Product and product marketing walk the same path, but they’re rarely in sync. One strays further ahead, whereas the other lags behind – and the tether between slacks and pulls. When it works, an equilibrium is eventually found, and the same success or failure meets them both. But this isn’t always the case.
The onus on marketing has shifted. More than adornment, decals festooned upon a product after its set sail, it’s become a means of propulsion. Increasingly, and particularly within the tech industry, marketing must make a case for products; before a company may sell a destination, they must convince the townspeople of the direction. Why that way, and why now? What’s missing from our lives, and how does this specific product address that lack?
It’s not enough to have a great product – nor, even, the best product. The greatest speech spoken to an empty room has no impact. The future is framed by possibilities. Competing products are each a divergent possibility; to bring them to reality, a case has to be made, and noise created.
In this article, we’ll go through the most common disparities between product and product marketing, and provide some clues as to how to address them.
1. An idea, but no product.
A great plan and vision don’t guarantee a product. Whereas once products were proven before being marketed, many are now promised. It is the promise that is marketed – the promise of the product – but not the product. It requires that audiences regard a product for its potential; sacrificing their present expectations for future satisfaction. This is the basis of Kickstarter projects, and it undergirds the value of cryptocurrencies: tokens that represent the value of an as-yet-unrealized idea or product. Not an Apple computer, but the next Apple computer – or the next Apple, in the common case that the company (and its potential value) becomes the product.
2. Bloated vision
Many want to change the world, and many want to buy world-changing solutions. Advertising is about identifying both realized and unrealized needs – the provincial, practical, and spiritual – and linking products to those needs. A hoover isn’t only a tool to clean the floor; it represents cleanliness and pride in one’s house. And a car: a symbol of status, a marker of the driver more than it is a mode of transport.
But this falls out of alignment when a product must walk in the shadow of a disjointed or bloated vision. Audiences crave emotion and attach themselves to ideas, but those ideas must still be grounded in a reality the product can inhabit. The hoover struggles to be the answer to climate change – even if those creating it wish to be (or create) the solution to climate change. Products may orbit a vision; when too much distance exists between them, however, a disconnect occurs, and a fraught customer reception can be the consequence. Products may be marketed to be more, to penetrate audience awareness to discover hidden desires and needs, but not any product can stand for any and everything.
3. Failing to prioritise customer need
Sometimes, the most acute needs a business feels are those of its founders; what those behind the product wish to have achieved, and whether the product is able to reflect that wish. Product marketing should be simple; it shouldn’t create an elaborate narrative as to why a product is required, or what a product is intended for. Too often, those behind a product prioritise the need for their vision to be understood over the understanding of their customers. They attach elaborate narratives to the landing page in the mistaken belief that it is their story – their vision – that will help sell the product.
The role of product marketing is to link products with customers, not products to founders or creators. The story of significance is always the customer’s story. For some, this is difficult as it involves active detachment; to see a product for what it is, and not for what it represents of the businesses’ history nor, specifically, the history of those behind it. These stories may be relevant to an already engaged community, but they’re not going to sell a product – and, in fact, can get in the way of the most important story: that of the customer.
4. Carriages before horses
We’ve all heard of the carriage going before the horse. In product marketing, it’s normal for a runway of hype to precede launch; before a product makes its grand appearance, it’s whispered about from every corner of the room. Sometimes, however, the carriage has careened so far ahead that it falls from view, and the product is left playing catchup.
This is often seen in the video gaming industry. Big-name titles go through a multi-year marketing cycle between announcement and release. By the time they are released, marketing has either balanced expectation with reality, or relied on hype to inflate customers’ expectations beyond the point that the product can meet them.
This disconnect can occur for many reasons – but the result is the same. The short-term gain of customer excitement and first-day sales comes at the greater expense of brand trust; audiences remember their disappointments, and the pressure on the next product (or update) increases as a result.
Marketing is a balancing act. In a world in which it’s easier to say than do, the temptation to overpromise is everpresent; customer engagement increases on exciting news. Similarly, a vision may help an organization momentarily ascend to the stratosphere only to then come crashing down.
In the end, what the audience understands from your product is all that matters; what they interpret as being the value, and whether that value is self-evident or insisted upon. Marketing can begin the process and ready the people, but it is the product that must make the final connection. To connect dream with reality.