Marketing In A Web 2.0 World: Why The Best Products Sometimes Win

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Marketing In A Web 2.0 World: Why The Best Products Sometimes Win


Note:  This is a guest article written by Andy Singleton.  Andy is a career software professional and is one of the few people I know that can not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.  He has released several commercial products before and has lots of practical advice for others to do the same.  He is currently the president of Assembla which brings open source processes and applications to the world of enterprise software.  
Marketing In A Web 2.0 World:  Why The Best Products Sometimes Win

For 100 years, it has been a truism that “the best product doesn’t win.  The product with the best marketing wins.”  At the risk of being thrown out of capitalist society, I claim that on the Web, this is no longer true.  The best product often does win, with virtually no marketing, if it is easy to adopt.

The job of marketing was to bring prospective customers to try the product.  Marketers tell customers about the product, why they should want it, and how to get it.

However, on the Web, marketing is easy.  Too easy.  You can post a link somewhere, it’s seen globally, and potential users only need to invest one click and 30 seconds of filling out a form to become a “registered user”.  It’s easy for them.  They do it by the thousands.

If the job of bringing the customers to the door becomes trivially easy, then what is the hard part of the job?  Getting users to come back a second time is MUCH harder than it used to be.  They have so many other places to go.  It’s all equally weightless.  They click from a 24 hour work place to a global mall with thousands of options.  Adopting a Web service requires users to invest hours – hours that in most cases they don’t have.

So, in previous product cycles, marketing was the most expensive part of a launch, and the product strategy was wrapped around it.  Getting attention was the hard part.  Now, keeping attention is the hard part.  In this new product cycle, figuring out how to get users to adopt is the hard and expensive thing.  Marketing serves the adoption work by bringing in the right number of prospects for us to experiment with (in a nice way).

When I work with entrepreneurs from the old days (anybody over the age of 25), they often don’t believe me.  The good ones unfold their carefully planned marketing budgets and affiliate programs and strategic alliances.  They assume that if they can persuade the customers to try, the customers will buy.  Then they do a trivial amount of marketing – a blog post, an email newsletter ad, an email campaign, and look at the numbers.  A lot more responses than expected, with smaller conversion rates.  At that point, they understand the need to invest in the product and the initial customer experience.

Marketing can be a bad thing because it doesn’t deliver much value to the customer.  Over time, customers try to avoid paying for marketing expenses.  The biggest cost savings available to a Web startup is to cut the marketing budget.  In the old days, marketing consumed 30% to 50% of a launch budget.  That is a lot of money that can potentially be invested in product innovation and customer service.

If you can find the one feature that people will use and adopt, right way, it makes everything else easier.  So, release early and often and watch your usage dashboard.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Dec 11, 2006


I agree mostly, but I think it represents more the way that marketing has changed. People in the "old days" that you talk about are mostly talking about "push" marketing. The most effective marketing techniques now are things that simply weren't possible in most instances. Companies like Avon and Tupperware were the exception 30 years ago, not the rule.

But now that kind of marketing is so much easier- it hardly makes sense to saturate the airwaves with messages about your product- it is expensive and not very effective.

(Cue Seth Godin)

Anyhow, the new form of marketing ("ideaviruses", or "pull marketing" or whatever you want to call it) is much more reliant on the quality of the product than before. Therefore, the quality of the product is an essential part of the marketing message.

So- build the better mousetrap. But find a way to get people to convince their friends that it’s the best, too.

posted on Monday, December 11, 2006 at 12:38 PM by Erik Peterson

Though well written, this article misses a key point. Just building a better mousetrap won't get you customers. People have to know about your mousetrap. How do they hear your message among the messages from tens (hundreds?) of very similar products?

Marketing is still very, very important. I'd even say more important than ever before. Check out the video of Seth Godin's speech at Googleplex - you'll know what I mean.

posted on Thursday, December 14, 2006 at 12:16 AM by Michael - On Product Management

posted on Friday, December 15, 2006 at 1:04 AM by jonathan

I would say that 'choice is the culprit'. With more and more choices available, mostly free, at the click of a mouse, even the most discerning customers will be found wanting in their commitment. Anything will be fruitful only when used regularly or in a sustained manner and it is against human nature to keep going in a persistent manner.

So while it is easy to win the initial customers, what stops the subsequent adoption is the plethora of 'choices' and basic human nature.

posted on Saturday, December 16, 2006 at 2:39 AM by Badri

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