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

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


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.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Wed, Nov 30, 2011


Can't disagree as what I call 'emotional marketing' seems to work. 
A lawyer's product is the services but what's being sold is trust. The pain point is their uncertainty. (And it is for every product/service.) 
Axiom: Wanting vaivers. Wanting to want never does.

posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 9:37 AM by Randy

The glorious, necessary tension btw product and marketing.  
Of course they are closer now than ever but they are still distinct. Here's how I describe them in my job, which is both as a product guy and a marketer: 
- the product is proof of what the marketing promises 
- the marketing exposes the values that are driving the ongoing development of the product (and it's life in the world) 
There are so many reasons why people try and make them the same. They're inextricable. They are both best when they're focused on one core idea. They both must have a social life. But they are not the same.  
Yin and yang, baby. Sure, it's the ideal, but it's also the model. It's the way it's got to be. Anything less means broken promises.

posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 9:52 AM by Brad

That was inspiring. I mean, that inspired ideas.

posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 12:08 PM by Erik Olson

Too many believe that if you don't use paid media, you don't need a brand strategy. 
People are also in love with product marketing because it's faster and cheaper than thinking through a brand <hey, anybody can bullet point product features>. 
Just watch that product focus devolve into a list of features and a price when competition heats up.  
Companies like that don't recognize the value of a brand in setting a company's vision, how employees feel, how it innovates, and all it's touchpoints -- from tweets to sales agreements. Think Zappos. 
A great product that delivers is essential, but it's the "response" to that product/service, the emotion behind it, that keeps it relevant and separate from competitors for the long term. 

posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 12:12 PM by Jeff Tarran

Amazing post.. Keep it up.

posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 1:03 PM by John Smith

Love the post ! We really need to understand the Emotions of a user. Every product we build should "Emote" . All these products have attained the state of Universality without advertising because of their Simplicity. Google is to Search, Facebook is to Networking and Dropbox is to Storage !

posted on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 8:03 PM by Sai chandra shekar

Thanks for the comments, folks. Nice to see some support for marketing among this community. To be honest I wasn't sure if I was going to be burned in effigy by a horde of pitchfork-carrying engineering types. Due respect, @Dharmesh ;)

posted on Thursday, December 01, 2011 at 9:55 AM by Mike Troiano

Great post. Without a product to sell (insurance) we have to sell ourselves, our competency, our understanding of the clients' needs,and build and maintain the clients' trust.  
That is what I love about our business. The clients are the ultimate judges of our professioal capabilities.

posted on Thursday, December 01, 2011 at 10:37 AM by Bill Kurgan

Welcome, Dear 
I do not know a foreign language. I have no money and have no translator. 
I created a very interesting business project 
I am looking for sponsor, I have my invention, Georgian vord send this document together with the document And please consider my request for sponsorship. This project I am alone I did, do I have a site and the site of my new games currently playing on the amount of the world, people play globally, the site will benefit 0.2% amount I want to do it. 
All the details during the meeting we will discuss. 
I have this project I was offered $ 70 000 but not sell it and the main owner of the package that I want to be, only 51% of demand,  
Because it concerns a very serious game biznesh calculations inthis business has a lot of money to do 
Please consider the following 2 vord document that is written in Georgian. 
Thank you very much for your attention 
Sincerely: Mixeil gulitashvili

posted on Thursday, December 01, 2011 at 3:12 PM by mixeili

Great insight.I believe great and awesome products sell themselves. If startups will focus on their core competence and make their products elegant and easy to use, users and customers will pass on the marketing message for them.

posted on Friday, December 02, 2011 at 9:08 AM by Thomas Oppong

Agreed. The psyche of adoption involves both sides of the brain:  
1) the left hemisphere that looks at the value proposition (does it bring me more value than it costs me - money or time - to use it) 
2) the right hemisphere that involves emotion, desire, and receptiveness to a brand's values. Do I identify with the attributes of this brand? 
You need both, and how much effort in each depends on who you're selling to. 
I gave a presentation on that topic at Defrag a few years go: click here

posted on Friday, December 02, 2011 at 12:16 PM by Guillaume Cohen

This post is really amazing. Its a big tip or shall we say a lesson that can't be paid with anything else. It is true and it is really helpful to build first trust and bonds to a targeted costumer and then endorse your product in the later part. I know this is effective. People can't say no if both of you know each other and spend time in one table before. Lesson Learned. :)

posted on Tuesday, December 06, 2011 at 12:36 PM by Badong

Really Nice Article, When I clicked FaceBook liked it button at bottom, I found that almost 29000+ users have liked this article, while at top FaceBook like button indicates only 18 likes. Amazing response.

posted on Wednesday, December 07, 2011 at 12:22 AM by Mobile-Money

Good stuff to read.In marketing we always have plan A and plan B. If Plan A not works then go for plan B but irrespective of plans quality of our product matters.

posted on Wednesday, December 07, 2011 at 2:29 AM by datt

In last few days best site I found

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 2:50 AM by Jessie

Mention S E X and you have lots of attention. 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. 
Passionate Advocacy?600,000 new business startup each year. Most cannot make it with a marketing strategy of Passion
Interesting article for the 1% though.

posted on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 3:11 PM by Barry Rickert

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