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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Getting Strategic Marketing Input: A Product Manager's Challenge

I've run across as many approaches to marketing as organizations I've belonged to. While I've met some very impressive professionals and have seen stellar execution in terms of communication at the tactical level, I must admit I haven't had the same luck getting market-oriented strategic input from marketing. To be fair, I think this gap was due more to organization setup and motivation than the skills and knowledge of the professionals involved. Regardless, although I've never felt at all that I could/should rely completely on marketing for strategic insight, I've always been convinced getting some insight is a reasonable ask.

This quandary had lead me to think about what other expectations I can reasonably have of marketing from a strategic perspective. For example, I've also rarely gotten good insight on the competitive landscape. Once again, I don't expect marketing to serve me up a platter of perfect information: I expect to contribute to knowledge about competitors too -- I just expect something. Anything.

One might think that given my background in huge shops, a well oiled marketing machine would inundate me with market insights. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. One might expect these mature, fairly bureaucratic organizations would force marketing to at least go through motions of penning a marketing requirements document (MRD). Once again, one would be wrong in my case.

I'm very curious what others think are reasonable expectations of marketing in terms of strategic insight. Please don't respond with the obvious observation that we PMs are accountable for gathering this information. I have always accepted this accountability but couldn't help expecting a bit of support. Here's a short list of things I would have liked some relevant insight into:
  • "Mega trends" shaping related markets
  • Input on defining the market segments we should target
  • Key functional trends in related products (new capabilities, for example)
  • Key players in the competitive landscape
  • Fodder for at least the OT dimensions of a SWOT analysis
What are your experiences? What strategic insight do you expect from marketing? What kind of insights have you gotten?


  1. Even in large orgs, todays marketing orientation is around promotions and programs rather than the strategic items you mention. I only rarely work with teams who have any domain or market expertise in the marketing department. Instead, the marketers rely entirely on product management and sales people to provide market insights, asking "where should we promote?" and "what should we say?"

    In my work with product managers, I implore them to write really strong positioning documents so today's marketing teams can just copy-and-paste straight out of the document.

  2. Hi Steve,
    I implore the product managers I work with to set reasonable expectations of marketing and, ideally, work on the value props together (I consider the PM accountable though). A quick look at job postings for many product-oriented marketing positions reveals that there is some general expectation that they offer market insight (perhaps based on the market research the postings say they should be doing). I think it's worthwhile to at least make the ask -- if we don't, we'll probably never get strategic insight from them. Although good positioning is key to good messaging, I still think marketing needs some firsthand information/context to make it as effective as possible. I'm hoping we'll hear from some marketing folks in this thread. As I said in the post, the problem is often what they are incented and/or given time to do.