Advice for Prospective Product Marketers

You never know what will happen at holiday parties, do you? In my case, it was a rather tame – but titillating, all the same – invitation to speak as a part of the University of Denver’s Writers@Work writing series. So last week, I was pleased to finally join the series and address around 15 students and a handful of professors on the topic of writing in product marketing.

I began with my own journey as a writer and explained what product marketers do, why the Denver tech scene is so damned hot, and what are the types of B2B writing you produce for sales, product, and marketing teams. I presented as many examples as I could reasonably fit into an hour, including a real lead gen campaign with ads, emails, eBooks, and sales scripts.

Before answering a few follow-up questions, I finished with practical advice for the would-be career writers. Here are the five tips I gave them to remember (when all else that I said was forgotten):

1. Writing is your Superpower

I explained that, of the roughly 285,000 individuals working in technology in the Denver metro area, probably less than a tenth of those were reasonably decent writers. “You have a gift,” I told the students. “Know that the ability to write in clear, concise and persuasive prose is in high demand in the tech industry.” World-changing technology means nothing if you cannot coherently write about how it will change the world.

2. Always know your audience

I had already spent time explaining the importance of buyer personas, and I reiterated that you must write content with the audience in mind. If you do not understand the needs, motivations and pains of your prospective customer, you cannot be an effective product marketer. As scary as it sounds, talk to customers, and whenever in doubt, return to them and ask what they think. True Voice of Customer will always trump your intuition.

3. Go deep, but don’t get lost

I estimate it takes a fairly smart marketer between 6 to 12 months to internalize their employer’s products, markets and messaging. By this I mean that you are creating authentic and compelling content and are no longer just parroting back what you’ve been taught by co-workers. I urged the students to stay long enough to reap the rewards of this internalization, rather than hop along to the next job every 8 to 10 months. I also warned of getting lost in senseless business drivel like “leverage” (always a noun, never a verb) and “scalability,” which come off as fakery and are a second-rate writer’s crutch.

4. Editing is your Secret Weapon

Just as important as writing in marketing is the ability to edit your colleagues’ work. I asked that the students consider taking a basic editing course, which hardly anyone offers these days. Learning to edit for grammar and meaning not only makes for more impactful content, it helps to reinforce the voice and style of the company’s brand. AND it definitely makes you a stronger writer. Behind the best writers in the world are the editors that help them perfect their art.

5. Build your tech toolset

Lastly, I reminded the students to invest time in learning the tools of the trade: Word, PowerPoint, InDesign, Photoshop, and basic HTML. In B2B product marketing, an early mastery of this toolset means that you can spend most of your time crafting the message instead of struggling with the technology you use to promote it. As with #4 above, you increase your value when your skills make everyone else in the company seem to write as well as you do.

Why Doesn’t Denver Get the Cool Technologies?

It’s a running joke here in Colorado that Denver was, is and always will be a pokey, fly-over “Cow Town.” While the annual stock show does nothing to dispel that perception, it’s quite fun to attend. Far more harmful to our reputation as a progressive city is when entrenched markets unfairly use their influence to obstruct the introduction of innovative technologies like Uber, the new limo-ordering service. 

Now don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly love my adopted city of Denver, flaws, cows and all. Yet I submit that we’re not really as edgy and progressive as we’d like to think. Even Boulder. Often it’s fear of change that makes the rules and ultimately rules the day.

Sure, we have the successful B-Cycle program and our glacially expanding Light Rail project. But I think we’re trailing truly progressive cities like Seattle because they openly encourage an experimental spirit. Here are three examples I saw of businesses in that region that are applying technology in new ways to improve customer satisfaction.

Amazon Locker in Seattle1. Amazon Lockers

I noticed the first of these fairly nondescript golden monoliths while pumping gas in Phinney Ridge. “Willa,” pictured on the left, is an Amazon Locker, a delivery system that offers quick, secure, 24-hour access to decent-sized orders. All you need to open your locker is a code sent to your email or smart phone.

What a discovery! Who knew Amazon would deliver directly to your neighborhood? I certainly didn’t, because Denver was not one of the seven cities chosen to test this service. I’d like to know why we were skipped over.

And I’m still trying to work out why Amazon feels the need to imbue their lockers with personality and a human name. I can sense the confusion already:

Sally (tentative): “Honey, you came home so late last night. Be honest: are you seeing someone else?”
Brad (defensively): “No! Okay, I guess I did visit with Willa, but it’s just business. You know that.”
Sally (beginning to sob loudly): “Oh, God, I hate her. Every time she texts, you run right away to see her. Can’t you see she’s just a cold, heartless machine, incapable of real love?”
Brad: “Huh?”

2. Shopping Cart Escalators

Fred Meyers escalatorNext, I had a George H.W. Bush scanner moment in a Fred Meyers, the Northwest Pacific’s version of Target. Descending to the basement in search of water shoes, I gawked in wonder at the sight next to me: a second escalator adapted to transport your shopping cart between floors.

Like an unsophisticated hick from The Sticks, I took a picture. Of an escalator. Or maybe we should call it a cartalator.

But it was so sensible. So simple. So elegant. So Lean: zero time wasted waiting for an elevator! Sigh. Yet another service innovation we don’t have in Denver. Not even at the new IKEA.

3. Sushi, Delivered to Your Table via Conveyor Belt

sushi conveyor This was Blue C Sushi: “Where Japanese tradition and technique intersect with American inventiveness and genuine hospitality.” What’s not to love?

  • No wait for food: simply select what you want as the conveyor moved by your table.
  • Clearly labeled products in transparent containers.
  • Only six product prices, each visually defined by a system of six distinct plate colors.
  • A snap for the wait staff to count the plates by color and calculate the final bill.
  • Fun for the kids!

Seattle may be wet and remote, and I-5 traffic sucks, but I admire how the businesses there are willing to try out new technologies to improve their customer service. And as a result, no none will ever confuse them with a Cow Town.