The best products sell them selves | January 27, 2010
The concept of ‘Pull Marketing’ is all the rage at the moment. In the age of the Mad Men, selling a new product was easy. You’d be handed a commodity product like toothpaste or washing powder and set about building a brand to set it apart from the competition. You would then buy advertising space on a small number of influential marketing channels and wait for the sales to roll in. The growth of multi-channel TV, the commercialisation of radio and the rise of desktop publishing in the 80s fragmented audiences, making it hard to get the message out. However it was the appearance of the Internet that changed marketing for ever.
Attention splintered across thousands of channels and billions of website as web-savvy shoppers began to compare products online and shop in the long tail. In a world where company owners no longer had control over the way their products were presented, power went back to the consumer.
At present only the Super Bowl advertising resembles the marketing to the old days (the ability to get in front of an enormous audience at once) and marketers have been looking to employ alternative tactics to push users towards their sites. As a result, a plethora of companies have begun viewing the web as a new marketing platform and introduced “viral campaigns” and “sticky content” to generate traffic.
The question is, will the spike in traffic generated by push tactics help generate extra sales? Push marketing gimmicks work for a while - just as a free toy inside every cereal used to - but these concepts eventually lose their polish. In this world of decreasing timescales, even social media marketing has become so 2007. Instead of being a marketing platform, the web has become a product and service platform in its own right.
To sell products in a networked world, you need to differentiate yourself by more than just brand attributes and a check-list of features. You need to create remarkable products that rise above the competition and get noticed. Products that your users will rate, recommend and tweet about. In fact, what you need to create isn’t a product at all, but an experience.
Hoteliers have known this for a long time, moving up the value chain and transforming themselves from places to sleep into memorable holiday experiences. Gone are the chocolates on the pillow to be replaced by Egyptian cotton sheets, high end toiletries and HD televisions in every room. In fact hotels have a name for these items; they call them ‘delighters’.
Mediocrity just doesn’t cut it anymore. Instead, we need to create products that sell themselves. Does this mean that marketing no longer has a place in the networked society? Far from it. Marketers often understand customer needs and pain points better than anybody. In fact, this can sometimes be the cause of frustration in itself. I know plenty of people (myself included) who’ve been wooed by the notion of integrated phone, TV and Internet services only to find yourself dealing with completely separate business units and billing systems. The marketers were ahead of the curve. It’s the product that was lagging behind.
Companies like Zappos understand the power of delight only too well. Things like complimentary overnight shipping and personalised notes are just the tip of the iceberg for this online shoe retailer from Las Vegas. Zappos have done away with the call-waiting lights and encourage their staff to bond with their customers. They even train their staff to order out-of-stock shoes for their customers on competitor’s sites. The competitors get the sale but Zappos gets the goodwill. I even heard tell of one of their call centre staff helping a clients to order pizza, although this is apocryphal. No wonder they recently got acquired by Amazon for US$1.2 billion.
Marketers have a massive role in shaping new products. They also have an enormous role in shaping people’s opinions on a more personal level. You could even say that customer service is the new marketing. New online services like Get Satisfaction are hoping this will be the case and companies like Zappos would seem to agree.
The secret sauce is simple. We need to take a more customer centred approach to creating products that solve real problems for real people. We need to listen to our customer’s wants, needs and frustrations and create products that solve them. We need to constantly strive to improve our products at their core, rather than hiding their inadequacies with slick marketing campaigns. We need to create experiences that consumers can rally around and talk about, and we need to get out there and engage with the conversation. Not everybody can or will be able to create remarkable products, but the ones that do will flourish and prosper.
So what does this mean for the future of push marketing? I think that it is increasingly becoming clear that the effectiveness of viral campaigns will inevitably dwindle, while clients will begin to question whether their “sticky content” is not just brining them traffic, but the right kind of traffic.
Concepts such as “sticky content” belie the core concepts that are required underneath. Clients are going to need to spend more time learning the needs, wants and desires of their customers when building products, applications and campaigns so that they are pushing the right kind of traffic.
Ultimately, if you spend time creating something that people want, they will do the job of marketing it for you
Posted at January 27, 2010 9:18 AM