of Give and Take, talks about how when people feel they have nothing unique to contribute, they feel very little responsibility to help.

So when writing a cold email, don’t just make it clear why you are reaching out – make it clear why you are reaching out to them.  What made you email this person specifically?

A good email, according to Grant, “highlights what drew you to this person and the distinctive value that he or she can add.  (Devote) a sentence or two to what you know about the person’s work, and how it has influence your life.”

Show you did your homework

Showing that you did your homework isn’t just important because you need to be relevant, but it shows that you put some time and effort into reaching out.  As Scott Britton points out, this is one of the best ways to prove that your email isn’t just another canned message from a JV sales rep or a PR hack.

Keep it short, sweet and to the point

We don’t need another article by someone in the tech community telling us about how much email they get (here, here, here, and here to name a few) to know that everyone is busy and their inbox is stuffed.  Keep your email short, sweet and to the point.  Would you read a five paragraph essay from someone you’ve never talked to before?  The best way to keep things short: write like a human.  Talk to them like you would if you were out at a bar, or waiting in line to get coffee.

How to Write Email Copy that Works

I read this all the time: no matter how good your marketing emails look, they won’t be effective without great copy.

But what makes great copy?  Here’s some advice everyone can follow to start writing email copy that works.

Subject Line

Your subject line is the most important line in your email.  Think about this: if you don’t write something that grabs someone’s attention, how are they going to open and read the rest of it?

  • Make it relevant, valuable and clear.
  • If you are stuck, write down the benefit readers will get from your entire email and then try and whittle that down to 5-7 words.
  • Write your subject line as one of these things: a question, a command, a teaser, a list, news, or “how-to.”

The most important piece of subject line advice: test, test, test.  Following best practices is important, but just remember that everyone’s list is different and you need to figure out what works to get your subscribers to open.


Have a clear and concise message.  Remember to write like a human: the best marketing writing says what you would say if you were talking to a good friend who needed your product.  It’s a conversation about them and their needs – and then your product – only as it relates to benefits for them.

Your copy should address these three key questions:

  • Who am I writing for? (Audience)
  • Why should they care? (Benefit)
  • What do I want them to do? (CTA)

Calls to Action

Make sure you have a clear call-to-action.  Tell your reader what you want them to do, and make it really easy for them to do so.  Whatever action you want them to take, just make sure it’s loud and clear (and so is the benefit).  Try and avoid boring words like “submit” or “click” and instead, add words like “exclusive” or “customized.”  For example: “Get exclusive access to all 10 tips now” is a much more compelling CTA than “Click here to learn more.”

Why a Big PR Hit is Not a Launch Strategy

Last night I was talking to a start-up about their launch strategy.  Minutes into the conversation – as it would with most tech start-ups – TechCrunch came up.  But it was the opposite of what I expected: pitching TechCrunch was not part of their go-to-market plan.

Their mentor had recently told them about his company’s launch when they were featured in TechCrunch, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.  Holy shit.  Talk about homerun media coverage.  But guess what happened?  Nothing.   No new customers.  Just a big bump in website traffic and a few sign-ups.

The “TechCrunch” effect has been written about recently – but it was interesting to hear it in-person from a company planning their launch.  And it’s not just start-ups – big companies are guilty of this too when they launch new products and features.  Getting a big hit in a top tier publication and the website traffic that can come with it is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not a launch strategy.

So what is? Focusing on the things that will benefit your business long-term.  That conversation was a great reminder of some of the things businesses can focus on right now – even if a launch is months down the road:

  1. Have a great product experience.  Seems obvious right? Then how come so many companies keep coming out with things that don’t?  I bet I’m not alone in saying this: I use at least one terrible product a day (looking at you expense report software).
  2. Nail your value proposition and messaging.  This one doesn’t have to be complicated.  Don’t worry about the fancy marketing language – you can always fix/tweak/test/optimize/change it.  Sit down at a white board and write out answers to these three questions:  Who is it for? What does it do/how? Why is it different?
  3. Start creating content.  Blog posts, best practices, eBooks, etc.  But don’t give it all away for free – gate your best stuff so you can get someone’s email address in exchange for a download.  Imagine having leads you can nurture and keep engaged without even having a product?  That’ all possible through creating great content.
  4.  Start building relationships with the media.  Here’s something a PR firm won’t tell you:  journalists would rather talk to you, 1:1, then deal with anyone from a PR firm.  PR is all about relationships.  They are writing about your industry – you work in the industry.  You already have something in common! It’s like dating: reach out and break the ice.  Send a quick introduction email.  Comment on one of their articles.  Hell, even just give them a RT.  But don’t pitch your product – just start building a relationship (I know it will be tempting, but don’t do it.)  This way, when the time is right and you have something real to talk about, your email will get opened and/or your call will get answered.  Then it’s your turn to tell your company’s story.

A big PR hit can be a great catalyst for website traffic and sign-ups, but it’s definitely not a strategy.  Following these four things not only help give you the best chance at nailing it on launch day, but they will set you up for marketing success down the road.