Do Great Consumer Products Market Themselves?

18 Jul

Spotify. Dropbox. Foursquare. Instagram. Facebook. Flipboard. Pinterest. Twitter.

Everyone knows these insanely popular companies even though they’ve invested almost nothing in advertising. In each case, they built a strong brand by building a great product or service and letting their customers spread the word.

With their success, a new generation of entrepreneurs are rethinking their approach to marketing. It’s increasingly common to hear luminaries talk about marketing as a weakness: the notion that only weak products require marketing.

So, is it true? Do great consumer products market themselves?

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Marketing isn’t advertising: Too often, I hear smart people talk about marketing as if it is only advertising. Advertising is just one way to build a business. There is so much more to marketing: product management, design of referral programs, visual identity, messaging, competitive analysis, collection of customer feedback and ideas, choosing new markets and segments to target, picking company / product / service names, building awareness through savvy PR and promotion, etc. While companies with great products may not need advertising, marketing often plays an important role in the rapid growth of product awareness and usage.
  • Very few products sell themselves: What almost all of the companies featured at the beginning of this post have in common is that they are free Internet services that appeal to a mass market population. While it takes real work to get people to try a free site, application, or service, the barriers to broad adoption are much lower. Products that almost never sell themselves include things that cost money, enterprise products of all types, and niche products that require more work to find first-time buyers and where it is harder to build the powerful cyclone of hype that benefitted almost all of the companies listed above.
  • Media attention matters: There are many companies that have built great products and still remained obscure. What makes the companies featured here special is that they have benefitted enormously from media attention. They all drove frenzied levels of media hype before they even had revenue. While some of this stems from great products and strong growth, much of it comes from thoughtful media strategy, direct press engagement, and charismatic founders who are trained to tell a powerful story.


So, if you have the right kind of great free product, what can marketing do to drive such insane levels of adoption?

Here are a few general principles for marketing a great consumer product:

  • Make sure the consumer experience is awesome: Create mechanisms to understand the user experience, to get constant feedback, and to solicit ideas so that the product keeps getting better and better.
  • Make sure your message is clear: Make sure that the messages about your company, your product or service, the problems that you solve, and the experience of being a customer are clear, consistent, and compelling. Make sure that everyone in your company can tell the same great story.
  • Keep customers coming back for more: Create the right experience for every customer to drive engagement, up sell to paid versions (if that is your model), and minimize churn and abandonment. Measure all of these things and look at the impact of every change on the metrics that matter.

  • Build referral into the product: Make it easy for customers to recommend the product or share their experience with others.
  • Build awareness through the product: Design the product or service to make sure that everyone who uses your product learns about the essential benefits and capabilities. Trigger increased usage by making it easy for customers to take the next step to deeper engagement with your product.
  • Electronically profile your customers or users: With permission, collect the information that you need to best serve your customers, to understand their needs, and to market and communicate effectively.
  • Develop strong customer communication channels: Use email, application messages, blogs, online communities, social media and other mechanisms to build strong 2-way communication channels with your customers. Leverage these channels to strengthen the customer relationship, to drive adoption of new products or features, and to improve customer engagement.
  • Leverage media to build awareness and tell a story: Invest in engagement with media to share your stories. How? Start by pitching news and insights that are interesting, by speaking at industry conferences, by making your founders or spokespeople stars. Let people know about your successes.
  • Spend strategically to jumpstart new markets, features, or products: Even if you are growing like crazy in your primary market, you may need to invest to expand to new platforms or geographies or to drive usage of new products or features.
  • Build relationships that drive awareness and utilization: Often the best path to increased visibility is through other: the way that Pinterest began to appear on the sites of major retailers or the way that Facebook became more closely integrated with its major media partners.
  • Invest in advertising based on ROI: If your business generates revenue and profit or if you can assign a tangible value to a customer, invest in advertising or other promotion techniques (i.e. referral bonuses) to more rapidly grow revenue or value. View these programatic investments based on return on investment. Spend money in the areas that drive the strongest profitable value creation for your business.

While pundits will likely continue to talk about the irrelevance of marketing in companies with great products, the truth is that both are necessary to build a great business in the modern era.

2 Responses to “Do Great Consumer Products Market Themselves?”

  1. Winston July 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    The future of advertising and marketing as a broad discipline, should by all means start by understanding the following 101 principles :
    Evolution in this space must not get us all confused into thinking that the fundamentals have also changed. In adjusting our creative minds, we need to just simply adapt a view of being in touch with reality. What that will allows us to do is to find rational tactics as communicators and remain creatively relevant. I worry at the general sentiment that promotes “change” as if we are entering a “new world”. Yes, the world is evolving and my humble view is that we should rather evolve with it but still keep the basics in check. In navigating the respective business opportunities (not challanges), we must do our home work, get the facts and related insights. The result must then be a natural, factual, rational and well informed 360 approach towards advertising and marketing…where we should simply learn to accept that consumer needs actually dictate not only what we sell, but also how we sell it. Use urself as a case study…would you really in this day in age buy into a product or service that does not satisfy your needs?…if the answere is no…then our audience are wired just the same. So if we are not authentic and relevant…we can repeat the same message a million times…they would have probably undestood us the first time…but just not interested because the proposition just simply did not hit the right nerve. That for me is what I refer to as 101 communications tactics…then we can debate relevat platforms/media choices as dictated to by the media science…that’s fine…as long as we reach the relevant audience with relevant propositions…we will be on track towards enhancing consumer behaviour…maybe we should stop trying to change our customers for a while…and rather study and embrase them where relevant.

  2. Ines November 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    Excellent website. Plenty of helpful info here. I’m sending it to a few friends ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thank you on your sweat!

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