Levels of Product Management
Product management can be separated into four different levels with the responsibilities increasing with each level.
Product Item Level
At this level responsibilities are associated with marketing a single product or brand. By “single” we are limiting the marketer’s responsibility to one item. For instance, a startup software development company may initially market just one product. In some organizations the person in charge has the title Product Manager, though in smaller companies this person may simply be the Marketing Manager.
Brand Product Line Level
At this level responsibilities are associated with managing two or more similar product items. By “similar” we are referring to products carrying the same brand name that fit within the same product category and offer similar solutions to customers’ needs. Procter & Gamble, one of the largest consumer products companies in the world, markets Tide laundry detergent in several different packaging sizes (e.g., 50oz., 100oz., 200oz.), in different forms (e.g., powder, liquid) and with different added features (e.g., softener, bleach). Tide’s product line consists of over 100 different versions of the product. Differences in the product offerings indicate these are targeted to different segments within the larger market (e.g., those preferring liquid vs. those preferring powder), however, it may also represent a choice for the same target market who may seek variety. A product line is often measured by its depth, relative to competitors, with deep product lines offering extensive product items. Brand product lines are often managed by a Brand or Product Line Manager.
Category Product Line Level
At this level responsibilities are associated with managing two or more brand product lines within the same product category. In this situation the marketer may manage products that offer similar basic benefits (e.g., clean clothes) but target their offerings to slightly different needs (e.g., product for tough to clean clothing vs. product to clean delicate clothing). Multiple brand product lines allow the marketer to cover the needs of more segments and, consequently, increase their chance to generate sales. Often in larger companies category product lines are the responsibility of the Product Category or Divisional Marketing Manager who may have Brand Product Managers reporting to him/her.
Product Mix Level
At this level responsibilities include two or more category product lines that are directed to different product categories. In some cases the category product lines may yield similar general solutions (e.g., cleaning) but are aimed at entirely different target markets (e.g., cleaning dishes vs. cleaning automobiles). In large companies, the product lines are very diverse and offer different solutions. For example, BIC sells writing instruments, shaving products, and lighters. This diversification strategy cushions against an “all-eggs-in-one-basket” risk that may come if a company directs all resources to one product category. A product mix can be classified based on its width (how many different category product lines) and its depth (how many different brand product lines within a category product line). Generally responsibility for this level belongs to a company’s Vice President for Marketing.