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Cult of Product: Marketing Isn't Just For Losers Who Pay For Sex

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on November 30, 2011 in marketing guestpost product 16 Comments

The following is a guest post by Mike Troiano. Mike is a former New York ad man turned venture-funded entrepreneur, now a Principal at Boston-based Holland-Mark.  You can follow him on Twitter at @miketrap, and connect with him elsewhere through About Me.

Product, product, product. More focus on product was at the center of Brad Feld's comments at last week's Silicon Valley Bank CEO event, in response to a question about what he'd do differently if he had it to do over. More focus on product is at the core of the Lean Startup Revolution we're all getting behind, and in the spine of the Steve Jobs bio we're all reading, and in the frequent posts of the startup bloggers we all pay attention to.

And it's all true. Product is the key, at the very center of building a viable business from nothing. And by implication, marketing is so 15 minutes ago. Marketing is for products unworthy of passionate advocacy, a crutch for nice-to-have startups who invest in sprawling web sites and launch parties like losers with no choice but to pay for sex.loser

I spend a lot of time fighting this perception, talking about the difference between the kind of strategic marketing that can corrupt your vision with the external reality, marketing communications, which consists largely of the promotional sham-ware of the mid-twentieth century.

But you know what? I'm giving all that up. I'm going to take another approach, one I think will resonate more clearly with the Cult of Product sub-culture which seems to be sucking all of the oxygen out of the shill-o-sphere.

Ready? Here it is: You should focus on the desired response to your product, not just on the product itself.

Why must you focus so intently on your product? Isn't it because you want people to respond to your product in ways that propel your businesses to greatness? Isn't your product, then, a means to an end? Isn't it a stimulus hoping to evoke the right response on the part of the customers who buy it?

In a very real way, I'd argue yes. More than that, I'd argue that the primary dimension of product response that propels businesses to greatness is emotional response.

What do great un-advertised, Billion-dollar brands like Dropbox, Facebook, and even (until recently) Google have in common? We love them. They make us feel respectively Liberated, Connected, and Empowered in ways that enrich our lives. They make us grateful, make us want to share with others. A brand is nothing more than an emotional response out there in the world, but building brands with products instead of print advertising doesn't make them any less important, or any less worthy of early focus, thoughtful strategy, and effective execution.

It's becoming a cliche to say your product is your marketing, in an era where customers trust each other more than they do media. Well if that's true it might be time to bring a little more marketing into your product, in the form of treating the softer science of brand development with the same respect you give the harder sciences of product management and engineering.

What do you think?  Where do you stand on the Cult of Product? Would love to read your comments.