I don’t pretend to be a marketer, nor am I sure whether I particularly like marketing overall. (I think many marketing professionals can be a bit too literal. Seems to me the vast majority think the first step in their field is to ask a customer “hey, how could this product be better?” Or, better yet: “how much would you pay for this?” People have no idea. And this is a stupid way to start.) That aside, however, I do have some more constructive thoughts:
Surveying the market demographics:
- Be careful in how you define groups. Take care in assigning people to groups – or assigning identities to these groups – with which the individuals themselves do not identify. “Women love shopping and men love sports,” for example. Broad stereotypes may get you somewhere, but you’re better off doing a bit more legwork to understand who actually likes shopping or sports and target them specifically, rather than creating blanket statements and shooting blanks at people who will never be interested. “Targeting everyone is a sure path to failure,” Seth Godin writes in Ideavirus. And he’s right. But targeting the “everyone” within a too-broadly defined demographic (like the all too common “[gender] between the ages of x and x,” for example) is almost as certain to fail.
- Be careful in how you perceive people. We have to resist the temptation to assume behavior is the same across the board, and that all people are little more than mimicry of one another. Seth Godin tells the story of American Airlines once bribing attendees of an industry conference: “if you can find someone at this convention who has precisely the same number of miles as you do, we’ll give you both a million miles.” And “suddenly,” Seth Godin says, “every person you meet wants to talk to you about your mileage status.” No they don’t. Only those who are motivated by the “miles” model – or motivated to “prostitute” themselves out for lottery odds – will. There are those of us, though, who don’t care about rewards programs, nor do we care for party games or raffles. (In fact, there is a whole bunch of people who have found themselves with thousands of miles only as a mostly meaningless byproduct of their travel, not as the objective in and of itself.)
Picking the right product and market:
- Aim to win, not simply play. “If just 1% or even 15% of a group is excited about your idea, it’s not enough. You only win when you totally dominate and amaze the group you’ve targeted.” And you certainly don’t win with cost cutting or better shipping.
- First pick the problem, then build a solution. “Choose your market by identifying a hive that has a problem.” If the hive doesn’t want it, “you picked the wrong hive.” Or the wrong problem. Or the wrong solution.
- Aim to influence change. If your product can “change the way people think, talk or act… you can create value.”
Initial Experience. The first contact with a new user must go beautifully. Your product should be easy to try, with minimal upfront investment or risk, and offer an obvious value proposition and solution to a problem. In short, the rules here are incredibly simple. And yet tons of companies get too tangled in the wrong priorities and mess it up.
- Give it away… As the good drug dealers know, the first hit is free. If your product is that good, they’ll come back to try it again. Hence, the appeal here should be obvious. And yet I am continually baffled by how many companies hold their product close to their chests, refusing to give away “free work” or trials. By refusing to give anything away, they miss out on a lot of revenue.
- …then get out of the way. Don’t trip up your users. Make yourself available if they have questions, follow up with them to see how things are going, but don’t bombard them with constant interaction.
Courting your initial users:
- Give a dog a good name. Your users (especially the advocates) will live into the exact role that you build for them, and you will attract the exact people you look to find. If you see early users as little more than marketing tools, especially if you bribe them to spam their friends in exchange for discounts or freebies, then “transactional” treatment is all you’ll ever get from the relationship in return.
- Court, don’t bribe. The objective isn’t to find users you can seduce (or “bribe,” according to Godin) into being advocates. The objective is to create a product worth advocating. Focus on making something so good that it attracts advocates, and take care of them once they do. Seth Godin, in Ideavirus, tells his readers to “choose your sneezers – don’t let them choose you.” I disagree. I think you focus on building a beautiful product, for the right people, and the early adopters will gladly sing your praises (un-bribed.)
- Get their attention. “You cannot sell a man who isn’t listening; word of mouth is the best medium of all… dullness won’t sell your product, but neither will irrelevant brilliance.” Your users don’t inherently care about your product until they understand how it might benefit them.
- But earn attention; don’t force it. Stop marketing at people. If you think of your product and marketing as communication between two people, you can probably understand how unattractive (and ineffective) most conventional marketing and advertising activities are. Imagine if random people jumped out in front you while walking down the street, stopped you in your tracks, and required you to give them your attention (at least for five seconds, before you can opt out.) Would you want to continue the dialogue? Be their friend? Give them money? Unlikely. And the same is true in most advertising, where “the goal of the consumer is to avoid hearing from the advertiser.”
Keep the dialogue going:
- Let users talk to each other. The real objective is to make it easy for users to talk amongst themselves – to share, bring others in, and help build the brand. “Word of mouth fades out after a few exchanges.”
- Build brand through story.
- Know that Marketing is not synonymous with Brand. And neither are synonymous with Idea. Apparently some folks – not surprisingly, particularly those in marketing – think that “you win with better marketing” and “marketing is really about ideas,” but what they really mean by this is “brand.” They articulate, for example, that “it’s the idea of Air Jordan sneakers, not the shoe, that permits Nike to sell them for more than $100.” And while it’s true that it’s not the shoe itself, it’s also true that ideas, too, are dime a dozen. (We’ve all heard someone we know lament that they “thought of it first” when talking about some billion-dollar company. I know a guy who feels he “invented” Twitter. But so did hundreds of other people. The ideas are worth very little. The execution is worth almost everything.) And here, I think many can agree, what is meant by “idea” is really “its execution” – i.e., its brand.