The most difficult projects I’ve ever worked on were early on in the life of Vivid Labs. Looking back, I realize that all of those projects were for clients who thought of marketing as a magic bullet—something that would turn their unproven, new, or even worthless offer into an instant success. Those early clients came to me asking for marketing services, but I came to understand that what they were actually looking for was someone to figure their product out for them.
That’s not how it works.
The offer comes first. A good product or service is not an option when you want to have a successful business. No amount of marketing will fix a bad offer—in fact, it will make it worse for the business. Marketing is an amplifier for what’s already there. It will highlight the strengths AND the weaknesses of the product. This is why market research exists—for that exact amplification effect. Except when someone hires a marketing firm for research, they know that they’re looking for weaknesses.
The danger lies in the founder or executive who doesn’t understand the difference between promotion and research. Yes, you can learn a lot in the promotion stage, like what segments of your audience are most profitable, but that is an expensive way to learn a cheap lesson about something you need to fix. Research—before promotion—allows a company to identify, measure, and fix problems with their offer before spending a dime on promotion.
So where does that leave early-stage founders and entrepreneurs? There are plenty of them out there. Maybe you’re reading this now thinking you’re in that situation. What should you do? Not spend any money on marketing?
Yep, that’s exactly right.
No marketer in the world understands your offer in the way that you do. That means you have to do your own research, which means getting honest advice from people who try it out. This is why beta tests exist in the software world—the companies who release beta launches are upfront and say, “hey, this is new and we’re trying it out. There might be bugs. But we want you to try it in case it’s valuable in the meantime, and in exchange, we’ll build this together.”
Run trials. Give out free access. Build your first testimonials. Once you do that, you’ll begin to iterate your offer to the point that it’s ready for promotion. Only then can marketing amplify your product in a way that truly attracts people.
What offers do you have that are new and untested? What offers haven’t you reached out for feedback on? The results might surprise you (and lead you to a better offer).