Do the ad campaign first

Seth Godin discusses an interesting question today on his blog: “Which comes first, the product or the marketing?”

He argues that marketing (broadly defined) should come before the product.  In other words, define marketing by Peter Drucker’s standard of “creating a customer,” and then and only then build the product.

This is hard to argue with–of course, you need to know who your customer is and what their pain points are before you go off burning time and money building a product for them.

Sure thing, makes total sense.

I would go a step further though.  I suggest that a team start with the marketing (as Seth advocates), with the explicit goal of being able to create the ad campaign that would exist when the product was in market.

Now, I know many people think Big Media / Old Marketing advertising is dead (see Seth Godin’s Meatball Sundae, e.g.).  And it may well be that you are designing a product that will never have a TV ad run for it.

I don’t really care about what ads you end up running, instead, I’m advocating that you sketch out the ads you would run if you were going to run them.  Here’s why: the marketing task of building an advertisement forces you to develop several key elements of your marketing thinking.  For example, advertising forces you to develop (and stick to) a single main idea for what it is that your product is all about.  BUilding an ad requires you to articulate what are the truly compelling benefits? And, finally, an ad forces you to communicate those benefits or your positioning in a cogent, concrete, and brief way.

For those reasons, I am a big believer in doing the work to build the ad campaign first, based on the marketing work that goes into it.

A great example of this, is the MacBook Air.  Here’s an excerpt from a Steve Jobs interview on the MacBook Air and it’s development:

We decided a few years ago to build the world’s thinnest notebook. And so, it started in the design phase, figuring out how small we could make things,” Jobs told CNBCs Jim Goldman. “And we probably built 100 models to get to this. So the first step was just holding a model in your hand and saying, ‘if we could make this real, we would all just lust after this.’ And, we did! So its been about two years of work to make this…

It’s [takes] precision machined aluminum to get it this light and this thin.”

Now look at the ad.  I would be willing to bet a lot of money that execs at Apple had the vision of an ad with a beautiful Apple Laptop sliding out of an inter-office envelope very, very early in the design phase.

It clearly articulates to the marketing and engineering teams what the vision of the product is all about.  And when it comes time to launch the thing, you know exactly what your single big idea is all about, you know how to communicate it cogently etc.

Now the counter to this is to do “the marketing first” and then build the product, and the heck with the ads.  This is ok, but it has risk.  Notably, if the product teams start making compromises along the way, if there’s feature creep, etc., then you start losing site of precisely what the single main idea of the product is.  The product limps across the finish line with nothing distinct, nothing unique, and the marketing guys then get out the lipstick and start doing  pig dressing.  This happens all the time, not because people are stupid or incompetent, but because there was never a flag stuck quite deeply enough in the ground at the beginning to state what the product was and who it really was for.

Having lived through that a few times, without naming the specific products, I’ll tell you that nothing is worse as a marketer to have a product that lacks a single main idea or cogent set of benefits.  No one’s happy–the engineers think you suck as a marketer.  The partners think you’ve built a crumby product.  And you have nothing to do but stand fast and just pitch, pitch, pitch.

Force your team to do the ads first.  Having them early will help everyone stay synched on what the core benefits are that you’re building.  And if the team can’t agree on the benefits to customers that you’re trying to build at the outset, well, that should be a pretty good indicator that the team doesn’t know what its trying to do.

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1 Comment

Filed under business, marketing, tech, technology

One response to “Do the ad campaign first

  1. LDH

    Jay, great post! This is SO true and my company has been living through this pain for a while. I’m inspired by your recommendation; time to circle up the team, talk about the ads, and then go stick that flag into engineering.

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