What comes first — the product or the marketing?

He was once a Silicon Valley entrepreneur now focused on entering the real estate development sector in India that he believed could be disrupted through innovation.

After he finished passionately presenting to us in great detail the plans he had for developing a 300 acre township he said “Now you guys tell me how you will market this great project”!

In my practice as a marketing and marketing communication consultant, I have faced such a situation often. A client has fully formulated a product or a service and then calls in his marketing team and consultants to help draw up a marketing strategy and plan!

It surprises me how often teams and minds who otherwise are first rate in their own field of expertise do not realise that marketing begins with the consumer and her needs and not with a fully formulated product or service.

Ever since the dawn of Kotler it is understood by every student of Marketing 101 that marketing begins with understanding people’s fundamentals needs and drivers, identifying consumer segments and identifying and sizing gaps in the market. Only then should begin the design of the product or a service to serve the identified need gap.

Over the decades it has been my experience that except for a few companies with a deep set marketing culture, the above fundamental principle of marketing is practiced more in the breach than in practice.

In recent years with the growth of digital marketing, this propensity of businesses to relegate marketing to a downstream activity has further intensified. Probably because:

a) Digital marketing allows for low-cost of targeting and communication experimentation and

b) The rise of contract and flexible manufacturing allowing faster turnarounds in product design and modifications

These trends are likely to increase as the next generation of technologies — artificial intelligence, 3D printing — take hold.

To my mind, the freedom to experiment at lower time and resource costs could easily morph into the freedom to fail faster and more often. If not disciplined by the practice of the fundamentals of marketing.

The principle of “move fast and break things” might work with some businesses for some time but for most businesses it is a recipe for disaster.

Take the example fo Google Glass — a stunning technological advance — that failed. The key reason being that it was not designed around meeting a burning consumer need. The Apple iPod on the other hand found a market as the iPod-iTunes ecosystem answered a key, unmet consumer need — the ability to buy music by the song rather than the album.

Once a product is designed to meet an identified and fully understood consumer need, the marketing strategy and plan, in the right experienced hands, writes itself.

It enables marketing to engage with consumers through use cases and benefits instead of functionalities s and features.

It enables marketing to specify and build the entire consumer experience ecosystem.

The first e-reader to be developed was the Sony Reader — a technologically advanced product currently found perhaps in a Sony museum in Japan. On the other hand Amazon launched Kindle with a seamless integrated consumer experience system of hardware, software, service and content.

The increasing relegation of marketing to a downstream activity by most businesses has also had a knock-on affect on the marketing services businesses like consumer research and advertising.

In a “in the beginning was marketing” culture the research and advertising agency had a seat at the strategy table.

In today’s dominant culture of marketing as a downstream activity the research and advertising agency are vendors whose services are purchased in modular chunks.

So what are the free and creative souls who in the past used to shun the stultifying regimen of a corporate set-up and populate the corridors of the best agencies, go now?,

Perhaps the time is ripe for a new kind of creative business — the Innovation Agency.

An agency that, using state-of-the-art consumer research, big data and deep learning analytics, mines consumer attitudes and behaviour continuously to unearth unmet consumer needs. While at the same time continuously scans the cutting edge of technological progress to match freshly unearthed, unmet needs to fresh technological possibilities that can together drive a new product or service.

The business model for such an agency would be to select a shortlist of company or teams from which to choose a partner to design and take the product/ service to market.

An agency that calls for pitches instead of having to respond to them! Viva la difference!!

I see myself as a pursuer of the truth that within and without

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