Loved: How to Rethink Marketing for Tech Products
A Book Review
A few attendees at a conference earlier this year asked me if I had read the latest book out of Silicon Valley Partner Group (SVPG) yet—Loved: How to Rethink Marketing for Tech Products by Martina Lauchengco. I hadn’t. It has been on my list since it came out earlier in 2022 but I hadn’t gotten around to it until these past few weeks.
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Loved is the product marketing (PMM) version of the series, tackling the important topics of marketing, go-to-market, etc.
So how does it stack up, and what are the main takeaways for product people? Let’s dive in.
I had several questions I hoped this book would delve into. Which may or may not have been a good approach on my part, as we shall see. Some of them are below:
What is a good definition for PMM?
What is the difference between marketing and PMM?
How can I do better product marketing as a product manager?
What is the line between product management and PMM?
Where are the overlaps between product and PMM, and how do other teams address?
When do we need dedicated PMM?
How should product managers actually work with PMM and are we doing it right?
How should PMM look at a startup, an early stage company, a later stage company, etc.?
Unfortunately, many of my questions either weren’t answered or weren’t deeply addressed. I had hoped to pick up useful insights to do better product marketing as a product manager and to better work with product marketing, but didn’t feel like I got those things. It left me wanting too often for me to feel happy about the book as a product person. I hope that product marketers feel differently, but as a product manager this one left me without all the answers I was hoping for.
Let’s start with some good points.
First, we have a book we can use as a reference. That is a huge point. If we didn’t have something to read, review, and critique based on our experiences, then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. So credit there. And unlike the gif below, we did, in fact, listen to it.
There were also a few really great tidbits, especially toward the end of the book.
For those of us not in marketing, reiterating the difference between positioning (where our products sit in the minds of customers) and messaging (our communication about our product). Positioning is long term while messaging is short term. Both are important, and we use messaging to influence the positioning.
Also, “good messaging doesn’t just say what a product does, it conveys an understanding of who the product is built for”. That really resonated with me because we constantly need to be thinking about our customers and users and not just about our product.
Finally, I appreciated the idea that “product marketing is the product manager of the product story”. At some point PMM takes the story and owns it and helps shape it through messaging into the long-term positioning.
So what was lacking? There are a few key areas that I struggled with in Loved.
I’ve worked with great product marketers and great product marketing teams throughout my career. I’ve been fortunate to see firsthand what great product marketing looks like as we’ve sat in a room and hashed out the go-to-market plan together. Or as we’ve created the product story that PMM then takes and polishes after hours of collaboration, and makes into something incredible. So I understand clearly what PMM can do.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the book offered the type of clarity I was seeking on product marketing.
First, the definition of product marketing felt over-labored. I had to roll my eyes each time it got used:
“Product marketing drives product adoption by shaping market perception through strategic marketing activity that meets business goals.”
I can barely read it now without my eyes glazing over. That’s a terrible definition. Just like the marketing messages that Lauchengco criticizes in the book, that definition lacks punch and feels like it is written for a CEO rather than anyone in product or marketing.
Second, there was no clarity on the role or the boundaries between roles. Lauchengco gives the framework for PMM as:
But that could equally apply to marketing, product, sales, or several other departments in a company. So it is too broad to be useful.
And while the activities that PMM engages in are incredibly useful, they overlap frequently with product management (and UX). While there are often no clear lines (I get it, I live in the gray area), it would be so helpful to paint some boundaries or illustrate where good teams have defined those boundaries.
Which leads us to:
I love stories to illustrate concepts. I use them all the time in this newsletter. But I thought many of the stories in the book were lackluster. The author referred many times to her PMM experience at Microsoft with Word, but that was when Word still shipped in a box each year! Unfortunately, some of the insights gleaned were lessons such as “prioritizing the most important features for the next release” and “talking to customers.” Important lessons, but not exactly new in 2022.
Many other stories didn’t feel incredibly applicable either. Most dealt with very large companies (Salesforce, Expensify, Microsoft, Zendesk, etc.) I would have loved to hear much more applicable stories illustrating tradeoffs teams made. The separation of duties to accomplish something great.
For example, we discussed who owns pricing in an episode of my other podcast. This is a complex topic that deserves a lot of discussion, and directly involves PMM. But Loved didn’t dive into very much at all. So go listen to our discussion for more:
I just didn’t feel the stories chosen for the book did justice to the topic or were the best to illustrate the complexities of product marketing.
Ultimately, I’m not sure that this book is targeted to anyone other than large companies. The Microsofts or IBMs of the world. But most of us won’t ever work at Microsoft or IBM (thankfully—though no offense to those who do).
The author mentions product organizations with “hundreds” of product teams. I’ve never in my career worked at a company with hundreds of product teams. And I never intend to. I suspect that those companies are a small subset of all the companies out there, especially in tech. However, I also suspect that they are a large subset of the companies who hire consultants for workshops, so that may help us understand the target audience for this book.
In small companies with a dozen product teams, a handful of product managers and even fewer product marketers, the needs are incredibly different. But that is not the focus of this book.
Overall, I was disappointed by Loved. I had hoped for a solid book on product marketing with insights or tidbits I could use as a product manager or product leader. I didn’t feel like I got that. It felt more like a heavily corporatized book, focused on the boardroom or consultant. It isn’t an on-the-ground, useful book you can take lessons from and begin applying to your work, in my opinion.
This feels like a trend from SVPG as well. I went easy on Empowered, but the amount of actual useful information coming from SVPG anymore feels small (I went back through all the emails I’ve received for the last year to confirm). It all feels very much like consultant-speak—meant to sound insightful, wise and idealistic, but with no meaning or application. So you buy their services so they can teach you. Like every consultant ever, I suppose…
If you’ve never worked in or with product marketing, this isn’t a book that I could recommend to you. If you have, then you probably won’t get a lot of added value from this book (and may come away more confused). I have a former colleague who is considering a move into product marketing, and I thought about recommending this book, but seriously hesitated because I just don’t think it will help them. Which is unfortunate.
The good news is I’ll be talking to some product marketers in the coming months for my podcast Product by Design and we’ll discuss tips and tricks for how to really do this in the real world. We’ll include some of the answers here in this newsletter as well. I don’t think it needs to be overly complicated, and I’ve worked with some amazing product marketers across several industries over the past decade that can give us some great insight.
More to come soon.