The Strategist

Marketing: The New Definition

One of the common problems I have when helping people that ask me for marketing advice or input is to bring them round to the idea that marketing isn't about raising awareness.

You see the first thing people always ask me is "How do we get more customers?"

I try to be frank about it, but it often puts them on a back-foot and affects my position with them, so I have to take things slow.

Slowly but surely, I bring them round to the idea that marketing is about making the product so good that people come to them i.e. the product creates gravity on its own.

To be honest, when I first speak to people it's quite obvious they've endured sleepless nights worrying about how to find more customers, while keeping a close eye on their budget.

Once I get them to change their focus I often notice a sense of relief in them because they realise that they have the freedom to do what their gut has been telling them to do all along. Namely, to make the product better, make sure it delivers more value and to make sure it's a product that delights the customer.

Ultimately, the key is to make the product so good that each customer can't help but tell someone else, which is exactly what the product creator(s) has wanted to do all along, especially if it's someone that cares deeply about the target audience or the problem they're solving in the market.

It works really well.

Marketing is what you do when your product is no good

It's not that you don't need to get the attention of people or raise awareness. You do, but it shouldn't be your sole focus. It should be a small part of what you do because when you have a really good product, getting people's attention is much easier (in relative terms).

When you have an inferior product, you have to try harder to get people's attention, which is why so many businesses lose money unnecessarily. This is why - despite a hefty advertising budget - people wonder why their customers don't spend more with them, or remain loyal to the product.

It's all interlinked.

Creating a really good product is something Steve Jobs understood very well. Something Elon Musk (Tesla fame) understands well and people as far back as Henry Ford understood too.

There's a quote that Jobs himself cited from his role model, the co-founder of Polaroid:

Marketing is what you do when your product is no good.
Edwin Land, co-founder - Polaroid corporation

When you subscribe to the conventional definition of marketing, the above quote makes sense, but if you follow the definition of marketing that focuses on value creation, then you're free to focus on speaking to your existing customers and your intended audience. The conversation becomes one of creating real, meaningful value for the customer as opposed to shouting as much as possible.

When you execute this way, you'll retain customers longer, you'll find it easier to attract them and they'll want to tell their friends about you.

Believe me. That's all it takes.

It's time for change

We need to change this notion of what marketing really is (around the world), because there are scores of people that engage in a daily struggle of trying to get more exposure for their product and focus on raising awareness when they needn't ought to do it so much.

I notice this challenge most with craftspersons, most especially software engineers that can put together a decent app in just a few weekends or months.

The thing is, they really enjoy their time in their comfort zone writing lines and lines of code thinking about the next big technical win, instead of building things that create real value for their customer.

Once they've built something, they usually come to me and say "Now what? - Can you help me find customers?"

It's tough to say yes at that point, because not only would I be doing them a dis-service but I'd be doing their audience and myself one too. I can't promise them results.

Instead, if they'd spent their time speaking to their intended audience to understand what creates meaningful value for them, things would be different. I could promise them a brighter future more readily.

A common objection - of course - is, that they think they know the problem they're solving for their audience.

The thing to note is: just because you think a problem should be solved in a particular way, your customer may see things differently. The difference might be subtle, but probably significant enough to make the difference between sale and no-sale. That's what matters.

It can make all the difference between what is perceived as a mediocre product and what is perceived as a great one.

What I always try to tell people is to try and create more meaningful value within the product itself. (The best thing is: We're living in an age where there are plenty of ways to do that)

This is what the Lean Start-Up movement is essentially about. It gives you a set of principles and paradigms that help you with the value discovery process.

How we got here (I think)

There is a movie called Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) that features an epic scene where Alec Baldwin's character stresses the importance of "closing". The idea that sales success is all about coercing the customer into a sale. I have to say, the aggressive sales strategy is unnecessary. Contrary to what Alec Baldwin might have you believe.

Another thing. With movie trailers we tend to observe (shall we say); a high amount of advertising is what convinces us to go watch a movie. The reality is, it doesn't.

It's the movie itself that persuades us to go watch it.

Would you watch the sequel to a movie if you didn't enjoy the first?

If you have a good enough reason to believe a movie is no good, it doesn't matter how much advertising you're subjected to, you're unlikely to watch it.

We don't watch every movie we see an advert for.

It's only when we see an advert where we recognise the movie is something we're likely to enjoy (i.e. it will create value for us) that we make the decision to watch it. Yes, the movie trailers vie for your attention, but what sells you is the movie itself i.e. The product.

This why good movies do better at the box office.

Gravity is a movie I personally recommended to friends and family. I did the marketing for this movie by telling other people to go and watch it (I wasn't paid).

That's what happens when you have a really good product. Your customers do your marketing for you.

“Before if you were making a product, the right business strategy was to put 70% of your attention, energy, and dollars into shouting about a product, and 30% into making a great product. So you could win with a mediocre product, if you were a good enough marketer. That is getting harder to do. The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies… the individual is empowered… The right way to respond to this if you are a company is to put the vast majority of your energy, attention and dollars into building a great product or service and put a smaller amount into shouting about it, marketing it. If I build a great product or service, my customers will tell each other.”
Jeff Bezos, Chairman and CEO of Amazon, 28th of July 2010 on Charlie Rose’s show.

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Khuram Malik

Hi, my name is Khuram Malik. I am the Founder and Chief Strategist at . I help Businesses and Start-Ups figure out how to get from 'here' to 'there' regards their business goals. If you'd like strategy help with your business, why not book a discovery session with us at and let us help you figure out where your growth opportunities are?

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