I’ve been asked for marketing advice by up-and-coming business owners a thousand times. Every time, I say the same thing: “Don’t think about marketing—yet.”
That’s my marketing advice for any company that wants to be effective and profitable. In the beginning, do absolutely no marketing. This rule applies to every type of company—high or low-tech, product or service-oriented, startup or sole proprietor.
A sexy slogan isn’t the answer
Companies who spend all of their money on marketing are doomed to fail. There are a million ways to waste your seed money—various forms of ads, social media, PR firm retainers, trade shows, or yet another major redesign of your website. There’s only one way to use it wisely—make a great product.
I’ve met many entrepreneurs who recall the countless hours they’ve spent coming up with the perfect phrase to describe their game-changing product or service. I’ve never met one who found a silver bullet—it’s a conceptually flawed way to go about building a sustainable business.
Why doesn’t focusing on marketing first get you anywhere? It’s because your potential customers really only care about one thing—having you deliver a product or a service that improves their lives. You’ll end up being ridiculed if you do too much marketing for a product that people don’t need. Start with a great product and the great customers will come.
Let me show you some examples of what I’m talking about.
The quickest way to blow $41 million
Successful companies like Google are proof that the best mentality is product-first. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Google consistently brings new, focused products to market. Their releases are usually stripped down to a simple, core set of features. It is only after customer feedback that they begin to make modifications and expand beyond the basics—marketing comes way later.
As a counterpoint, how many of you are familiar with Color? They created an app three years ago for location-based social sharing of photos. They raised $41 million before developing a product, and then proceeded to burn through two-thirds of that money—with three major product pivots—in just over a year. They ended up selling essentially their team, not product, to Apple for pennies on the dollar.
Color got a lot of attention, but when people signed up, they found a product that wasn’t interesting. Why do I want to share my selfies with strangers just because they are sitting around me? What is this for? Those are the questions Color should’ve been asking—themselves and potential customers—before wondering “How do I get a billion downloads?
One great sandwich
Whether you are a high-tech startup, a sandwich shop owner, a freelance photographer, or a service provider, you need to do first things first—focus on your core product. Find what is unique about your product, service, or business—what you do well—and build on that.
Using the tech startup as an example, first build a product or a prototype and share it with your customers or potential customers. If you’re at a really early stage, just articulate your idea. After sharing your idea, really listen to the reaction and make changes fast. Keep showing off your product revisions. It doesn’t matter if they are paying you. At this stage you’re just trying to get people engaged and excited. Keep refining the product to match customers wishes.
Don’t build an app in a vacuum—this is what Color did. Don’t spend all of your time on marketing like those all-too-many entrepreneurs I’ve met. It’s spinning your wheels and a recipe for failure.
This applies to my other business examples as well. Don’t put too many sandwiches on your deli menu. Don’t create a gallery of every photograph you’ve ever taken. Don’t talk about your other career prior to starting your new service business—unless it’s extremely relevant to making you an expert in your new field.
Do put those couple of sandwiches on your menu that you know people like. Think about the sandwiches that your family and friends raved about, the ones that made you take the plunge into starting a business. You have a core product, so build from it.
Show just a couple of photos which you know are great. The ones you personally look at over and over—marveling at your ability to capture magical moments.
Tell the story of that one client who changed their business, their life, or their company’s product so profoundly with your help. If it’s that moment that gave you the confidence to change your career, start there.
In short: Be great by focusing on outstanding core features. It’s perfectly fine if this is just one thing in the beginning. Get feedback. Add, delete, or modify to make things better. Keep doing that over and over until you have customers who are fans and advocates.
Best marketing in the world
Do these things, in this order, and before you know it, you will have a great product. That will lead to great customers.
What’s the end result of great customers? The best marketing in the world—word of mouth.
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