Product Managers as Writers – Is Content the Newest Must-Have Product Feature?

I have been helping a small company get a strategic content generation service launched as part of my product management consulting lately and, in doing so, have stumbled on the theories of Content Marketing.   It is an interesting, fast-growing side-effect of Web 2.0 – now that users are generating content, companies have to begin generating their own quality, relevant, customer-focused content to keep themselves competitive.

I think that it is going to have some significant effects on the role and duties of Product Managers in the future, so I’m going to share my thoughts on the matter.

In order to fully understand the nuances of Content Marketing, I recommend reading the work of Joe Pulizzi and David Meerman Scott, but let me provide a limited definition for our discussion.  Content Marketing is basically the production and distribution of content for customer generation, retention and attention.  However there is a twist – customers don’t want to read endless ramblings about your product.  Rather, they want to read content focused on their business problems and opportunities.  They don’t want sales pitches for your product; they want solutions for their problems, regardless as to whether or not they have anything to do with your product.

Stop and think about that for a second.  They really don’t want to hear about you, your company or your product. They get enough of that through ads, glossies and presentations. Instead, they want to hear about themselves and their business landscape.  Understand this concept and act on it and you can become their “Trusted Advisor” which gives you an “in” that you can leverage to get your product exposure.  Ignore it and you very well may be relegated to an also-ran.

Achieving the “Trusted Advisor” status has significant benefits with both current and potential customers.   Once your company becomes a trusted advisor to your current customers, they will be much more interested in interacting with you and may give you first access to business problems that they are having.  Interestingly, it may be actually more powerful to have trusted advisor status with your potential customers because you will have less work to do for lead generation and credibility establishment.  Your customer will seek you out (and actually be able to find you on search engine) and your established credibility means that sales will have less work to close the first deal.

Okay, great lesson for a marketer, but as a Product Manager I really don’t care…

My friend, you have never been so wrong.  Marketers understand the market, but Product Managers understand the customer and their day to day trials and tribulations. Product Managers are the only ones close enough to the customers to be able to produce content that the customers are actually going read.  Like it or not, you need to be the one generating the content used in the content marketing strategy.  You need to be the one who produces the article on the struggles of implementing CRM experienced by your specific market segment, even though your company doesn’t provide a CRM system.  Or how changing government regulations are causing billing problems for your market segment, even though your product portfolio provides unrelated automation for their warehouses.

You understand their business, their strategies, their problems and their needs inside and out, so you are one of the few individuals in your organization with sufficient insight to develop the right content to become their trusted advisor.  If your company wants to leverage implement Content Marketing, add content generation to your list of duties – fresh, relevant, quality content just became your newest product feature. As with any feature that a product manager develops, you will be responsible for coordinating the activity and ensuring the quality and relevancy.  Writers can be hired and sales can help you produce content ideas, but overall this is going to be your baby.