Well, I still hear this question and there is some logic behind it. I’ve created a product of beauty and wonder, why do I need to invoke the dark arts of marketing to get it out there? Won’t its greatness shine through and act as a beacon to all those lovely customers with their dollars and cents? It’s a simple enough question.
Mm. Well, here are my 10 simple reasons for why you need a marketing department (okay, well perhaps a single marketer, if you’re just starting out).
- The first is really an aggregate of all of the reasons below. Creating a product without then applying any marketing is like building something in the attic of your home. With the windows shut. And the blinds closed. And the lights turned off. And then expecting people to just knock on your door out of the blue and ask “Can I have one of those please? Here’s $1,000!”. Until you’ve told someone that your product exists, they don’t know about it. Obvious stuff I know, but it doesn’t matter if you’ve just invented a time machine made from the parts found in a common garden shed – if you don’t tell anyone, they won’t know about it.
- Now, a bit more detail. There’s the foundation work you need to sell your product – a website. I don’t think it has to be anything clever (I’m much more of a fan of well-written words, over beautiful design, but each to their own), but it has to exist, it has to be findable (basic SEO, linked through from social media – see below, linked through from other sites and so on), it has to be usable so that the visitor doesn’t tear his/her hair out shouting “Where the hell do I press to get this thing?” and it has to tell you what the product is (again, see below).
- So far, all so simple. But again, a website will be left sadly unvisited, unless you drive traffic. How? 100s of ways, but a first is social media. Building a network of interested parties, letting influencers in the community know you exist, building a Google+ network to build traffic, replying to Twitter questions with “Yes, we do that! Come and see our site”, and doing all this in a way which isn’t creepy and too “marketing-ey” is a difficult and arduous task – for which you need a marketing person with personality, tact and a knowledge of social media etiquette.
- Another great way of building traffic to your site and something that has been very successful for Red Gate, has been encouraging 3rd parties to link through. This might be, again, contacting influencers and giving them free copies of your product (with the hope of a review in return), replying on forums when people ask appropriate questions such as “Does anyone know of a product out there that does X?”, contacting partners who could cross-market with you and so on. Again, a lot of social skills, diplomacy and patience are needed for this sort of thing, but the pay-off is well worth it.
- Positioning. Here I really mean product positioning and really what I mean is simply this – tell me why the product is so great! What’s this product great at? Why is it better than the competitors? What actually is it? The last might sound unnecessary, but in the few seconds that someone visits your site, they need to know immediately what the product is and does – particularly for a new product. Sent.ly is a good example – all over the front page: “Send & Receive SMS using the best SMS API there is.” There’s no confusion here, I know what the product is, and that’s good marketing. NB: for familiar products, something like this isn’t needed (e.g. iPod – you don’t need to put “An MP3 player that holds 1000s of songs”), but it’s essential if you’re just starting out.
- Explaining what the product is for humans. This follows from point 5 above, but you can’t expect people to figure out what your complex morass of interwoven modules, add-ins and platforms is – most people have better things to do. A good example here is Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk. At the very top of this page it states:
AWS Elastic Beanstalk is an even easier way for you to quickly deploy and manage applications in the AWS cloud. You simply upload your application, and Elastic Beanstalk automatically handles the deployment details of capacity provisioning, load balancing, auto-scaling, and application health monitoring.
(NB: If you don’t work in the area covered here, this might still seem like gobbledigook, but believe me, it’s a really good simple explanation of what the platform does).
Again, this might see obvious, and something that anyone, whether marketing or not, would surely do. But it’s still very common to come to a site and go away thinking “Yes, but what does the product actually do!?! I don’t get it!” – so frustrating.
- Pricing. How much will people pay for it? And more interestingly, how much will different groups of people pay for it? I’ve seen examples where the exact same bit of technology can be priced at 10 times the price for different customers. This could be considered as somehow “unfair” but if something is 10x more valuable for one customer than other, than why not? And if one customer has 10 times the capacity to pay, is that not also fair? Of course the clever bit is finding, and selling to, customers who are willing to pay that 10x premium – again, all marketing.
- Creating new propositions from the same product. Okay, you have a great piece of tech that does all sorts of clever things, but it’s not necessarily something anyone would buy yet (except Early Adopters perhaps). What if you provided the product with 24/7 support? With an account manager? With an online academy? What if you put together a cheat-sheet for how to use the product in a completely different way (to its intended purpose)? What about a SaaS version? I found a great example recently of an add-in for a popular content management system that, basically turned that system in to a magazine publishing platform, sell-able to publishing houses (who may have no idea how the underlying product is pieced together). A great marketer can find those markets, propose the product idea and take it to that market at the right price.
- Lead generation and nurturing. Of course the goal of marketing is to generate leads – people who want what you sell and have started down that road with you. A decent marketer will generate leads. A good marketer will generate the Glengarry leads. A great marketer will be generating demand. Rule 20 in the book “42 Rules of Product Marketing” states “Generate Demand, not Leads”. A good example given by the author is organising a party for a Friday night. On the one hand, you can just tell people the night before, cajole/bribe them in to coming, try and trick them with a “Free drink” offer or something. And this will get a few folk through the door. They don’t really want to be there, but at least they crossed the threshold!?! Wouldn’t it be better though to start building excitement about the party weeks before, get a great band or sound system in, tell people what’s going to be happening, make sure a few key people will be coming and so on. You won’t then have to bribe anyone to come, they’ll be battering down the door. This is building demand, and a great marketer will focus on this rather than cheap tricks just to get any lead at any price.
Also, once you have the leads, you need to look after them – nurturing. Imagine getting everyone through the door then demanding they all take a drink there and then (whether they want it or not), then letting find the next drink for themselves. Wouldn’t it be better to keep everyone happy, listen to what they want during the party, be ready with drinks when they want them and so on?
- Finally (though I could think of many, many more), branding and brand awareness. I think of branding as the most underrated, misunderstood and difficult of good marketing. I couldn’t possibly write a good treatise here on what branding is. I just think of it as “The reason why I’d always buy a VW over a BMW, regardless of how good the actual cars were”. I think it’s underrated, misunderstood and difficult because, even for larger organisations, the skills required to really create a strong, long term brand that customers will go to again and again, are very hard to find and it’s something that can so easily go wrong. For small companies, I think the brand can actually happen by accident – if you’ve got a great bunch of people putting together a fun company with a high quality product, then that will shine through in all of your output, creating a positive brand that people will naturally warm to. In contrast, if you’re not a very nice bunch of people, you’re probably going to have to spend a lot of money to try and cover up that fact with the paying public 😉
..and there’s so much more here I could write (running great events, the whole of advertising, channel management, sales support etc etc etc), but these were the first 10 that came to mind. Hope you agree!