Loved Martina Lauchengco

The Supermarket of Software

Consider your neighborhood supermarket. When you walk in, you see somewhere between 40,000 – 50,000 products. How do you decide which to buy? Do you buy products you already know? How often do you buy something you haven’t tried before or substitute a product with something new?

In tech, we’re asking people to shop in a virtual supermarket of software that’s more like 100x the size. Most of what they see they don’t know, and one category alone can occupy 20% of the shelf-space. 

For example, the most recent annual martech report featured 9,932 solutions. That’s nearly as many solutions in that one category as there are cities on the entire planet! Do you build an app? Between the iOS and Android ecosystems, there are 5.5 million of them. That’s as many people as there are in the city of Miami. Even if you live in Miami, how many people do you actually know?

This is simply too much for mere mortals. And yet, we keep building more products, expecting if we build it, they will come. 

Those days are long gone. And while product marketing is the foundational work that helps clarify what a product does and why someone should care, there is simply not enough product marketing talent in the world to do all the product marketing required. If you’re building a product, you must also think of go-to-market as you build. You’re connecting your product’s value to how the market already works.

SVPG has long argued that understanding product value (whether customers will buy it or users will choose to use it) is the most challenging to de-risk. Yet I continue to see far too many products that are usable, feasible, reasonable for a business, and have value to some customers, but don’t reach their true market potential. It’s because the standard defining value simply isn’t high enough to stand out in the supermarket of software.

For any product to reach its adoption and commercial potential, its value must be exceptional enough to displace an existing product, behavior or belief. It must do so for customers who can also help grow your business. Figuring this out is an iterative, dynamic process in which every product leader must be a partner and ask “what can we do better to enable evangelistic product adoption?”

You might have six areas of product value, but message only one. Not because the other five areas don’t add value, but simply because if you message all six, the most convincing area of value gets lost or diminished.

You might ditch the technical terms describing what you do and make it more “human readable”–even if you’re marketing to a really technical crowd. What a term means to those with deep category knowledge versus what it means to those dealing with the problem every day might be different enough that they don’t realize what you have to say applies to them. 

You might prioritize one set of features over another because it helps engender word-of-mouth or is better at convincing customers they should upgrade. This might translate to investing more heavily in using the product itself to grow adoption. Or even just packaging products differently.

Each one of these real-life examples is a classic product marketing challenge, but it was a product team that discovered a meaningful insight in their discovery work that had go-to-market implications. It was then worked on together with product marketing to decide what marketing actions should be taken as a result. This is the collaborative building of a product’s go-to-market. 

Strong product marketing is always an outcome of a deep collaboration between product, marketing and sales. That said, in many companies, the product team takes the lead – either because of resource constraints, lack of product knowledge, or because they’re furthest forward in discovery work when it comes to new solutions.

Yet every product leader I know already has more on their plate than they know how to do. Don’t think of product marketing work as “in addition to.” Rather, it is a way to frame the work you’re already doing so you learn and benefit from more market signal as you build. This in turn, makes product marketing stronger which helps accelerate product adoption.

The four fundamentals of product marketing frame what must be learned and done–whether it comes from the product or marketing side. I will explore each in subsequent articles and excerpts from LOVED. But for now, here is a primer on how to think about how they apply to product teams’ work.

  1. Ambassador. Connect the market and customer insights. If all you do is ask at every prioritization meeting “what’s some market wind that could be at our back?” or “will this make customers wildly evangelistic?” you’ll be connecting your product to market realities in a more meaningful way.
  2. Strategist. Direct your product’s go-to-market. Healthy product adoption comes from making every market-facing action count. This includes deciding on go-to-market models and what mix works best for your business. How much is product-led versus product sales-assisted versus done by a direct sales force?
  3. Storyteller. Shape how the world thinks about your product. Based on how you’re positioning your product you may decide to prioritize what you build differently. This can be powerful in shaping a product’s perception.
  4. Evangelist. Enable others to tell the story. What others say matters more than ‘official’ marketing and in the product world, this includes what your product does. What converts a casual user into an engaged, repeat user or has them bring in a colleague or friend? 

If nothing else, consider how these four fundamentals should reframe some of what you already do. It will make your product more market-ready from the start and help it stand out in the supermarket of software.