What are examples & characteristics of good partnerships between product managers & product marketers?

Short answer: Marketing owns positioning, the brand, and executes consumer research. Product executes AB tests and brings the brand to life by building a world-class product.

On my first day of work at Netflix in 2005, Russ, our head of design who now worked for me, explained, “Leslie won’t let us use the shade of red we want on the website.”

I knew that Leslie ran marketing at Netflix, and I was curious to know what was going on. “Why not?” I asked.

Russ answered, “I’m not sure. She’s on maternity leave.”

That’s how my job started at Netflix. My predecessor had been VP of Product for only eight months and left a hornet’s nest of issues between marketing and product that I had to resolve quickly.  

The relationship between marketing and product works well when each can clearly define their roles and how they work together. For me, the product marketing partner defines the positioning and brand, builds awareness for the product, and helps research ideas via qualitative research. Product leaders bring product ideas to life and execute AB tests to provide more consumer insight. Teamwork is enabled by individuals who understand how to divide and conquer effectively and are clear about who owns which decisions.

After a week of work, I got Leslie on the phone.  She explained that the product team wanted a red gradient, and “Knowing them, it will bleed to pink.”

It was obvious there was little trust at the time. Over the course of a ten-minute call, we agreed that the marketing team would own the brand definition, including designating the specific Pantone color for red. It was clear that Leslie felt that owning red was an important part of building the Netflix brand.

At Netflix, marketing and product collaborated closely on the non-member page. This storefront invited potential customers to participate in a free, one-month trial. Marketing was responsible for the positioning and the definition of the brand, while the product team focused on building a great experience to transition potential customers into subscribers. Marketing led consumer research, and the product team built the non-member site. The product team also executed AB tests, including pricing. But marketing made the final call on pricing based on these results.

There’s no one right answer. After a year at Netflix, I switched the model. I helped marketing recruit and hire PMs who worked for the marketing team to execute the non-member site. That worked well, too.  But by 2009, when the non-member site functionality was much more technically challenging -- working on lots of TV-based systems and mobile devices -- we brought all the PMs back into the product organization. Over time, I learned to experiment with different organizational structures but was always careful to define the roles, how teams worked together, and who owned which decisions. 

Be willing to have tough conversations about who does what, then do your best to work together over time. Be clear about the marketing strategy, including important goals and metrics, and have the product team do the same. Last, be open to experimentation to see what works in the long-term.

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Gibson Biddle

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