If you want to be a bad product manager, only spend time on the messaging over which you have control. Put lots of effort into designing nice brochures and press kits. Agonize over details on your web site. Focus on search engine optimization. Put a lot of resources into a nice trade show booth. These are the important elements of your marketing, and though people will always be saying things about your product in other contexts, since you can’t control them you should just not worry about them.
If you want to be a good product manager, monitor customer perception of your product from all channels. You may spend a lot of time crafting your positioning statement, designing advertisements, putting together a newsletter, and creating brochures, but potential customers are finding out about your product from may different directions. In many cases, the avenues over which you do not have control can be much more influential in a purchase or use decision.
It can be very easy to get wrapped up in the communication you are creating internally and totally overlook the other communication that exists. Blogs, message boards, and mailing lists are prime locations for discussions and opinions about your product, and review sites are the first stop for many potential customers.
What is being said about your product? Do you know and do you monitor this on a regular basis? Are you monitoring the discussion around your product just as closely as what is being said about competitors?
It is not just external information that can influence customer perception but services that help people locate it. Seth Godin asks What happens when I Google you? — search for your product on Google and Yahoo and MSN and click through the results. Is the right result coming up first? Does it point to accurate and current information? What other sites is your product mentioned on and what is being said about it?
Put yourself in the shoes of a potential customer and do what they would do. Research your product the way you would research any other product. Understand what information is available to customers through “non-official” channels. The information that you communicate through your “official” marketing is terribly important, but it is not the only information available to customers. You have a much better chance of gaining customers and users when you monitor and work to influence what is being said about you by third parties.