When Arrows Fly.


Early in my career I had the good fortune of getting some sage advice from Dr. Eric Allenbaugh (allenbaugh.com). Eric said that, throughout my life and career, I should expect to have arrows shot at me. We all do. Some, he said, would be deserved, and others not.

His advice was to smile back politely at the “shooter” when they weren’t deserved while visualizing the arrows flying by me. When they were deserved, he coached me to let the arrows “hit” so that I could  learn from them. Eric stressed that I’d know which arrows were deserved and which were not, and he was so right!

Fast forward many, many years...

As my colleagues and I from PMPathlights were developing our methodology for Rapid Growth Readiness and PMPathlights (as in Product Marketing Pathlights) 18 months or so ago, I sought the advice of Tom Williams, another wise industry leader I’m fortunate to know. As I pontificated on my pitch, Tom loaded the arrow (kindly, I might add). 

While Tom had many positive things to say, his most valuable comment was...“You know a lot of individuals view product marketing as a failed premise.” 

OUCH!  That arrow hurt.

But the reason I let it hit (thank you, Eric!) is because I absolutely knew Tom was right. That was actually the reason why our group of experienced product marketers had determined to create our own methodology in the first place – we are tired of our efforts having far less success than they should or could.

So, like all good product marketers robotically should do when arrow-worthy feedback pierces them, we returned to make adjustments on the drawing board.  What emerged -- and what we’ve been testing with customers for the past year -- is a belief that product marketing’s “failed premise” perception is not rooted in our value proposition, but in how we have delivered it. We had become the cliché arrow that we like to shoot – a product in search of a problem.

Product marketing’s challenge is not one of what we analyze and assemble but rather of how we make that insight relevant in context.

Our work is voluminous. If it's not, we maybe aren’t doing it all that well. But how it contributes to the collaborative intelligence of the organization must be contextually concise, and not static. And on that point, we have largely failed.

This is particularly true for organizations immersed in Teams, Slack or Chatter.  No one there is pausing to go read our latest essay, case study or FAB matrix. Instead, colleagues are being messaged for a summary to use. While that approach can work, the risks are high as messaging easily morphs as it moves around the organization. 

Similarly, in organizations with traditional communications methods, most team members look to colleagues rather than digital repositories for the stories to tell and content to share.

So how do we become part of these processes?  How do we move from the “failed premise” to a profound contributor to the organization?  

At PMPathlights, we suggest the answer lies in the following Six C's:

First and foremost, invite yourself into every conversation. Be the person (aka “source”) in Slack or Teams channels who answers the questions. Monitor Chatter to determine when you should chime in and add value!

Don’t cut corners. Whether you use SiriusDecisions, Pragmatic Marketing or our PMPathlights framework, be thorough in the research and analysis you do.  

However … make sure to boil down your “complete” work into concise messaging. Match to the audience and how they will consume the content.  PMPathlights uses a tiered approach with four levels … the 60-character headline, the 25-word summary, a rule-of-threes overview and the detailed content. You can copy this approach or create your own, but stay concise within the front-line communications stream.  

A consideration at this stage is a return to the "Who, What, When, Where, Why and How" journalistic outline of the telegraph era. As you likely recall, this outline was designed to ensure that the essential information got through even if the telegraph went down before the full story was transmitted. In a world of micro content messaging, the risk of longer messages getting through may be equal to the challenges of the telegraph era.

More than anyone else in the organization, product marketers should know the importance of context to messaging. We need to stay disciplined internally, too. Our audience might be captive but if we aren’t contributing contextually, we aren’t just perceived as irrelevant, we are irrelevant. It is not fair to presume that our colleagues will complete the contextual mapping from our resources to the customer or prospect engagement.

5. COPY (and pasteable)
If we want product marketing produced content to be used in the primary methods of communications, we need to be highly friendly to that format.  What is produced must be easily copied and pasted into common communication streams … making complete, concise and contextual all the more important!

Finally, connect the micro-content to richer content that supports it. Use the four tiers outlined above or another method but in every case make it easy for your internal team to access the in-depth content and for them to share it with those they are engaging with outside the organization.

At PMPathlights we confess to being far from perfected in the methods of the Six C's. But we’re committed to continually improving our methodology to ensure we fulfill on the premise of product marketing as a strong guidance system for the sales and marketing actions of every organization -- including our own! Moving forward, we’re happy to watch any arrows aimed our way fly on by! 


Stephen Tucker

Stephen Tucker is an innovative marketing professional who excels at building and revitalizing products, markets, brands and demand-generation systems. Email Stephen.