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Ask HN: Is marketing really necessary?
12 points by aerialcombat on April 11, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 14 comments
Do you think it's possible for a product to take off without putting in any efforts for marketing/advertising the product?

It seems that everyone is marketing their stuff somehow and it almost seems cooler not to do so these days. People are bombarded with apps and services and I was wondering what would happen if I took an opposite approach.

I'm only giving word-of-mouth strategy a try. Could it work if the product is good?

There are a few products I made just to solve a problem for myself that I was too shy to share. I was very surprised how many people found my product and used it when I did 0 advertising and told 0 people about it. But to answer your question, no I do not think it is probable for a product to take off with 0 marketing/advertising. The only way a product takes off with 0 marketing is when an end-user finds your product and loves it so much that they share it with the world (free marketing.) This is very rare but a few developers found success with this model such as Larry Page and Sergey Brin but they are more of an exception than the rule.

Do I think it's possible? Absolutely. Do I think it you're reducing your chance of success without trying? Absolutely.

Coming from a marketing side I may be biased hence the upfront disclosure, though here are my thoughts from the many times I've encountered this debate. I've come across many of the more technical managers/execs who believe if you build good product customers will come and treat marketing as an expense, not an investment. I agree here to an extent for differentiated technical products being sold to technical people. Engineers like to evaluate and consider products closely. More information is better (to a point) when selling to technical people and sales department is likely a better area of investment. And while technical people may take this approach to everyday products, the mass don't.

Most people are not technical. If you are trying to sell product/service to the mass markets they typically buy what is 1) Placed in front of them , 2) At a perceived value price point 3) With brief & easy to understand core product messaging.

Form this, for the masses, good marketing can make or break a business. And remember marketing is more than a pretty website or some blinking banner ads. Marketing is many fields, one of the most important and least discussed being distribution. This is often given little attention and IMO a key component to get right. I would say typically a weaker product with great distribution has a better chance of success than a great product with weaker distribution. Think ASUS vs Dell, VHS vs Beta Max, HD DVD vs Blue ray, IE vs Opera Browser etc.

All this aside, people simply need to track ROI and be open minded with marketing. I've been in the position of showing a shrinking department a marketing test that a $1.00 spent on tested activities will return $1.30 in profit. Some technical execs stopped further spend going forward being stern holders to the build a better product and people will come thinking, and marketing is some cheap trick they are better than. It is just stupid rigid thinking. End of the day do some testing with various marketing channels. If your marketing efforts whatever they be can produce more profit than spend, do it. If the tests cannot show any results, then close down this as any bad investment. Overall, given the plethora of success you see with advertising, anyone would be a fool for not actually trying and basing their decision on philosophy vs fact.

I've always thought of marketing as an expense you pay for having a boring product. CPG companies have boring products, so in turn marketing expenses outpace COGS.

That being said, there is so much noise in the marketplace that the best piece of software may not ever be discovered if it cannot convey why it is better than the alternatives. Engineers may be looking for a technical specification checklist, while a manager may be looking for a case study tailored to their own needs. A great product that no one knows about is pointless.

Marketing is creating a wedge between perceived value and intrinsic value. If your product saves $X per quarter, your price should be as close to $X as possible. If it will increase sales $Y, the same strategy applies. If it does neither, then tell the consumer it will improve the opposite sex's opinion of them, and charge as much as possible.

Word-of-mouth strategy only works when your intended target is more than willing to share his opinion with his friends and tell everyone about you.

The problem is (according to most companies i've worked for) most good customers will just buy your product and shut up. They don't brag about how good your product is; and it's likely their friends will never know about the purchase.

Bad customers however will tell 10 friends; and those 10 friends tell another 10 friends (and so on and so on). Semi-Myth / Semi-Fact; they are basically right. You can game this and try and win more customers from negative attention but it can backfire.

Lastly, not everyone looks for new products to buy. Some people don't know they need to buy something until you market them a problem; and the solution. If your expecting customers to magically just find you; maybe you will find money magically appear in your bank account.

Hence you need to provide your good customers/fans etc. the tools & incentive to do the marketing for you.

This I believe is the idea behind Trello Gold etc and the solution we came up for a similar problem[1]

Lots of business try to build a referral rewards program and hope it catches fire. But even there it is quite surprising to find the low visibility of such programs. Came across AirBnB users claiming they had no idea AirBnB had one[2]

[1] The startup we founded, http://carrotleads.com

[2] https://www.airbnb.com/invite

It happens, but it's rare. The really huge success stories typically involve both a product that tends to sell itself and a good and clever marketing apparatus that helps to prime the pump and widen the funnel. Problem is that the world is big and noisy. Even if your product kicks serious butt, nobody will hear about it if you don't tell them. Such products also typically don't materialize out of nothing. Typically they get early customers who provide feedback to make them better until they hit some threshold of product/market fit and take off like crazy.

Product is primary. All the marketing in the world can't help a product that nobody wants... At least not for very long. Sometimes gimmicky marketing can create a flash in the pan.

Marketing and Advertising are different things.

Marketing is the interface between the consumer and the product or service and it includes advertising but also customer support, the design of the box, what channels you distribute through, etc.

Word-of-mouth is a marketing strategy as much as anything else is, but if the success of the product mattered to me I would think that "If you build it they will come" is an antipattern.

Certainly some brands have strong relationships with advertising. Warren Buffet makes sure to be the #1 advertiser in all media with those GEICO ads (which now even mock themselves) to keep the media sweet. Years back, Pabst Blue Ribbon got bought by a corporate raider who was too cheap to spend money on ads, but now a lot of people think PBR is cool because it does not run ads.

Marketing in the sense of "preparing your product for market" is indeed necessary. You should have a deep understanding of who specifically needs your product and how they benefit. And you should make it very easy for them to understand that. The whole point of business is to serve other people, after all, and that applies just as much before the sale as after.

Advertising may or may not be necessary; it depends on what your product is, who uses it, how much it benefits them, how your audience talks to one another, and how much advertising your competitors employ. Note that advertising is an arms race. The kinds of weapons a country needs depends a great deal on what its neighbors have. The same applies to businesses and advertising.

If the product is really great people will use it but good marketing takes that effect and amplifies it. Marketing is about telling a story and creating a sense of values, benefits and identity around the product. If people don't _try_ your product it doesn't matter how good it is. If people don't _care_ about your product they might well use it all the time but never tell anyone.

I'll leave you with two quotes, the first is uplifting and the second a bit of an eye-opener:

"Product is the value, marketing is a multiplier."

"Nothing Kills A Bad Product Faster Than Good Advertising"

I agree with you that good advertising will go long ways. But what about bad marketing? Isn't it so easy to market badly and end up losing any originality?

I've seen so many cases where marketing turned me off leaving no chance for considering the product.

And it's so hard to advertise well.

This is true as well, I think the most common mistake I see marketers make is _over_ marketing. You shouldn't have to fabricate a clear message, the product really should speak for itself. Just present an idea and solution in a unique way.

Here's another saying, "The number of ideas to use in an ad should be odd - and three's too many."

The truth is, you need marketing to take off any product. Its just that the way of putting products into the market has changed. Take ProductHunt for example. They never did paid marketing, but they did some cool email marketing stuff.

It's more important to sell the product than it is to write it.

However there are many ways to sell it; you need not spend a lot of money on marketing if you learn how to SEO your own website. It's a lot of time and effort, and somewhat slow to pay off, but it does pay off big if you do your SEO well.

I don't mean keyword stuffing; put content on your website that other people will recommend to others by giving you links.

Keyword stuffing might actually penalize your site. Google's Panda updates penalize attempts at keyword stuffing.

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