“What’s your definition of marketing?” someone asked me a few days ago. I mumbled something vague and quickly passed the question on to the next person at the table.
People get hung up on definitions, trying to understand exactly what is sales and what is marketing and where the lexical boundary between the two lies. Much better to stop defining and start doing, I think.
But what does ‘doing marketing’ involve?
For me, it’s about reaching people who need your product, and then making them want it. There are two steps there and they’re both required. If you can reach your audience, but they don’t want your product, you’re doomed. If your audience wants your product, but you can’t reach them, then you’re doomed too.
A few weeks ago I sat in on a presentation given by a Cambridge University academic. Marketing, he said, is all about building a better product. Build a product that’s five, or ten, times better than your competitors and people will bash down your door to buy it. And if that doesn’t happen? Well, in that case the trick is to make your product even more brilliant.
This academic is only thinking about the second link in the chain, and is taking the narrow view that making a superb product is the only way to make your customers want to buy it. But there are other ways too – creating a tribe that people want to belong to, building a product that’s cheaper than your competitor’s or creating something that’s just a little bit better than the rest are all valid paths to take.
It’s less common for software companies to succeed in fulfilling the first step – since it’s so rare they even try – and fail the second, but one notable example is Windows Vista which people refused to buy despite near ubiquitous advertising. Everybody has their pet reasons as to why this was: mine include confused messaging, impossible to understand bundling and bewildering advertising.
So how do you reach your target audience?
There are many ways, but none of them is the single truth. If your target market is highly internally connected, and if your product is worth talking about, then sometimes you can reach a few key people inside the group and they will spread the word for you, much like a well evolved virus can spread like wildfire through a dense population. But don’t forget you need the second link in the chain too, which is ever so easy to do.
But that’s a hard trick to pull off. If your idea spreads too quickly, or too slowly, or is too sticky, or not sticky enough, if your market is too large, or too small, or too interconnected, or not interconnected enough, then it will flash through the population and burn out (the Hampster Dance) or simply fade away (think Snakes on a Plane).
If your market has no internal connections, or if you have a product that people are unlikely to talk about, then you need to reach people on your own, using traditional broadcast marketing such as advertising, product reviews and the more modern tools of blogging, Twitter and Google adwords.
Of course, the most likely scenario is that you need to do both. The characteristics of your product and market are probably such that you can’t just light the kindling and step back to watch as the market catches fire and blazes, but neither will you need to individually light every single twig.
The odds are that getting your fire going will be a long, hard slog requiring careful and regular stoking over many weeks, months and years.
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