Often by the time we realize we have a marketing problem, it's too late.
"'I have a marketing problem.'— Corey Gwin (@corey_gwin) March 8, 2019
It's more likely it's a market problem.
1. Choose the right market.
2. Build something they want."
It's a painful realization… Let's just say I've been learning a lot about marketing the hard way.
See, when I started Blurt, I didn't necessarily know if it'd be something others wanted. For the most part, I had built Blurt for myself and thought others could benefit from it too. Writing has been an important practice for me. It seemed writing was an important aspiration for a large number of my peers. I felt what Blurt offered was unique. So, I launched it!
And while those assumptions have mostly turned out to be true, I think my limited understanding of marketing has made its growth difficult.
Fortunately, another important part of launching Blurt for me has been to expose my entrepreneurial weaknesses. Marketing has stood out as a glaring weak spot of mine. I've been learning a lot about it. I've had it totally misconstrued.
It's a bit like how I thought I knew what "business" was.
"Ya ya…make something people want…MVP…iterate…sell more than you spend…yada yada… Business!"
(Then I read Josh Kaufman's The Personal MBA and realized I knew nothing.)
It's been the same process with marketing.
"Get the word out. Make it look good. Get people's attention. Marketing!"
"Often, orgs are marketing-driven…focused on the surface shine, the ability to squeeze out one more dollar.— Corey Gwin (@corey_gwin) March 28, 2019
The alternative is to be market-driven—to hear the market, to listen to it, and even more important, to influence & make it better."
— @ThisIsSethsBlog, This Is Marketing
Makers + Marketing
I think this misconception of marketing is common for us maker types. We're awesome at finding problems and building and designing solutions for them. In fact, we're incredibly good at building impressively stellar products. Unique. Eye-catching. Technically impressive.
Unfortunately, we're also really good at convincing ourselves others will want it. It solves a problem. How could they not want it?
Sadly, "If you build it, they will come," isn't how it works.
If a great product launches in the forest and no one is there, does it still make the Hacker News front page?
I've also seen this as a common misconception for founders through my experiences consulting.
A client I'm working with has built a stellar top notch product. Truly stellar. They've spent a lot of thought (and money) getting their product manufactured. They've put a lot of great design into custom packaging—a great unboxing experience 👌. They've launched a solid a website. It solves a real problem. But there's a small issue—no one knows about it!
I think this happens all the time.
It sucks when you’ve got a new product idea and your customer research proves that your assumptions were wrong and no one really wants your product.— Katelyn Bourgoin 👓 (@KateBour) August 20, 2018
It sucks way more when you don’t do any research and spend months (or years) building the wrong thing.
So what is marketing? (And why is it so hard?)
For me, marketing has always felt a bit pushy. I always thought of it as attention seeking.
"PAY ATTENTION TO MY AMAZING PRODUCT IT SOLVES ALL YOUR PROBLEMS AND YOU NEED IT! BUY ME COFFEE! (P.S. I SLAVED OVER IT FOR HOURS WITHOUT SLEEPING! P.P.S. I HAVE A FULL-TIME JOB!)"
This isn't marketing. It's just annoying. And no one cares all that much how much we slaved over it or if it looks good or it's on discounted for only a limited time… I really like how Paul Jarvis describes marketing in his book Company of One.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people, especially creative people, look upon marketing in a negative way.— Corey Gwin (@corey_gwin) March 3, 2019
The truth is, they really shouldn't.
Marketing is simply building a sense of trust and empathy with a specific group of people by consistently communicating with them."
Marketing is building trust with the people we want to help by communicating with them. And communication is not just talking. It's also listening. It's having a dialog with our intended customers so we truly see their problems. Consistency is important as it proves our dedication to the promise we make of solving the problems our customers face.
The beauty of this as a maker is that that is exactly what we are doing when we share the process of building our products. It's not that what we intend to build is the solution. It's that by sharing what we're building, we're able to get feedback so we build the right thing. It shortens the Lean Startup feedback loop of build-measure-learn to build-learn. It builds a relationship. It builds trust.
Often times we put too much pressure on ourselves to know what we need to do. That stress sometimes results in doubt—doubt that causes us to produce nothing. Instead, we need to be developing trust. We do this by admitting we don't know for sure but we go to great lengths to help solve others' problems by sharing how we intend to do that.
mak·ert·ing— Corey Gwin (@corey_gwin) May 26, 2019
building trust by transparently sharing the process of building something a very specific group of people might want so you can learn and build exactly what they do want.
It's this building in the open then that becomes an important part of the journey to building what our products need to become.