What's the difference between a PM, Growth PM & Product Marketing Manager?
+ FAQs around how companies look at these roles
I'll preface this with the usual disclaimer: every company defines it's own boundaries of what such roles do, so it varies.
But first, how are they similar?
To keep things simple, all three care deeply about the customer's problem.
Without a solid understanding of the jobs-to-be-done for their various customer personas, none of these roles can make real impact. All three have to talk to customers, conduct authentic primary research & analyze user behavior.
If they don’t, then it’s akin to throwing darts in the dark which usually results in ugly outcomes like “feature factories” and confused product identities.
Now, let’s look a bit on how the roles differ.
🔸 PMs build a solution for a customer pain point in a manner that works for the business => Get the right product built.
🔺PMMs work on the go-to-market strategy to reach the right audiences & promote the product's utility. => Get the product in the right hands.
🔴 Growth PMs laser focus on a business metric like acquisition or retention & run experiments to optimize for it. => Accelerate the rate with which the product is acquired/retained.
🔸 PMs conduct user interviews, strategize, validate/scope the problem, collaborate on the solution & designs, execute with engineers, ship the product & then track it's performance.
🔺 PMMs understand users/personas, identify where users hang out, craft differentiated messaging, work with creative teams to develop digital assets, promote the product using relevant channels like blogs, landing pages, social media etc. to reach the right audiences.
Evelyn Hartz explains the difference between the 2 using an apt analogy (cereal box = product):
> PMs own getting the cereal ON to the shelf (i.e. ingredients, nutrients, placement in relation to competitors, etc.).
> PMMs own getting you to take the box OFF the shelf (i.e. packaging, pricing, etc.)
🔴 Growth PMs segment audiences, research needs of each, identify growth levers, construct hypothesis, devise experiments, work with engineers/designers to implement them, analyze results & iterate quickly.
A Real-World Example
Scenario: Canva is launching a collaborative whiteboard web app where graphic design teams can hash out cool design concepts together in real-time.
A Product Manager would have:
conducted discovery interviews to understand design team needs.
collaborated with their engineering/designers staff to conceive a solution.
chalked up a PRD/Specs.
finalized a design & worked with engineering to implement them in sprints.
rolled out to production.
tracked behavior & utilization.
A Product Marketing Manager would have:
figured out the persona to target, say, graphic design & marketing teams.
developed a landing page on the Canva website to open a new acquisition flow.
sent out an email to all customers informing them about this.
pushed a social post with a GIF/video announcing the product.
Issued a press release announcing the product launch.
A Growth Product Manager would have:
Decided on a business metric e.g. optimize for paid user acquisition.
Ran an A/B test on the headline of the landing page.
Experimented with the team invitation interface.
Tried variants of the onboarding flow when the whiteboard is being setup.
Devised an email sequence to showcase how others use the whiteboard.
Sent timely reminders before the trial ends.
Here are some questions I got after I published the above piece on LinkedIn along with my thoughts around them:
In the cereal example, what are sample activity owned by the Growth PM? Are they testing something like placement of boxes in which shelf, comparing result of conversion if boxes placed near entrance, or near cashier?
Yes, a growth PM would devise experiments to get the cereal box more attention and figure out a way to accelerate the pick up from the shelf.
Examples might be: Testing shelf placements, tweaking the box messaging and visuals for faster recognition or contrast against other boxes, attaching a health booklet or awareness tips on the side of the box, suggesting a unique box shape or color to the PM, putting a QR code on the box to say, run a contest, working with the PM on bundle offers etc.
Are growth marketing and growth product more or less equivalent here? Or do you see growth product management as a focused subset of growth marketing as a whole? What’s the significant of having “product” in the job title? How is that different between a Product Marketing Manager and Marketing Manager?
The difference is academic at times. They are used interchangeably too.
In my experience, I see them as peers that just use different toolsets/support teams to move the needle.
Again, I’ve seen companies use both job titles interchangeably.
But if we want to be pedantic about, this is how I see it:
Growth PMs use the product to create acquisition and retention.
Ex: they may tweak the signup and onboarding flow.
At Airbnb, PMs ran A/B tests on the Booking button placement.
Growth marketers use marketing tools & initiatives to do the same.
Ex: they may launch a calculator on the marketing site or create a loyalty program.
Workable (recruitment site) launched a directory of job description templates that supercharged their SEO. (their CEO said it was a major pillar in growth).
Product marketers are more in tune with the product roadmap and also influence it if their customer research says otherwise. Marketing Managers do somewhat the same but are usually go knee-deep into performance marketing, branding activation etc. They don't interfere with the product that much; they just market what they're given.
How much control do these roles have over the product (specs, stories, backlog prioritization)? Do they provide input/feedback to the PM as any other role in the company has the capacity to influence?
It depends on what stage of the product you are in.
Lean startup teams can't afford to bifurcate their engineering teams, so everything goes through the PM. A growth marketer/PM in this case would devise the experiment, write a PRD and then lobby for it to the PM/leadership to be added to the sprint.
Larger startups where the product is more modularized and mature may see growth PMs working on an independent pipeline but would still keep in sync with other PMs to understand future roadmaps and so as not to tread on their efforts.
Do orgs which have PMM and Growth PM roles typically also have Marketing Manager and Growth Manager roles? Or is it usually either/or?
I don't see that happening often but it depends on the company stage. Most companies would merge the role. However, if a PMM is great at marketing positioning & strategy but not much depth in performance marketing, they may still hire a Marketing Manager with greater tactical experience in driving paid media or social strategies. It depends on the need.
In most cases, there would be one growth PM and the growth marketer role would be consumed or spread across the marketing team instead of a specific hire being established.
What’s a rough guideline of when these roles are mandated, perhaps by company stage and industry type etc. Eg a seed company is unlikely to have all 3 (and might be a nightmare to manage and coordinate)?
My take would be (from what I see practically happen):
Seed => 1-2 Full-Stack PMs doing broad activities across
Startup => Product Manager + Product Marketer (doing both growth & marketing).
SMB => Multiple PMs, PMMs with a few reports doing tactical growth.
Mid-Market => Multiple PMs, shared GPM & shared PMMs.
Large Enterprise => Separate PM, GPM & PMM for every product line.