Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The best marketing isn't marketing

I had coffee this morning with a great marketer who doesn't believe in marketing.

He owns a very successful business in Seattle, the latest of several successful ventures in his career. His disciplined approach about both great storytelling and fanatical customer service demonstrate his understanding of the root causes of customer loyalty and word-of-mouth.

Yet despite the fact that he's clearly a success, and is clearly a great marketer, he doesn't believe that most marketing works.

And he's right.

Traditional marketing, done well, does nothing more than spread the work about great products and services. But if the products and services aren't great, the marketing will never work.

What's more, great products and services usually don't need marketing. Great products and services market themselves, in that they generate intense loyalty among current customers, and the kind of word-of-mouth that naturally generates steady waves of new customers.

Sure, an extra layer of traditionally-defined marketing can often be a catalyst to faster growth. It can mean the difference between 2X growth and 5X growth, simply by accelerating the speed at which people find out about your business.

But if the business isn't good - if the products don't work, don't deliver on marketing promises, or simply are supported by bad service - then all you've done is tell a lot more people that you run a bad business, or deliver a sub-par service.

If your business has slowed, sales are down, or competitors are catching up, marketing may be the answer. But look first to your products. Look to the service you provide to your customers. Make sure you're delivering on the promises you've made. More often than not, your growth path is not in buying an expensive ad campaign, or sending more direct mail. It's in building better, more remarkable experiences for your customers.

In a world where customers more frequently deliver their own marketing messages about your business back to the masses, your best marketing may not be marketing at all.


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