Monday, August 31, 2009

What Happened To Product?

It’s 9:06am August 31, 2009, and I just got this morning’s edition of eMarketer Daily. Like any other marketer, I am constantly looking for another mouse trap and not necessarily a better mouse trap. Hence, I wake up every day and read as many e-publications about marketing as I can. In fact, I have “google” alerts on marketing musings, since I dare not miss what the experts are saying. Else I get rusty and loose my edge and become devoid of talking points. And then it hit me, is there a danger of all this being a herd mentality? Have I really learnt anything new from all these material I continue to digest and regurgitate in everyday business conversations? Or is this all designed to make me part of the in-crowd and look smart without necessarily making a genuine contribution to the conversation?
What about product, you ask? I will get to that in a moment. First let me get this off my chest, or more appropriately, let me put this all in context. Yes, and I agree, the essence of marketing is to position your idea, product or service, to the intended audience, in the most positive way necessary to engender a positive response and action that results in attaining your stated goals. For businesses this is what we all define as profit. Hence good marketers or pretenders try as much as they can to push the profit motive at all costs. And to continue this search for gains minute after minute, hour after hour, week after week, month after month and year after year, with the stated goal of exceeding your projections, or forecasts and beat the preceding comparable period. This is one of the many forces that cause the deluge of analysis, articles and lots of meetings so we can all be the best at what we do as marketers. Sell, sell, sell and then some!
Over the years, many have professed that with the advent or rather age of the internet, the customer is Queen. I happen to agree. A few years back, it wasn’t very difficult to sell an idea, a service or a product to a target audience. If you build it they will come, was the mantra in many boardrooms and “garages” all over the horizon. You simply had to convince some of the people all the time. It wasn’t a level playing field and consumers had little, if any, know-how to ascertain if they were getting a good deal or being taking in for a raw deal. If you were savvy enough to create trust, you were successful. The focus then was on service. Everyone had an uncle or cousin in the business. If you didn’t, you knew someone who did. Of course, your uncle or cousin would not put one on you, they were family. And so it goes everyone was happy, the neighborhood flourished and balance was maintained in the marketing ecosystem. You grew up and went to the family business, or you knew someone who will let you in or a really good deal, which gave you the inside scoop to success, fulfillment and self actualization. Right or wrong, the focus was always on delivery and credibility. If you screwed up more than once, it didn’t take long for the neighborhood to call you out. And once everyone figured it out, you were toast, and not the toast to the town. You went to your favorite Coffee Shop or Barber Shop because you knew the gal or guy, mam or sir. It was the thing to do, and you derived some level of satisfaction in this engagement.
The common thread in all this was always a good product. I use product in this argument as generic for any offer, service or otherwise. For sustainability your product had to be the best. There is always the best Bakery in town, the best Pizza store in town, the best Barber in town, and the only Corner store. No, you wouldn’t dare start another corner store. Aunt Millie had the market cornered, pun intended. You had to be great, and your product had to be the best. Today, you stand the chance of having your business become a me-too enterprise, if you do not have a product that has relevance in the marketplace. Why do you exist? What is your essence of being, and what’s your DNA?
Why is Apple so successful? Think about the i-Phone, the i-Pod, the i-Mac, i-Tunes, i-Mac, and so on and so on. It’s all about dominance in a product category. Apple has successfully captured the market and has been able to knock off Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and a host of other players who should have the benefit of first mover advantage in some of these business categories. Has anyone seen an IBM laptop lately? Apple simply has the best product in all these categories, and consumers are voting with their wallets and pocket books. How many out there have a Xerox machine in their offices that’s not made by Xerox? Or how many people out there have a Kodak camera not made by Kodak? My sentiments exactly! Yes, let’s market like crazy, let’s price effectively, let’s focus on promotion and advertising, and let’s get it to the target audience at the right place and at the right time. But let’s remember to have something worth selling. It will make it easier to sell, it will make it easier to market, and it will make it easier to generate a profit. There is a very good reason why product is the 1st of the 4-P’s in the proverbial marketing mix.

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