Friday, June 30, 2006

Where Marketing Ends and Experience Begins

A recent article in Business Week challenges the notion of overly complicated marketing strategies, jargon, and maneuvering, and states that taking stock in the value of one's own business to consumers is more important. In other words, have some confidence in your own product to talk about it in terms that are understandable to the average person.

He is right. We all lack confidence to some degree, because as any business owner knows, her survival is dependent on other people — as fickle as they are. To some degree, our businesses are like shy young girls, not sure if the cool guy really likes her, but has to find a way to convince him to take her out, without coercion. We wonder how to do it: "How do we gain market share? Is my product or service good enough to sell? How do I know what to say?" The solution is not using complicated jargon or smoke-screening to convince the public we know what we are doing and they need our product or service. The solution is really about knowing what we do.

That sounds overly simple, I know, but it is true. You got into your business because you have a skill, ability, passion, or unique position. You want your business to succeed, and you know it can because your business meets a need. The question is, "How many people actually need my service or product?" This is where things get kind of funny.

We have a choice: hype or help.

With hype, we do market research to determine what people want, what problems people want solved, and how these things intersect with what we do. Then we go about selling our services or products by shaping public perceptions of us. We use big important words, manipulate people's emotions, and reshape our business persona to attract new markets. As we grow, this becomes harder to maintain, because markets are so fickle. So we solve our brand problems with better graphics, a better logo, and consistent color-schemes. All the while hoping for greater market share.

The other option is help. We do the same market research, except the motive is to find out if there is a market for what we really want to promote. We do this with the understanding that market research will not tell us everything. So, we test the market by explaining in plain language what we do or sell. And then we wait to see the response. As the market grows for our business idea, we promote it more. Not with manipulation or fantastic claims, but with action, genuine care, and a desire to help. We stick with what the market finds valuable, and with what we really want to do for them — even if it adjusts over time. And the value of our reputation grows. The graphics we use, the creation of a decent logo, and the use of appropriate color choices enhances the respect the brand has already garnered.

A good example of this is Apple iTunes and iPod. Conventional market research did not reveal any specific needs for an MP3 player or some MP3 player software. But, Apple understood that people wanted more songs available to them, and they wanted legal ways of quickly accessing music. They wanted music faster and more available. So Apple provided all these things, and added a great design. ("Why shouldn't the consumer have these things, and have a cool interface and device to boot?") And it worked. It worked beyond their expectations. In fact the market demographics reach beyond age groups, sexes, and racial differences. They almost created a market.

As a result they built a solid reputation. And building on that reputation, Apple expanded it's market and product offerings. And the rest is (one billion songs, a million video downloads) history.

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