The basics

Name: Darren McPhee
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Title: Director of Product Marketing
Company: BlueCat
Education: BBA
Social handles: Twitter

Tell us about your path into the tech world and your product marketing role.

A friend of mine in university showed me how to build a computer and I was hooked on technology. My first job in tech was as a Product Marketing Engineer at ATI and I spent seven years advancing through the product management organization but my first love was marketing. When AMD acquired ATI in 2006 I had an opportunity to move over to marketing and spent the next nine years as a Product Marketing Manager and ultimately Director of Product Marketing. I decided to leave in 2016 to find a new experience in a new industry, and consider myself extremely lucky to be working at BlueCat, a truly unique and dynamic company.

How did you know product marketing was for you?

When I managed my first product launch. It was exciting to focus on how a product goes to market, to be part of what essentially “makes it real” to the customer.

How did you learn about product marketing and gain specific skills?

While I was a Product Manager, product marketing was also our responsibility as well because we didn’t have a separate product marketing team. The majority of the “marketing” I got to do then was centered around bringing it to market (your basic launch activities).

How would you describe product marketing? To a peer? To your parents?

I like to think that product marketing is the conduit from product management to sales and customers. It’s our job to take what a product manager creates and create a clear and unique identity.

In your words, how is product marketing different from product management or traditional marketing?

They’re all like unique puzzle pieces, and the picture is incomplete without each piece. Product management is about planning to production, then the hand off is to marketing to position, message, and enable the field teams to sell and market based on that messaging and positioning.

Tell us about your current role?

In my role as Director of Product Marketing for BlueCat I focus on providing the tools necessary to help our teams promote and sell our solutions to our customers, who are large enterprise customers. What makes the role rewarding is that the marketing team at BlueCat is fairly new so we have an opportunity to build things from the ground up.

What challenges are you currently facing as a product marketer in your current role?

Marketing in any tech market is always challenging. I came from the semiconductor industry and spent years understanding the technology and how to effectively talk about and market it. The same applies here,  but I find it even more complex – enterprise software, DNS, digital transformation initiatives – the use cases for what BlueCat does and the impact it has from a CIO’s perspective are pretty vast. We’re constantly trying to hone in on what is truly important to those customers, and the role we play in those key initiatives across multiple industries that are rapidly evolving.

What’s a particularly fulfilling project you’ve worked on?

In my previous role at AMD I was part of a core team that built a long-term strategy that built and executed a successful business strategy to position AMD as a leader in the gaming market. It was one of those rare opportunities to form a fairly complex plan, execute over a few years and see some pretty compelling results for the business.

What’s your secret to staying productive?

Look for a role and opportunities that will challenge you. It’s great to be really good at what you do, but if you only “stay in your lane” eventually you’ll get too comfortable and before you know it you’re good at something that doesn’t matter as much anymore. Also, work with (and for) people you respect and like. At the end of the day, they will play a huge role in you looking forward to getting up every morning, and you’ll play that same role for someone else.

What’s your favorite recent read?

I am a bit of a baseball nerd, and there have been some great books over the past few years that marketers can learn a lot from (everyone thinks of “Moneyball” but there are many other better books). I recently read “Big Data Baseball” by Travis Sawchik, which tells the story of how the Pittsburgh Pirates aggressively used data and advanced analytics  to figure out how to end a 20 year losing streak.

Why do you think product marketing is an important function?  

Having done product management, I know firsthand that you need a separate and dedicate product marketing function to properly take a product to market.

What’s the future look like for product marketing?

One thing I’ve seen over the years is that the expectations of the knowledge a product marketer should have has increased significantly. The same can be said for understanding sales and other marketing functions – understanding what those teams do and need is essential to being successful in your role.

What’s your advice to someone interested in breaking into product marketing?

I always valued my time in product management and felt it made me a better product marketer. If you have an opportunity to get into product management, it’s a great place to start and learn about many “P”s – like product, place and price. Also, a smaller organization or a start-up often lets you get experience in many areas of marketing that will help you down the road. Finally, network any chance you get – marketers understand the value of promotion and in my experience are extremely supportive.

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