This excellent piece about the role of design got me thinking, does marketing deserve a seat at the table? In other words, what kind of value can marketing create for companies?
In a startup context — and I work with startups a lot through Communicable Inc — marketing tends to be about leads and growth. However, smart startups and companies realize there’s a lot more to marketing than #leadsleadsleads, so let’s dive deeper to talk about marketing and how it creates value.
“Businesses only exist if they create enough value for their customers.” — Jon Schlossberg, product designer
Just like design, marketing is an iterative discipline: you try many things and fail on your face before you succeed. Because that’s how you learn about what works for your markets, clients and customers. I am not a designer, though I love good design and care about nerdy things like APIs, IA and UX a LOT for a normal person. So when I read this, I felt startled by an instant process recognition, because marketing actually works in a very similar way:
Try 100 things — 95 of them will be shitty. 5 will be good.
Throw out the 95 shitty things.
Justify your existence to every non-designer around you who thinks, quite reasonably, that you must be some kind of amateur for failing 95 times.
Spend a really, really long time iterating on the 5 good things.
Justify your existence to every non-designer around you who thinks, quite reasonably, that you are slow and you must not understand that real businesses can’t afford to wait for perfection.
(….and on it goes, you can read the rest here: https://schloss.quora.com/Design-doesnt-deserve-a-seat-at-the-table)
Just like design, marketing creates what’s called a “perceived” value, and sits at the side of that table responsible for building and reinforcing value perception in the minds of your customers.
On the other side of that table sits your product team, which creates a utility, defined as a solution to a problem. Why do you hire those devs? So you have a product/service you can sell. So that your idea finds shape. Now, how do you sell it? How do you talk about it? Why would anyone care?
So… what’s marketing good for?
- Marketing demonstrates your company’s expertise in your market. And yes, even the best most delicious pizza needs marketing. Contrary to the popular belief, the best products do not “sell themselves” — just like big exits in the startup land do not just “happen”. You do need to dig to strike gold. Best marketers advocate relentlessly on behalf of your customers. That’s one of the reasons marketing and design go so well together, converging faster than I type this sentence. It’s also one of the reasons I bring so much of design thinking and strategy into my work. There’s just so much overlap. The ultimate measure of value marketing creates for you goes far beyond generating leads, traffic, or impressions. Measure the right things. Measure your revenue.
- Marketing lets you compete on brand. You might wonder why the brand even matters. Your product is so great, who even cares about the brand. Many tech founders couldn’t care less about brand and design. They’re right not to care at that stage where the product is fuzzy, as is the product-market fit. However, that script — and that 99designs logo and the proverbial one-page site only takes companies so far. You’ve got to shed some of that startup skin, if you want to build a real business and be taken seriously. You’ve got to invest in design, and you better do that early and often. And yes, you’ve got to build your brand. Three companies I like play that game: Wealthsimple rebranded recently; BNOTIONS, which announced its rebrand today; and Breather. Grow a marketing function that connects your company to your customers. Your engineers won’t do that. In luxury markets in particular, perceived value transcends utility and becomes real: I present a Hermès silk scarf as my proof.
- Ideas Help No One on a Shelf. Take Them to the World. In this recent NYT op-ed, a groundbreaking thought: Inventions are crucial, of course — but it’s the distribution that gave inventions impact. Pizza gets cold sitting on a shelf. And few of us actually like cold pizza. Spreading ideas, starting movements, and telling people about your product requires — and deserves — a significant investment of resources and a dedicated team. Marketing needs to work with you closely, so that you don’t fly blind and waste your time building something nobody wants. Can’t save the world from that shelf, can you.
Spend your time figuring out how to create both real and perceived value. Does marketing deserve a seat at that table? Does design? Build a company with a real backbone. Go do cool shit that people value.
Hug your marketer.
Want to chat about any of this? Drop me a line at [email protected] and let’s get coffee. Cause there’s nothing I like more than talking — and working — with incredibly smart, ambitious people.