Charles Gross on Product Marketing and Dev-as-Marketing (2013)

I watched this YT video via the YT rec engine this morning. It is way back in 2013 from a Google Ventures startup gathering in SV the same year that I landed there — so I wish I saw this live!

I love how Gross gives props to the developer community and how developer transformed how marketing is done today. It’s so true. Think of Guy Kawasaki and what he did for Apple as an evangelist in the early years.

So I went and found the related post from 2013, with his fab overall framing:

“What are the properties and characteristics of the companies we admire most? There are two dimensions we want to execute on: (1) we want to be strategic — we’re driving our respective industries, are an influential center player able to exert real importance and impact; (2) the emotive dimension. The combination of these things are what makes Apple so powerful.”

Gross’ framework of seven tools

#1 Strategic means industry-leading, and emotive means … yeah: feelz.

“The least emotive thing you can do is to use stock photography.” 👈 love this

He points out how all startups start from nothing and get to the opposite quadrant in one of two paths:

#2 Communicate how you are evolving and defining the industry.

#3 Clarify how you differ from what else is out there.

The above graphic is what Salesforce used to explain how it was in the cloud, versus shrink wrapped software. Even though in reality it was software too.

“The essence of differentiation as the negation of something else.”

I like how he points out that we get hung up on “the truth” when in reality our goal is to communicate. But that can be dangerous of course. But if you’re trying to drive adoption to a new idea, it’s useful to consider how important it is to convince people to move to the new paradigm. But definitely you want to be ethical. That’s why this paragraph has three buts! Be careful!

#4 Marketing by telling what’s inside needs to be strategic and aligned with the product’s superpower(s).

Gross points out how the mouse was essential to the introduction of the Macintosh because it’s what made it more powerful than any other computer. He also points out the TiVo — which had a giant pause button on the remote control. Because that is what differentiated what it did: it let you pause television for the first time. So neither the mouse nor the pause button were just mere features. He also points out how we all remember the “flux capacitor” as the differentiator in the Delorean car in the movie Back to the Future.

#5 BD and M&A is an invaluable means to market a company’s evolution.

He points out that from a minimal viable product perspective, you should ask, “What is the quickest and easiest way to market your company through another company’s existing customer base and channels?” His example is how Salesforce leveraged the hype around Skype by adding 5-lines of code to make it easy to dial Skype from Salesforce and immediately had earned media from a product mod versus anything to do from a pure BD perspective.

#6 Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

‘Repetition is the soul of modernity.” Because a message is new to new people. Product marketing needs to repeat its message until they can’t stand it anymore. They need to launch the same product over and over to convey the core message while saying it is new.

“Your individual feature launches are intended to convey the core message about what the core product message is repeatedly. It is not to simply tout the feature. Each new offering provides a new opportunity to repeat the core message. It’s counterintuitive when you are claiming to be new, but you need to say the same message over and over until your voice becomes hoarse.”

👆love that!

#7 PR is about thinking of it from a dev POV as having various APIs.

“We have the core message. We are transforming industry. We are strategic. At the core we have differentiation. We are emphasize how our product delivers that differentiation. We are repeating it over and over. We are using our partners in a product-oriented way instead of a revenue-oriented way to drive more growth.’

“PR has APIs — so don’t try to invoke APIs that don’t exist. Your job is to format your data to those APIs. And those APIs have a stack priority and finite usage limits — so you need to prioritize how you call them. Certain APIs will have more impact than others.”

OMG this 👆 is awesome.

These APIs have a stack rank of importance, from most important to least:

1 Controversy: this is Uber’s entire PR strategy. Works really well but it’s dangerous.

2 Acquisition: even buying a company of one person is far more impactful than a product launch.

3 Financial/funding: IPO, quarterly results

4 Partnership

5 Product launch

6 Hiring

7 Metrics

Think explicitly about the APIs, don’t try to invoke APIs that aren’t there.

He points out how partnership APIs perform better than product launch APIs and how controversy is the most impactful API call — so be careful with that call!


Gross suggests that every product marketing action you take as a startup (or company) simply align with the product marketing strategy — such an obvious place to end, but always so easy to forget on a daily basis.

‘What are you doing on a day-to-day basis to push yourself down the field to become more strategic or more emotive? Think about how everything you do — the language you’re using, every customer/sales communication — pushes you in these dimensions. Repeat your industry narrative that enforces your differentiation, that you’re highlighting through your ingredient branding, that you’re using your partners to amplify, and you’re repeating often by invoking the right APIs.” –Charles Gross

Extra notes

Gross on selling to SMBs vs Enterprise:

“You’re either selling the product to the CEO of a small company, or a department head of a large company. There is no special boundary surrounding enterprise; you’re still selling to everybody.”

He goes on to describe how even in gigantic companies there is a team using Quickbooks out there.