Marketing & Advertising

How to Become a Product Marketing Manager

How to Become a Product Marketing Manager
If having a hand in every facet of a product's development, refinement, and launch sounds amazing, becoming a product marketing manager might be for you. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry January 22, 2020

Very few roles in marketing are as multidisciplinary or as misunderstood as product marketing manager. Frequently confused with product managers, these Mad Men are storytellers, product designers, data analysts, sales advisors—and key players in bringing products to market.

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Selling a product, whether physical or digital, means convincing people they need it. One approach to making that sale—the more traditional and more common approach—is to focus on figuring out who customers are and what they want. The story of the product itself, in traditional marketing, is far less important than the value customers invest it with.

Product marketing represents an alternate approach, one that acknowledges that products need to have captivating (and consistent) stories. Adequately framed and presented, these stories excite potential customers and inspire customer loyalty. They can even galvanize customers to become brand evangelists, loyal consumers who not only always use a specific product but who also love to talk about it and convince others to try it. Inspiring such loyalty isn’t easy; it can involve everything from market research to marketing analytics to UX design and product design.

That’s exactly why Pat Ma, Leadspace’s product marketing manager, loves his job. In a post on the company blog, he writes: “On any given day, I can be working with R&D, Product, Marketing, Sales, or Customer Success—and usually coordinating activities across these teams to ensure a consistent go-to-market strategy and execution.”

Product marketing managers, or PMMs, oversee all the disparate elements and employees that are a part of product marketing. They:

  • Collaborate with product designers and product managers on launches
  • Conduct extensive research to make sure assumptions about customer needs and wants are correct
  • Shape the narratives that ultimately determine how consumers perceive a product

This is a great time to be an aspiring PMM. More companies are investing in this role, and not all require applicants to have a master’s degree. Marketing and/or business experience and a keen understanding of the value of product marketing are, at least for now, more important than your educational background.

In this article about how to become a product marketing manager, we’ll cover:

  • What does a product marketing manager do?
  • How does a product marketing manager differ from a product manager?
  • What skills do you need for product marketing jobs?
  • What education do you need to be a product marketing manager?
  • Do you need an MBA to be a product marketing manager?
  • How long does it take to become a product marketing manager?
  • What is the average salary for a product marketing manager?
  • Do you have what it takes to be a product marketing manager?

What does a product marketing manager do?

Product marketing managers are product narrative experts, defining the value of a product and creating the narrative around that value. Their responsibilities can include:

  • Conducting competitor analysis
  • Undertaking market research
  • Developing product launch strategies
  • Creating digital marketing campaigns
  • Working with product teams to refine designs
  • Providing consistent marketing vision
  • Supervising the development of customer-facing messaging
  • Overseeing outbound marketing across channels like email, social media, etc.
  • Optimizing and refining marketing strategies
  • Cultivating messaging strategies for sales
  • Generating advertising and promotions
  • Identifying influencer marketing partners
  • Training salespeople on products
  • Assessing the effectiveness of the product narrative and value proposition
  • Supervising a product marketer team

What any individual PMM does depends on their employer and area of expertise. Some product marketing managers specialize in customers, and their primary function is to support the product management team. Together, they develop and validate product design and product launch strategies based on input gathered by the marketing manager. Other PMMs aren’t involved in product strategy; they are primarily responsible for developing and communicating the product narrative. In both cases, however, PMMs work closely with engineers, experience designers, marketers, data analysts, and salespeople because all of them benefit from customer insights gleaned from user and market research.



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How does a product marketing manager differ from a product manager?

The difference between product marketing managers and product managers isn’t cut and dried because companies define these roles in various ways. In general, however, product managers (sometimes called PMs) are entirely responsible for the success of a product, and they provide oversight over that product’s full development lifecycle. PMs manage the designers, engineers, brand specialists, marketers, and all the other professionals involved in creating, launching, and selling a product. Their guidance determines what’s built, how it’s built, and what comes next after production.

Product marketing managers, on the other hand, are hyper-focused on how the needs of the customer fit into that development lifecycle. They are responsible for making sure that the company understands what people want, that the product being built meets those needs, and that all externally-facing messaging communicates the product’s value.

What skills do you need for product marketing jobs?

Most importantly, product marketing managers need to have a firm grasp of marketing fundamentals (like market research and audience analytics), content development, and the product development lifecycle. On top of that, product marketing managers need to have excellent listening and communication skills and a talent for identifying trends.

Product marketing managers must be able to:

  • Understand the product roadmap across the full lifecycle
  • Run effective market research projects
  • Develop strategic product marketing plans
  • Oversee integrated marketing campaigns
  • Gather business requirements and use cases
  • Understand customer requirements and communicate those to stakeholders
  • Use research and analytics tools to analyze competitors and customers
  • Manage new product introduction (NPI)
  • Create persuasive product narratives or help others develop them
  • Develop and deliver training presentations for sales and support teams
  • Comb through large data sets to find product use and perception trends
  • Use competitor and customer data to develop product positioning strategies
  • Identify influencers in relevant industries

What education do you need to be a product marketing manager?

Job listings for product marketing managers frequently lack specific degree requirements. When job posts do specify that applicants have a degree, the requirements are often frustratingly vague, like:

  • Four-year degree in marketing, business, or similar
  • Bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, or related field desired
  • Bachelor’s or graduate degree in marketing, business, technology, or related field
  • Degree in marketing, advertising or related field

What’s clear is that you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in a subject tangentially related to marketing. Don’t bother looking for degrees in product marketing or product marketing management, however, because those degrees don’t exist. It’s also unusual to find a bachelor’s degree in marketing program with a product marketing concentration. If you’re serious about becoming a product marketing manager, look for BS in Marketing programs that have classes in product marketing or, at the very least, product management and brand management. You should also look for opportunities to complete one or more internships at businesses that have a product marketing department.

After earning your degree, you have two options: go to work and get a few years of marketing experience or enroll in a master’s degree program. Applying for entry-level positions in marketing is a good idea if you want to spend some time paying down student loans, or you have your eye on a master’s or MBA program that requires applicants to have relevant work experience. If, on the other hand, you want to get a master’s degree as quickly as possible, there are plenty of advanced degree programs that accept recent graduates.

Because this role and the discipline behind it are relatively new, you also won’t find a lot of schools offering master’s degrees in product marketing or product marketing management. There aren’t a lot of master’s programs offering product marketing concentrations or specialization tracks, either. This will probably change in the future, but for now, you should look at master’s degrees like the:

Which degree you choose may depend on your interests and where your curiosity lies. Are you more interested in learning about the management side of becoming a product marketing manager? Or do you want to dive deeper into product marketing? Maybe you have plenty of experience in product marketing but need to brush up your business fundamentals. Whatever your motivation, don’t rely on degree names alone when choosing between programs. Check out the curriculum of each because many marketing master’s degree programs don’t touch on product management at all.

Do you need an MBA to be a product marketing manager?

The quick and dirty answer is no—any advanced degree in marketing will do. The long answer is that getting an MBA might be your fast-track to management. Some hiring managers want product marketing managers who have extensive experience in product marketing and are more likely to hire an applicant with a bachelor’s degree and plenty of experience in lower-level marketing positions. However, other companies are looking for candidates with a business background and management skills. The bottom line is that you won’t find one set advancement path when you’re looking at how to become a product marketing manager.

You always won’t find—surprise, surprise—MBA concentrations in product marketing management or even product marketing. The Foster School of Business at University of Washington is one of the few schools offering an MBA with a product marketing specialization. The good news is that there are plenty of relevant internships for MBAs who are interested in product marketing. Cornell University‘s SC Johnson College of Business even offers MBA students the opportunity to complete a paid strategic product and marketing externship during their enrollment.

Are there certifications for product marketing managers?

Yes, though not many and certification isn’t required. The most relevant credential you can get is probably the Certified Product Marketing Manager (CPMM) designation offered by the Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM). Technically, there are no prerequisites required to earn this certification—anyone can access the study materials and take the 120-question exam—but the AIPMM does recommend those pursuing it have at least an MBA or three or more years of experience in product marketing.

How long does it take to become a product marketing manager?

It’s possible to land a product marketing manager job with just three years of experience because this is such a new field. Some product market managers spend years in lower-level marketing positions and work as product marketing specialists before moving into management. Others are pulled into the role from other marketing management positions. Still others come from backgrounds seemingly unrelated to marketing, like UX design or business analytics. What all product marketing managers have in common is that they have cultivated the skills necessary to tell a consistent and compelling story about why a product is important.

What is the average salary for a product marketing manager?

Product marketing managers typically earn quite a bit more than other marketing professionals. According to Indeed, the average product marketing manager salary is about $116,000. Glassdoor reports that most product marketing managers make about $105,000 and that the highest-paid product marketing managers make about $140,000. How much you’ll actually make in this role will depend on where you work. A product marketing manager at a large global software company headquartered in a major city will probably make more than one at a startup in a smaller city.

Do you have what it takes to be a product marketing manager?

That depends on how determined you are. This is a hard position to land because many companies can’t afford to hire a full-time product manager, or they don’t see the value of having both a marketing manager and a product marketing manager. And the role itself is a demanding one. When you become a product marketing manager, you’ll collaborate with many departments and be involved in every stage of the product development lifecycle.

If you’re not excited about the idea of being a jack-of-all-trades—market researcher, data scientist, marketing strategist, business analyst, design consultant, copywriter, and brand strategist—you may be happier in a traditional marketing role. But if you think having a hand in every facet of a product’s development, refinement, and launch sounds amazing, this might be the role for you.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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