How many times have you researched the competition only to discover that a huge driver for their marketing is their awesome product? It’s happened to me more times than I can count.
The fundamental lesson to take away from this is that you must integrate the product and marketing teams. There are many reasons to do so, including:
- What we saw in part 1 of this series, namely that Facebook is becoming a search engine for personal, trusted recommendations. By integrating product and marketing, you maximize the amount and enthusiasm of the word of mouth referrals you get.
- Both product and marketing are based on the same input – the question, “what do customers need?” – so you combine the R&D with marketing to provide the most efficient and effective ouput – your answer in the form of product and marketing). This is the subject of the third post in this series: What Does A United Marketing-Product Team Do?
- If you don’t combine the two, you’re likely to end up contradictory messages such as where the sales team promises more than the product can deliver. You then overpromise and under-deliver, a highly recommended way to ruin your reputation and avoid repeat sales.
- Getting more sales, because the marketing team understands the customer’s perspective as well as the product developers. This results in better copy, hero images and conversion rates. If you’re relying on a sales force, this still holds true as the ability to see the lead’s perspective enables the salesperson to offer more relatable benefits and case studies.
For the purposes of this article, the product team is what others call the operations team, a more common name in service industries like hospitality or telecoms. The product team also includes customer service and support, since these are obviously part of how your customer experiences the product/service your company offer. So too any other team that affects the customer experience – they also need to be integrated into one with the marketing team.
Here are some examples of cases where product has driven marketing… and vice versa.
- An IMN client’s competitors were increasingly selling the digital form of the product, while the analog form was fighting super-cheap competitors. (I hope to write a post about this “Chinafication” of our product and service marketplaces in the future, addressing the result of these dramatically cheaper (in price and quality) goods and services that have invaded our markets.) We could give all the link building and SEO advice in the world, but if this client doesn’t evolve their product line, their business will eventually shrink painfully due to loss of market share and margin. We told them as much. (In fact, I could list this point twice since very similar patterns happened in two disparate markets.)
- Another IMN client had pages for products he no longer carried because they were discontinued by the manufacturer, a risk from the perspective of Google’s quality-user-experience algorithms. Again, the solution involved changes to the product line that dovetailed with changes to the site and business operations/strategy.
- One of my very first clients in SEO was a hotel. They had some negative reviews online to do with maintenance problems. I informed them of that and they said the problem was fixed, so I was able to respond accordingly online. Conversely, this hotel’s great customer service and location (the product, i.e. unique value proposition) earned it links from people who had visited in the past.
A company selling their own SAAS for IT was competing against a company that offered a free SAAS. (The latter company sold services, integration, support and consulting around their product.) Guess who had gotten radically better links in huge numbers? The free SAAS company had links from some of the biggest tech sites and brands in the world, such as Mozilla.
- Mobile apps obviously require mobile marketing.
- Seth Godin, in his book Meatball Sundae, cites the toy industry as having a big conference in February to watch ads for new toys. The toys with the most compelling ads are the toys that then get made and sold at Christmas.
- Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Workweek also advises trying to sell your product first, and only creating it if the sales effort succeeds. This is a rapid way to validate/invalidate unique value propositions as well as angles of framing it. Note that doing this for a brand new category of product is very risky, because you may develop a solution to a problem that no one has (or you may not know who has the problem, nor find out before you go bankrupt). This approach works best for industries where an existing demand exists and the new product is more of an iteration on previous toys than something completely new in itself. E.g. Tickle Me Elmo is an iteration on teddy bears… not so risky.
- In the book The Knack, by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham, there’s a case cited of a fishmonger who explains that he’s really in the lending business. He extends credit to restaurants in the form of fish, and gets paid when they have better weeks/it’s high season. Fish on credit is a fundamentally different product (including different pricing) than fish paid for immediately.
- A friend of mine selling a high-priced, high-quality product to SMBs similarly realized that allowing them to pay in installements was the key to unlocking their purses. He’s also making in-kind loans, combining sales technique (overcoming price objection) with product development (he’s selling them product on credit, like the fishmonger).
- In an IMN competitive analysis, we found that some competitors had a key advantage in that they gave customers more information. This greater empowerment was a very unique selling point, attracting both customers and press … we encouraged our customer to replicate and improve on this information sharing.
- A linkbait brainstorming report helped us realize that an industry was getting a bad reputation online for negative impact on third parties. We suggested ways they could partner with those parties to prevent negative impacts, and mitigate them when they happened. This involved product development suggestions involving motivating buyer and seller to behave better towards the third parties.
- Also in that report, we gave branding guidance to another client that would make them a dramatic change catalyst in their market. By talking about how members of their target audience were doing wonderful things, and associating their brand with ads touting these positive stories, they could become not just a company but a beloved icon of their audience. This would give them massive market share, and make it exponentially harder for competitors to take market share when people would feel such strongly positive emotions towards this company.
So if I’m suggesting merging product and marketing, the natural question is – how do you go about doing this integration? That’s a never-ending process, but you can get started by reading and implementing The E-Myth Revisited as well as Running Lean. To similar effect, the Customer Development Labs blog is fantastic and I recommend subscribing. My brother-in-law pointed out these Michael Gerber (E-Myth author) videos on Youtube, as well.
I’ll write more about integrating the two teams in my next post for the IMN blog. The point of the above references is that you need systems to do market research, and what you find out will inform your product development and marketing development How so? These systems will help you to find out:
- What problems the audience faces,
- Who the various segments of that audience are,
- How you’re going to reach the audience,
- Why your solution matches the audience (i.e. what benefits are you selling – what’s your product).
Subscribe to the IMN blog so you see my next posts on the topic of combining the product and marketing teams. Here’s the following one: What does a united marketing-product team do?