Content marketing in the real world: the role of product marketing

A content marketing strategy requires the involvement of product marketing. There is still quite some work to do in this area, even if in a customer-centric content marketing approach it is key.

Product marketing and sales both play an important role in a connected and integrated content marketing reality.

A while back, SiriusDecisions’ Erin Step wrote a blog post ‘Five Tips for Solving the Content Conundrum’. In the blog post Erin makes very valid points about content marketing, emphasizing some of the content marketing realities we see in real life from an organizational viewpoint, including product marketing. I decided to elaborate on some of them as they deserve more attention and wanted to add to them so in this blog let’s take a look at the role of product marketing.

Product marketing and content marketing: the internal issues

Erin confirms a very valid point that is overlooked in an often very one-dimensional ‘content marketing’ view. She writes ‘product marketing must redefine its role as content creator‘. The reason: ‘in too many organizations, product marketers view themselves as experts at writing about products’. Erin advises product marketing to adopt a different mindset and have a more persona-based and audience-centric instead of product-centric content.

As such, this is good advice and it’s indeed essential to rethink the role of product marketing from an integrated perspective where content marketing has a clear place. However, in reality product marketing often is not able to have this more persona-based approach, let alone a real-time personalized content viewpoint.

Product marketing – and in general product management – traditionally has been somewhat disconnected from marketing communications.

Especially in organizations with a B2B background and in tech/services industries, product marketing and product management are very closely connected with other departments such as R&D, sales and top management. Product marketing content can sit in collaboration systems (such as SharePoint), enterprise content management systems (ECM), marketing resource management tools (MRM) etc. However, in practice it often sits a bit everywhere and is disconnected from CRM, marketing and, yes, even sales. Furthermore, who knows where everything sits in the company’s SharePoint, right? It’s not just a matter of the tools and systems. It’s mainly a matter of traditional organizational structures, a lack of good processes and content strategies, and simply informing, communicating and collaborating.

In practice this sometimes leads to weird situations, to say the least. An example: marketing communications organizes an event and has to wait until the day before the event to get the presentations because product marketing owns virtually all content regarding roadmap, recent innovations and often far more. Worse: at the same event, marketing communications and even some execs literally discover the product roadmap and sometimes great content they have never seen before (and that could have been used for several goals by several divisions to offer more information, be more ‘enabled’, sell more and/or cut significant content production costs). Oops.

The challenges of ownership fights: connecting product marketing

While this example may seem absurd, I can assure you it happens more often than you think. In organizations that already have a connected approach with clear buy-in, collaborative processes and a consistent approach, it’s relatively easy to get product marketing more integrated in a content marketing strategy that links product, brand, people, marcom, service, the customer, etc.

However, the reason why in many organizations this proves to be hard is often also due to disconnections that – regardless of theory – are very human in nature and revolve around egos, an inability to work through/beyond the silos and political fights over the ownership of product/brand/content/etc. To get content marketing done, it’s obviously essential product marketing gets included in an overall information process that goes beyond sales enablement, brochure ware and support of whomever has most leverage/power or shouts the most in the organization.

But it requires an understanding that all disconnected efforts that are not known by all stakeholders needing to know them in the organization are essentially largely wasted efforts. And, secondly it requires a clear choice for a consistent and connected business strategy whereby all these stakeholders sit around the table. As Erin writes, this includes sales too. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sales often doesn’t understand a thing about a company’s content marketing strategy, as Ardath Albee illustrated with some data recently. So it’s not just a matter of product marketing. It’s a matter of sales and marketing as well. But most of all it’s a matter of management.

Marketers are to blame as well

All this being said, marketers are often to blame as well. We tend to overlook the roles of sales in the content equation. And when sales isn’t aware of the content we can use, might it be we fail to inform them or to involve them? How often do we create content for sales and/or channel enablement?

With all the competition out there, we often forget content marketing is not just about creating content regarding some category or the interest spheres of a specific target audience at the top of the funnel. It’s not just about about providing stuff that relates to branding, the vague notion of thought leadership, keywords and categories, to name just a few. If there’s a disconnect between sales and marketing, could it be that we don’t understand sales enough? What makes them act? What do they deem relevant for their customers and goals? There is nothing wrong with content about products and content whereby target audiences learn how to solve an issue they’re facing while including products that match the different parts of the solution. Implementation guides, how-to guides featuring products, you name it. Your prospects need them somewhere across the buying journey. And your sales teams need them, at tradeshows for instance.

All this might seem obvious but do we really act upon it? Here’s another lesson from real-life experience: sometimes marketers are having meetings about what content to create next while never leaving their own silo and sitting in big editorial meetings.

And while they have no more clue what to ‘create’ next or need hours of ‘brainstorming’, in another meeting room product managers are explaining to sales everything they need to know about new products and solutions, why they have been developed, what were the market and customer drivers to develop them, and so much more. And at the same time, sales is providing input from the market that helps the product squad. Yes, a lot of great content happening there indeed. Are you there to capture it?

Disconnected content challenges: can a Chief Content Officer help?

Often organizations turn to new functions such as ‘Chief Content Officers’ to solve all the mentioned problems. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter whom you appoint to what new function. If the buy-in and culture is not there or the politics rule, you will always fail.

If the reporting lines, processes, resources and goals are defined so that politics de facto become impossible, more often than not there’s no need to have a new “function”. Unfortunately, this regularly turns out to be a dream until the next CxO comes around.

If sales or any other stakeholder is not interested in looking at content that matters for today’s customer/prospect, you have some serious thinking to do. It’s not just about product and brand and never has been. Any sales person worth that name knows that. The old pre-online age need-based professional selling skill techniques of probing, need/opportunity identification, closing after buying signals and agreement on next steps, etc. still do apply, be it in changed contexts.

Product marketing is not just there to serve a limited number of people/divisions. It’s there because it matters in a holistic chain that in the end is about value. And so is sales. If you’re surprised to see surveys appear showing that some divisions don’t understand the content marketing strategy as in Ardath Albee’s blog or showing that a big proportion of enterprise content is never used (both internally and by customers/prospects) you often best start by looking at the internal turf wars, the buy-in and the degree in which content and information is utterly disconnected from several perspectives.

The other way around: when thinking about a content marketing strategy and making content better available (also to prevent personal content silos), you often best start by looking at everything that’s there and most people forgot about or never knew it existed to start with.

And, yes, start integrating and changing those mindsets and connecting various applications and systems too. Connect what’s disconnected and shouldn’t be. And train your teams and execs to learn how to connect those dots.

PS: content marketing is never done, it’s ongoing, and so is an integrated, intelligent, people-centric and purpose-oriented identification and optimization of all that content now sitting in silos without every being properly used.