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95 / The Product Marketing Framework: Connecting the Market to the Product

Hosted by Sean Flaherty & Paul Gebel

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Martina Lauchengco

Costanoa Ventures

Martina Lauchengco spent nearly 30 years as a marketing and product leader. She started her career working on market-defining software, Microsoft Office and Netscape Navigator. She teaches what she’s learned with SVPG and is a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s graduate school of engineering. As a partner at Costanoa Ventures, she sits on multiple boards and coaches startups. She is the author of LOVED: How to Rethink Marketing Tech Products. Martina holds a B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in Organizational Behavior from Stanford University. She’s a native Californian, mother of two, and proud wife to Chris.

As consumers of everything from soap to software, all we’re looking for is better, easier, simpler. Most of the time we can’t explain why a thing is better; we just know delight when we experience it. “That’s the height of product management done well,” says Martina Lauchengco. “And it’s also when product marketing takes over to help the world understand why your product is truly different.”

Martina is a Partner at Costanoa Ventures and author of LOVED: How to Rethink Marketing for Tech Products. In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, she joins Sean and Paul to explore the role product marketing plays in a go-to-market strategy. Too often, Martina explains, we emphasize the marketing piece and fail to recognize the connection between our product and the humans who are using it. And that’s the big thing that gets missed. “Product marketing is the act of connecting the market to the product, not just promoting the product in the market.”

There’s actually a strategic framework for all the activities that bring your product successfully to market, she adds. “And it represents a very big difference in terms of the actions that are taken. First is the when and why. Then comes the what, followed by the how. In that order.”

Martina’s framework examines not only the activities we product managers need to navigate. We’re also responsible for encouraging our teams to share product market-facing activities – each of which is assigned a specific role.

Listen to the entire pod to learn more about Martina’s product marketing framework, including the fundamental roles responsible for its execution: the Ambassador, the Strategist, the Storyteller, and the Evangelist.

Other insights from Martina:

  • Owning the market is about owning the conversations in your category – and you can do that pre-launch.
  • Product marketing is more a framework than a checklist of activities.
  • Building software is not about the features you add; it’s about making someone more successful at the job they’re trying to do.

Paul [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to Product Momentum, where we hope to entertain, educate, and celebrate the amazing product people who are helping to shape our community’s way ahead. My name is Paul Gebel and I’m the Director of Product Innovation at ITX. Along with my co-host, Sean Flaherty, and our amazing production team and occasional guest host, we record and release a conversation with a product thought leader, writer, speaker, or maker who has something to share with the community every two weeks.

Paul [00:00:43] Hey, everyone. If you’re anything like me as a product manager, at some point or another in your career, you’ve wondered, which master user do you serve? Do you prioritize the technical argument from an architect who’s got a really burning problem that needs to get solved? Or do you listen to the designer who has a really great case for why the UI needs to be improved in some way or another? Of the 50 things that you’ve got in your backlog and the roadmap that you’re marching towards, that list of one or two things that are the most important might not even be the thing that the market wants. And that’s the kind of mindset that we’re going to unpack with Martina Luchengco today. Sean and I get into her book, Loved. We get really deep into how you can bring this to your teams. So I really hope you enjoy our conversation.

Paul [00:01:31] Well hello and welcome. Today, we’re really pleased to be joined by Martina Luchengco. Martina spent nearly 30 years as a marketing and product leader. She started her career working on market-defining software, for example, Microsoft Office and Netscape Navigator. She teaches what she’s learned with Silicon Valley Product Group and is a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Engineering. As a partner at Costanoa Ventures, she sits on multiple boards and coaches startups. She’s the author of Loved: How to Rethink Marketing Tech Products. Martina holds a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in Organizational Behavior from Stanford. She’s a native Californian, mother of two, and proud wife to Chris. Martina, thanks so much for joining us today.

Martina [00:02:08] I’m so happy to be here.

Paul [00:02:09] Outstanding. Now, I did just finish Loved and I loved it. I want to start us off in a high-level question, just to introduce folks to product marketing management as a differentiator from product management. Can you tell us what product leaders should be concerned with in this product marketing management space?

Martina [00:02:26] Well, I think product marketing is largely misunderstood by most people who even are working with product marketers. And it has become a collection of tasks that need to be done to bring a product to market. That’s what most people believe it is. But what it actually is, is a strategic framing for all the activities that let your product successfully go to market. And that might seem like a nuanced bunch of words, but it really is a very big difference in terms of the actions that get taken and what you decide gets done when, why, then what, then how, in that order. And I think that’s the big thing that gets missed. So if people are trying to think, “how do I get my product market? I want this to reach more people. I want it to have more impact.” The key missing ingredient is often product marketing, which is connecting the market to the product and not just trying to promote the product in the market. So that’s a big thing people need to understand.

Paul [00:03:20] Yeah, that jumped out to me loud and clear in the book. The way that we think about product marketing, the marketing tends to get emphasized and not the connection to the human beings who are using the product at the other end. And one of the things that we were chatting about before the show is that there’s really kind of a disproportionate ratio of product managers to product marketing managers, emphasizing the product managers piece. What do you think is a way that we can get better representation in the product community because they really are two distinct roles? It’s not just a marketing flavor on a product manager role, it’s really something different.

Martina [00:03:51] Yeah, 100%. There are a bunch of things there. One is, I don’t think realistically that ratio is ever going to be substantially different, but I think it does make it important for product managers to take responsibility to make sure the product marketing function is being done well. And that only happens if product teams share in the load of that market-facing collection of activity. And that has to do with the four fundamentals. So the first is the ambassador, connecting the customer and the market insights to the product conversations, as well as, how do we actually get this out to market?

Martina [00:04:23] Fundamental two is the strategist, which is directing that products go to market and really making sure you know when and why you’re doing everything that you’re doing. Fundamental three is the storyteller, which is shaping how the world thinks about a product. And this is one where I would say the product team has an enormous impact and it cannot be done without the product team being really equal partners in collaborating and making sure that that story gets told in a way that lands and also makes a lot of sense.

Martina [00:04:50] And fundamental for is around evangelists, which is really about enabling others to tell the story of the product. And this means that everybody can help and assist in this. So product people have tons of customer engagement and market engagement. They are just as capable of finding and enabling pockets of evangelism. And so I think this is a place where they share in the role equally.

Paul [00:05:12] Yeah. And one of the things that stood out in those four fundamentals, just to wrap this up is, you know, being an ambassador, a strategist, a storyteller, then an evangelist, it comes down to perception. You have a way that you organize these activities, not in a way that features meet functionality, but in a way that market perceives reality. Is that a fair assessment?

Martina [00:05:32] Yeah. And I’d say that you know, I work with product teams every day. I was with one this morning and one of the things we talked about was they were saying, “oh my gosh, it’s so important that we’re first to market.” And then I came back and I said, “Actually, what’s most important is that you are first to own the market.” There are many instances of companies going out there and owning the market pre-product. At Costanoa Ventures, we’re just early-stage startups, so that is my day-to-day world. And so we will see four or five entrants, all brand new, all in fairly new categories, and inevitably, one or two years later, the one that’s the winner is the one that owned the conversation around the category first. It doesn’t mean that the category is yet owned. I think there’s also this misperception, perpetuated by a lot of marketers, I’ll have to confess, that you have to own the category and define every aspect of the category. These days, categories are very overlapping and they’re not always clear and they’re constantly evolving. So really it’s around driving the most thoughtful conversations in your space. Your space doesn’t have to be very, very narrowly defined. It must be well understood and well articulated. But you can’t necessarily just limit yourself to, “we have to declare this category, now we have to put all the things in it.” Modern markets just don’t work that simply anymore.

Sean [00:06:44] So the four fundamentals, is there like a priority to the four, a hierarchy?

Martina [00:06:48] Yeah, those are the order. Number one is that ambassador because if you don’t understand your customer, your market, you can’t even pass go. Like you can’t be a strategist unless you’re really understanding, what’s happening in the marketplace and what are the expectations of how we might get to where we want to go? And then the storyteller, the story you tell depends on the strategy that you’ve articulated. So if your go-to-market is product-led versus if you have an enterprise sales team, you might tell the story of your product differently. If you’re targeting an individual developer versus a CSO, you’re going to have a very different story and the elements of that perception are going to be built through different things.

Martina [00:07:24] So that’s why the ambassador, then the strategist, then the storyteller, and it’s not last for its lack of importance, but you kind of have to have all those other elements in place before you can start evangelizing. If people don’t know what to say about your product or they’re saying the wrong thing, it can’t be this flywheel that takes off. So that’s why it’s in that order.

Sean [00:07:43] Cool. You’re never really done with any of those jobs. It’s just a matter of…

Martina [00:07:46] That’s right. And that’s really why I wanted to articulate product marketing as the most fundamental components that comprises the job. And again, a lot of the definition of the job has become, “oh, there are these 37 boxes of things that need to do or these five concentric rings with all these different things inside.” And so it’s gotten very confused, what is the actual purpose of this job? And it is to make sure that those fundamental pieces are in place so that everyone else that is go-to-market facing, the whole rest of the marketing team, the whole rest of the sales team or the rest of the growth team can be successful because they know what the atomic particles are that are most important for them to succeed.

Sean [00:08:22] I like how you’ve kind of organized them in terms of roles, like, you’ve labeled them with names. It’s very memorable.

Martina [00:08:28] Oh, well, thank you. I had to do a little product marketing there.

Sean [00:08:31] There you go. I like it.

Paul [00:08:32] So one of the things that stood out in our prep for the conversation today was about the reality, sort of the practical necessity, to make technology real to people. And one of the things that I am guilty of as a product manager is thinking that everybody knows all of the things that I know. Everybody is aware of the backlog, whether they’ve been released or not, that the market is going to be technically savvy to some degree, that they know what a hamburger menu is or some of the symbology that we’ve come to take for granted in the tech space that is not common knowledge to many, many people. And I think one of the things that these four roles bring to the surface and make really practical is the fact that you need to, not just in a purely accessibility-focused lens, but in a more general sense, be accessible, help the product come to life in a way that is understandable to people so that you don’t have to have a degree in computer science to understand your product. You shared an anecdote about formatting in a Word document that ended up on somebody’s desk. And I’m wondering, could you share just a snippet of that story?

Martina [00:09:35] Yeah. So I was with my really good friend from high school who is one of the foremost epidemiological experts in monkeypox. And she was sending a document that was going to be seen by the White House. And she showed me the content and I said, “Is that how are you sending it?” She’s like, “Why? What’s wrong?” And I was like, “Well, you might format it in a way that makes it easier to scan.” And this is someone that writes all sorts of memos every single day that get viewed by the most important people in her field in the world. And she didn’t think about the fact that formatting can impact how her words would be understood.

Martina [00:10:10] So as someone that’s has been a product manager for Word, we studied that and we thought about, “okay, if you use bullets, if you use bold, if you chunk things, it changes the perception of how someone can interpret the content.” And we built the word processor around some of these core concepts. Turns out nobody knows them unless you’re an expert. So this is a super mature product, super mature category, someone that uses this every single day, and this basic knowledge or something you’d consider basic, basic formatting knowledge as a product manager wasn’t well understood.

Martina [00:10:41] So that exists everywhere. I can’t think of a single product where I’ve observed someone using it where the way someone has used it has been far more rudimentary than any of us were expecting. And it’s sobering and so important why you should always go and see your users actually use your product. Because then you realize, “oh, what we thought was easy or obvious isn’t as obvious to them; what we thought were really clear words describing what to do here presume they know what to do next when they don’t because they only go in here once a month.” All of these very simple things that we take for granted because we live and breathe our product, and the people who use them, unless it’s a daily use thing like Instagram, don’t.

Paul [00:11:19] Yeah. One of the comments that you made that really resonated with me when we were getting ready for the show is, “the best products have a greatness that’s invisible to users.” And what I took that to mean is that it’s not that there’s a feature or a user story in your backlog that says, “onboarding,” and you have a little overlay focus that says, “here’s the menu dropdown here and you can save your work or update your profile picture.”.

Paul [00:11:41] It’s not just, “onboarding is complete so that people now can understand everything they need to know,” There’s an ongoing progressive discovery that if the user isn’t finding what they need or they are perhaps finding a feature for the first time and they want to explore it, that there’s a safety that makes it not just sticky, but also makes them feel powerful in their experience, even if it is rudimentary by a power user’s standards. And that greatness that’s invisible to them is really that feeling of, essentially, emphasizing their own autonomy. They have a sense of growing mastery, and they can bring themselves to the product and feel like they’re not being condescended to in some way.

Martina [00:12:22] Yeah. The biggest epiphany I had as a product manager for Word was when we were given an executive edict that cut the total development time that we would have to develop the product in half. And this was in the heat of the feature wars where the value of your product was defined by how many features were inside, and all of a sudden we’d have half as many, and we had to somehow find a way to articulate the value of our product, despite having half the features we normally did.

Martina [00:12:45] And when we actually looked at how users were using the product, we realized that the bulk of our feature work was on using the product on behalf of the user. So the red squiggly line that everybody knows and loves now, that was us using the idle time between typing to actually run spellcheck because it turns out a lot of people would forget to hit the button, but no one wants to misspell words on purpose, Grammarly, all those things. It’s doing it on behalf of the user rather than having to find and discover something and then take action. And when we saw how well-received, that that turned out to be the most positive critically reviewed, the most successful version of Word at that point in time, when we realized it wasn’t about the number of features we had, it was about how intentional we were at using the product on behalf of the user so they could make better documents without having to do anything differently than how they already were using the product. That was a huge moment in my life as a product manager where I realized, it is never about what you add, it’s about making someone more successful at what they’re trying to get done without asking them to take on the cognitive load of how to figure out how to use the software.

Paul [00:13:50] A wonderful story.

Sean [00:13:51] Don’t make your users take on any more cognitive load than they absolutely need to, right?

Martina [00:13:56] No. And we talked about this, Paul, earlier, about, who isn’t on software overload? I wrote this article recently about the supermarket of software, where your average supermarket, which I’m sure all of us find overwhelming already, has 40 to 50 thousand products. The App Store has five and a half million. And you look in the equivalent of your like financial services or personal finance software aisle and there are a hundred different things. Similarly ranked, people are praising it, you look at the features, they look exactly the same. How’s anyone supposed to make decisions? And are they really that different from one another when push comes to shove? It is in all of the fit and polish of how something is used on behalf of the user that really products stand out. And it’s nothing that people can articulate. They’ll just say, “Oh, it just feels easier.” They don’t know all the things that made it feel easier. And that’s the height of product management done exceptionally well. And then product marketing needs to help the world understand why this is truly different.

Sean [00:14:52] Hm. Excellent. So for something to be go-to-market strategic, how do you get it to stand out? Like how do you, and when, unless there’s, like, an entire go-to-market engine that’s carefully coordinated and holds a clear market position?

Martina [00:15:04] There’s no one simple answer to this, and this is why fundamental one is fundamental one. You need to understand your customer and your market because that’s going to determine whether or not something might stand out. Sometimes it can be something as simple as changing your sales process. Instead of trying to make it lightweight and we barely touched anyone, we doubled the number of touch points. We do the surround of the account. We have all these coordinated actions that can have as much impact as anything that you say. So it’s never one thing precisely. It’s very much about how your market is functioning.

Martina [00:15:33] The other thing that’s kind of the big hack that everyone should have as a tool in their tool kit is to make something strategic from a go-to-market perspective. The most important thing is when, then why, then what, then how. And most people invert that. But to be market-oriented, markets move at the speed that they move and stuff happens when it happens. We have no control over that. The World Cup is happening in November. Labor Day is in September. We can’t change those things, but they have impact on people’s capacity, space, timing of things. Like right now, we talk about this all the time, we’re like, “oh, August, people just are not around.” So why would you do anything big from a market perspective in August unless your market is around? So these are all things that you need to know and why, from a go-to-market perspective, when becomes the most important thing to ground the start of the conversation in.

Paul [00:16:19] One of the things that we talked about, too, and really hit home is the way that people talk when they’ve traveled versus when they’ve, you know, not perhaps left their hometown. And the way that this applies as I recall it is when you’re speaking to someone who’s seen the world, been exposed to cultures, eaten foods that aren’t necessarily from hometown. There’s a sense of different, but same. The more you’re exposed to different people groups, the more you’re exposed to, you know, really how same we tend to be… But that applies to product marketing because when we’re so myopically focused on our backlog, when we’re so concerned with our own product, when we’re eating, sleeping, and breathing it for months and months before it releases, we tend to lose sight of not just talking to users, but what is the market doing? How does the market feel about this? Who are the influencers in our market? Who’s going to do an unboxing or an app review and end up on YouTube and really shape the way that our reception is going to be? I was wondering if you could share, you know, maybe an experience or story that you’ve had where someone was able to bring a product to life in a way that would have been different if they’d been more traditional or product-led instead of market-led.

Martina [00:17:25] Yeah. One of the companies I’m working with right now at Costanoa is called Signal, and they do modern enterprise authorization. And that probably means something to a teeny tiny percentage of the people listening to this. Now, for those that know authorization, they know it is distinct from authentication and they know its importance and how huge it is in managing an enterprise and who gets access to what. And they were trying to figure out, how do we talk about ourselves in a way that the most people understand that what we’re doing is new, interesting, and provides value?

Martina [00:17:56] And so the category-first or product-first way of talking about it was, “what are the categories? Is it R back? Is A back? Is it privileged access management?” They started with all the category lingo and jargon for how it was talking about itself. And they would try that in their customer discovery conversations. And people would say like, “Oh, privileged access management, is it like X? Is it like Y?” And what they found was all of those existing categories put people down these rabbit holes that were not them. They were like, “No, we’re actually trying to have a different conversation.” But the moment they used the existing words, it framed people to think about totally different things and they won the conversation.

Martina [00:18:31] So we had to take it up a level and describe what was happening that was different, which is just-in-time access management for the enterprise. So if you have a customer success rep that has a ticket that is open and needs to access customer data for that ticket, they get access to it just in that moment of time, and then they don’t have it anymore, as opposed to having access to that customer data until someone realizes, “oh, they shouldn’t have that access anymore.” So describing it as just-in-time access management that had human-readable policies with a graph directory behind it, and they describe it that way, everyone’s like, “Oh, I can use that to solve so many different problems that I have, can I have a conversation?” And that came from the process of starting with the let’s see, I call it inside out. How do the people that know what they’re talking about talk about it, and how do we elevate the conversation so that the people that experience the problem recognize the problem, recognize that we’re solving it in a novel way, and want to lean in and have a conversation?

Martina [00:19:26] That’s the bridge of product marketing. We discovered that through a process. It’s not, you sit in a room and you have this moment of genius where it was like, “it’s this!” We had to try like ten different ways to arrive at, “these are the things that make everyone lean in.” And we were literally looking for, “oh,” that moment, that aha moment in how people receive the words for us to discover how to articulate this.

Sean [00:19:49] Awesome. Well, we’re getting towards the end of our episode here and I want to just quickly summarize some of the takeaways that I’ve captured.

Martina [00:19:57] Great.

Sean [00:19:57] First one that I thought was super insightful was owning the market’s about owning the conversations that are occurring in your category. And you really need to be driving the most thoughtful conversations in your category. And if you’re not, you don’t really own the market and you could do this even before your product launches. That was a cool insight. The second is that product marketing isn’t a checklist, although there are obviously things that you have to do. You have to have some sort of structure. And I think what you’ve provided here is a framework for thinking about how product marketing should work. And it’s pretty comprehensive and it’s powerful and you’re never done with the work. So having a framework that you can periodically go back and check against, I think is a valuable thing for product leaders. So thank you for that one.

Sean [00:20:39] Third, along the lines of the framework, you’ve got these four key jobs of product marketing, the ambassador, the strategist, the storyteller, the evangelist and there is a dominance hierarchy to it and it is important to think about, I think, across product, not just in product marketing. The fourth key insight, I think, is that, I’m going to use what Paul said from the pre-call, that the greatest products are almost invisible to you. One of the key insights there for me was that they cause the users to feel masterful in the use of the product. And we know that’s a key driving intrinsic motivation need and they also make sure that those users don’t get left behind when updates come out. Which then leads me to the last major insight that I got that you should never make your users take on cognitive load that they don’t have to. And I think that’s just a way of thinking about product as you’re developing it that we tend to overlook, so to speak. So it was a great conversation. I really appreciate those insights. Did I miss anything, Paul?

Paul [00:21:29] I don’t think so. I think the way that we look at product-led organizations is, most of the time, and I’m calling myself out, is through the feature lens. You know, we look at, does it have this functionality, does it meet this requirement, does it hit the spec? And even if we are talking to users, we tend to ask users for that checklist and we want to know, did we build it right? Not, did we build the right thing?

Martina [00:21:52] Yeah.

Sean [00:21:53] So you’ve been in this space for a long time. You have a lot of experience and knowledge to share. I’m curious, what are you learning these days? What are you reading, what would you recommend to our listeners?

Martina [00:22:01] So I’ve been on a tear of reading fiction because I read so much nonfiction in preparing to write my book. But in terms of what I’m learning, I’m learning a ton about the new technology that we invest a lot in. We invest in sort of the edge of data and developer infrastructure, and those fields are evolving so quickly that I constantly have to, like I’ll literally have a conversation with a company and say, “I need to look up these five acronyms.” So one of the things I love about working in tech is you are never done learning. You must constantly learn about new things that are being talked about, new ways of doing things. So I like that. I like the constant challenge of learning.

Sean [00:22:37] Awesome.

Paul [00:22:38] Last thing before we let you go, one thing that we ask of all our guests is what is the definition of innovation to you?

Martina [00:22:44] For me, and this borrows a lot from Tina Seelig’s observation about innovation, it’s when someone has rethought something to a truly novel way of approaching something. So for me, the Tesla was one of the biggest innovations in a well-established category. It redefined what we thought should be in a car. That was truly innovative because it wasn’t just an electric car. They were rethinking a lot of the presumptions of how a car needed to be set up, and did you need all these buttons and controls? It kind of blew my mind from a product perspective. So that for me is a great example of real innovation.

Paul [00:23:19] Martina, this has been a blast. I’ve learned a ton in the time that we’ve gotten to spend chatting today. Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us and share your experiences.

Martina [00:23:29] Oh, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sean [00:23:31] Thank you, Martina. It was a pleasure. Hopefully, we’ll have you on again sometime.

Martina [00:23:34] I hope so, too. Thank you guys so much.

Sean [00:23:37] All right.

Paul [00:23:37] Cheers.

Paul [00:23:40] Well, that’s it for today. In line with our goals of transparency and listening, we really want to hear from you. Sean and I are committed to reading every piece of feedback that we get, so please leave a comment or a rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Not only does it help us continue to improve, but it also helps the show climb up the rankings so that we can help other listeners move, touch, and inspire the world, just like you’re doing. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you next episode.

 

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