33 Rules Product Marketeer Need to Know

Being a product marketeer is a noble calling. We have the privileged task of connecting with our customers and building relationships with them across a wide variety of media and methods. We are so much more than people who can package various technical giblets into a coherent data sheet or make an ugly slide less so. We are the ones who describe not just what the product is, but tell a compelling story about how it will help our customers be better in what they care about.

While there is a wide range of training to help product marketers hone their skills – courses on how to frame a story, how to speak and present with confidence, how to make good looking slides – I find there is a huge gap. No one covers the key soft skills required to become a successful and in-demand product marketeer. And worse, no one explicitly tells you what NOT to do.

After a year’s hiatus, I have the privilege to manage a team again. In trying to find ways to do a high bandwidth brain dump to them on what I have learned about being a good marketeer, I decided to finally write down The Rules. These are sacred commandments passed on to me by great bosses and coaches; proscriptions I have though my own failures and by observing those of others; and simple truths I have learned over the course of my career.

The Rules are not the be-all and end-all of product marketeering but meant to guide you on your journey to product marketeering Nirvana. They address skills across the spectrum of a product marketeers job – from presentations, to working in a team to career development and more. None of us are perfect and following The Rules is a career-long struggle. If you transgress against them, learn the error of your ways and vow not to do so again.

The Rules

Rule #1 – The Rules are Sacred
Obey the Rules. If you transgress against them, learn the error of your ways and vow not to do so again.

Rule #2 – Pass on The Rules
It is your sacred duty to guide the uninitiated – the more initiates, the better place the marketing world will be.

Rule #3 – It is Marketeer Not Marketer
Marketers are how the tactical, uninitiated, describe themselves. Marketeers are focused on the total customer experience and acknowledge the rules.

Rule #4 – Say It in One Slide
You may never get off the first slide, so be prepared to start with a comprehensive summary. And, if you can’t explain it in one slide then you don’t know it well enough.

Rule #5 – Stand When Presenting
You need to own the room when presenting and it is nigh-on-impossible to do that from a seated position. And you had better make eye contact with key decision makers.

Rule #6 – Each Slide Has One Job
Audiences can’t easily grok multiple concepts jammed into a slide. Focus on making each slide a single takeaway. A similar concept applies to paragraphs of text. And if you work in tech, know the meaning of “grok”.

Rule #7 – Real Differences Have Significance
The only product differences worth focusing on are those that significantly benefit your customers, everything else is immaterial. It doesn’t matter that your product has state of the art Spacely sprockets if they don’t solve a work or personal pain point.

Rule #8 – Animation is a Sign of Weakness
Using animation to make a point in a presentation means you haven’t found a better, simpler way to do it. Only use it as a last resort when all other ways to tell your story have failed.

Rule #9 – Respect and Police Your Brand
We are guardians of the brand and deliver a consistent look and feel and ensure that others do as well. You should be able to recite the RGB codes for corporate colors as easily as your phone number.

Rule #10 – Be a Renaissance Man or Renaissance Woman
Great marketeers are well-rounded and curious personalities not the left brain driven analytical types. We synthesize facts and desires to build compelling stories and need to poke and prod to get them. We pay attention to other industries and how they use marketing.

Rule #11 – Don’t Sell Past the Close
Once your audience has agreed with you, sit down or leave. Don’t waste their time trying to provide more information or worse, say something that will make them reconsider.

Rule #12 – Money is the Best Tie Breaker
When trying to decide between two good choices, choose the one that will make more money for the company or the customer. And if it does both you know you have a winning idea.

Rule #13 – Don’t Make Someone Else Carry Your Monkey
Problems are monkeys, and don’t dump yours on the back of other folks. Instead, ask others to help evaluate pros and cons of potential solutions that you have developed do deal with your simian challenges. It’s your monkey, you deal with it – with help.

Rule #14 – Never Confuse Selling and Installing
Our job as marketeers is to build a broad, aspirational message and to tell the right story at the right time. Start big and broad, then slowly get into thew weeds. Nitty technical considerations need to be addressed later in the sales not at the first customer meeting.

Rule #15 – Know If You Are Selling The Car or the Cupholders
Cup holders help consumers make a decision between two similar cars, but only once they have decided on a specific car type. Understand which features and benefits of your product are in each category and develop your messaging appropriately.

Rule #16 – “Before Going Out, Look in the Mirror and Take One Thing Off”
Coco Chanel’s advice also applies for your content – get in the habit of doing one final review just for the purpose of deleting things before you publish. Remember, less is always more.

Rule #17 – Answer the Question That Was Asked
And in the units asked for. Don’t start an answer by trying to dazzle with your deep knowledge. Answer what was asked and then elaborate as needed.

Rule #18 – Work From Right to Left
At a macro level this rule means you are more likely to have success if your work plan is developed by building your plan starting from the goal/deadline and in reverse order identifying the critical path to get there. At a micro level, it means tackle the most complete items before taking on new ones.

Rule #19 – People are Either Pigs or Chickens, So Treat Them as Such
The chicken contributes to breakfast, the pig gives a part of himself. Know who will do the work and who will advice or comment. Don’t be afraid to respond to a chicken’s suggestions with “thanks I’ll take that under advisement.”

Rule #20 – Value is What Customer Will Pay For
This is corollary to Rule 12, but focused on prioritizing your messages. A value statement has to be something for which customers will be willing to spend money, not something that just makes them feel good.

Rule #21 – Write It Before You Say It
A picture may tell a thousand words, but it needs to be the right words. Write out your key message (and get it reviewed) before you build out your tonnage of assets. Same for presentations – script first, then slides.

Rule #22 – “I Don’t Know” is an Acceptable Answer
Especially when followed by “But I will find out.” You establish credibility with customers by being an honest advisor, but we can’t know everything. So if you aren’t sure, don’t guess and take an action to get the answer.

Rule #23 – In God We Trust, All Others Bring Data
Back up your statements with facts. If you say your product saves time or money you need to back it up with how much. Give an aggregate or example. Remember “up to” can cover a lot of sins, but you have to be able to defend it.

Rule #24 – Know What Good Looks Like
Before you start a project, identify how you know that it will be successful and worth the effort. What behavior or thinking will it charge, what new business it will drive, etc.. As you work on it refer to you objective to stay on track and avoid quagmires.

Rule #25 – You Own Your Relationship with Your Boss
Your boss is not a god, no matter how good she is. And likely she has 5+ other reports so your needs may not always be top of mind. Make sure you have an agenda for getting what you need out of your boss – both for tactical work and for strategic career growth – and execute on it regularly,

Rule #26 – When Filming Video, Hire a Makeup Person
Makeup makes a difference for the harsh eye of the camera, even for men. Having your customer, boss or self captured in perpetuity looking like an East German Stasi prisoner hinders the effectiveness of the message you want to convey.

Rule #27 – Bring Backup, and Seat Them Appropriately
Tough meetings require help. There is no shame in bringing your technical or finance or sales person to be able to call on when you need it. Have them seat where you can make eye contact to have them jump in without you having to lose face by asking for it.

Rule #28 – Sales Education is NOT Product Training
Teaching your sales force about your product is necessary but it is not sufficient for complete education. You need to include everything to help the poor schmuck who used to sell copiers last month – how to identify opportunities, when to qualify out, how to handle objections, competitive positioning and even how to order.

Rule #29 – Never Let the Boss Unknowingly Lie
We don’t lie in marketing and need to make sure that others around us don’t as well. What message you tell your boss to deliver should be caveated to note potential pitfalls. If he wants to stretch with a message beyond what can be factually supported that is his call.

Rule #30 – Feedback Should be About the Work and Not the Person
To grow your team make it clear that you aren’t personally criticizing the author but focused on the deliverable. Yeah Colin may be an SOB but guide him on what a good message looks like and watch your pronouns – “the message should be” versus “you need to say.”

Rule #31 – Find the Path to Yes
Too often projects get vapor locked because team members end up incessantly arguing with themselves what they think other will allow or deny. First figure out what you want to do and why. Then ask the 3rd party for their advice and help to get to that goal, not for their permission.

Rule #32 – Don’t Name the Farm Animals
You will have to kill a project at some point, so don’t get personally attached to any of them.  Be objective and do what is right for the company or customer no matter how much effort you have put into it.

Rule #33 – Hacks Are Dangerous
We have all done something quick and dirty that then spreads beyond its intended purpose. Don’t be the person who created the wrong message that ends up in the keynote. Do it right the first time, even if “you will only use it once.”

BONUS Rule #34 – It’s About the Content Stupid
Marketeers live and die by the content that they create. Make creating and producing the effective content for our various audiences should be your top priority. And maintain a portfolio of you best non-confidential work to use when applying for jobs in the future.

Submit your suggestions for additional rules

† Hat Tip to The Velominati for inspiring these rules with their most excellent set for cycling. If you bike, I encourage you to read and follow the Keepers of the Cog, especially Rule 5.