Markets respect only three things, no matter your age, race or any other factor: creating value, delivering value and capturing value. Creating value means product innovation, delivering value means marketing innovation and capturing value means “no money, no value” or revenue model innovations. You can be innovative on all three levels and all this combined is called the business model generation.
Capturing value is the final act of product development, a reality check for how good you are at innovating and at delivering value. Market gives you feedback concerning how much your work is worth in dollars. But there’s a lot to do before you can capture value.
First you need to be creative and come up with innovative solutions. You need to find problems that aren’t yet being solved or drastically improve current solutions. You need a unique value proposition and an unfair advantage, like carefully protected intellectual property. You need a very clear idea of the key partners, key activities and key resources you have to engage in order to create value and present your value proposition to the market.
Achieving all that is hard. But it’s still the easy part. Every month, over 20,000 new products are launched. That’s more than 650 a day. Most of the launched products fail. Many of them fail because there’s no real need for them. But even more of them fail because of bad marketing and sales.
Besides creating value, you also need to deliver value to the market. That means marketing to different customer segments, establishing relationships with customers and engaging different distribution channels. While doing that, you need to communicate your unique value proposition, tell how you are better, faster and different.
Most entrepreneurs think that their product will just sell itself. They fall in love with their product and because they usually see it as valuable for themselves, they think it’s valuable to almost anyone in the world. That’s usually not the case. Even viral products like Facebook had a superior marketing and sales strategy at the beginning.
Facebook team didn’t address just anyone. They started with the best colleges in the world, like Harvard, and went from college to college. After mastering one niche and customer segment, they spread to different social circles.
In the movie The Social Network, which tells the story of Facebook, you can see how before the summer holidays, everyone was thinking about the things they will do in the summer, but only Mark Zuckerberg was thinking about his goal, namely getting as many targeted college students to subscribe to Facebook as possible. He knew how important marketing is.
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Without marketing, there is no product at all
First of all: without adequate marketing, people can’t even know about your product at all. If they don’t know about your product, they can’t buy it. Secondly, people see hundreds and hundreds of ads per day for many different products. Markets are saturated and millions of products are competing for consumers’ attention and wallets.
If you want to get attention, you have to be different, unique and ten times better than all of your competition. Different and better. Thus your marketing has to be not only creative, but also supported by all the necessary metrics and optimization strategies.
Marketing is becoming more and more complex, but it’s your only option for success after having a good product. You have to be different and you have to be a few classes better than anyone else.
Because all of this is tough, everyone hopes for their product to go viral. It can happen, but it’s a very rare phenomena and usually a very carefully orchestrated process. Besides an awesome product, you need tons of money to test, experiment, optimize and lower your customer acquisition cost (CAC). Facebook did it, but as mentioned before, that didn’t just happen by itself, they aggressively fueled their engines of growth.
Marketing will kill a bad product
In the marketing world there is a saying that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. It simply means that if the product isn’t really good, if you don’t have good customer support, if the product is not accessible to customers etc., it will go off the market sooner or later.
Consumers have become very well-educated and demanding, therefore you must really impress potential customers with the whole experience around your product if you want them to stay loyal.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s very risky to wait too long just to see if marketing will kill your product. That’s why the lean startup philosophy was also invented. Before lean startup methodologies, you had no other option but to invest tons of money into research and development, build a product, prepare all the marketing materials etc. and then after a long product development process, you could start with marketing to get feedback for whether your product sucks or not.
The greater risk in business, the market risk, came at the very end. And if you had a bad product, a product that the market didn’t need, everything was lost, including all the money invested into the long and expensive product development process.
The lean startup philosophy takes a different approach. It includes potential customers or, to be more exact, early evangelists, into the development of the product in the very early stages. From the very early beginning, you try to build a product that doesn’t suck, but the only way to do that is by engaging customers into the development process. Besides product development, you also do customer discovery. You start selling and marketing even before you have a product.
You fall in love with a problem, not a solution, develop a minimum viable product, you find your early evangelists – people who are prepared to invest their energy and knowledge into giving you feedback just to have a product for their problem. After that you systematically build additional product features according to the market feedback, not your personal opinions. In the whole lean startup process, you basically start with marketing and sales on day one.
Marketing is like riding a bike
You have a product that the market wants (this is called the “product – market fit”), you have first customers, now what. It’s the same as riding a bike. When it comes to riding a bike, one thing is certain and that is that the moment you stop moving, you fall. It’s the same with marketing. It never ends. Besides improving your product, you have to constantly game up your marketing, creative and analytical aspect.
Entrepreneurs must be in love with marketing and selling; even more than building products. For common people, the saying goes I think therefore I am, but for entrepreneurs, that saying is very different; it goes I sell therefore I am. The moment the entrepreneur stops selling and marketing, everything falls.
Marketing versus sales
Many people don’t know what the difference between marketing and sales is. I have a good analogy. You have a product. You want to convince one person to buy it. You sit down with them and you start convincing them by telling them why your product is good, why they should buy it, you explain about the special price you can offer them and so on. They have questions and objections and you try to answer them all, with a single purpose: closing the sale.
You can do the same with a room full of people. But your product is so good that you want to sell it to thousands and thousands of people. How can you do that? You need a medium, something that will deliver your message to thousands of people.
You can do that with ads on TV, radio etc. The downside is that you cannot put your whole one-hour sales pitch on your chosen medium. That’s why you need to get creative and format a message that will be in accordance with limitations but will still convince people. That is marketing.
Marketing is everything even in personal life
It’s no different with marketing and selling in your personal life. First you need to be a “good product”. You have to provide value to the market. To do that, you need to develop your competences, knowledge, skills, social network, attitude, psychological capital and so on.
The more rare competences in the greater demand you can offer to the market, in a better position you are.
If you don’t provide value, marketing will probably do more damage than good to you in the long run. People will see you as someone who’s all bark and no bite. So first make sure that you do provide value. As mentioned, the higher the demand and the lower the supply of a specific value or competence, the better for you. After that, you need good personal marketing and selling. You need to build your personal brand.
You market yourself with your CV, blog posts, articles, interviews, the projects you run and so on. You sell yourself in job interviews, yearly performance reviews, when dating, selling your products, with ideas and other stuff.
In addition to that, internet and social networks have given a completely new dimension to your personal marketing. You’re probably doing personal marketing just by going online, whether you like it or not. You leave a digital trail everywhere. Everything you do online and post on your social networks is part of your personal marketing. And it will probably stay online even after you die.
Even if you don’t use social networks, don’t want to market and sell yourself, and see all this as an act of evil, you still have some kind of a marketing strategy (and part of your life strategy). A strategy that probably leads to people not knowing how good you really are. Don’t let that happen. Trend so much that you will transcend. Except that marketing and sales are an important part of life. Learn them both.
If you want it or not, even in personal life, marketing is everything.
- Keep your creative muscle strong with regularly brainstorming (business) ideas, innovate, be different and constantly improve yourself to provide as much value to the markets as possible.
- You must learn how to market yourself, otherwise other people won't know what you can bring to the table. Personal branding and marketing are no evil things, they're part of the success equation. But be careful, good marketing will quickly kill a bad product.
- Never stop marketing yourself, marketing is like riding a bike. Nevertheless, do it in a smart way. Especially develop and market competences that are high in demand and low in supply. Stay lean and agile about it.
- Whatever you do online, every one of your posts, becomes part of your personal brand. Use all the channels to tell your story and make sure it's an interesting one.