The best product without marketing is a loser

by Tony Fannin, president, BE Branded

"Beta format is superior to VHS, but it was VHS that won the marketing war. That’s why your VCR uses VHS tapes and not Beta." I’ve used this example many times when talking with clients who believe in the myth that if their product is superior, they will succeed over their competitors without having to invest much into marketing. The "superior product will win" mantra is especially prevalent in techie circles (especially software boys). This same group that believes in the superior product myth also believes in the first to market also almost guarantees you win. Again, that’s not true either. History is full of "second mover advantage". (VisiCalc came first, but lost out to Lotus 1-2-3, Remington Rand had the first large computers, but lost out to IBM) Being first is not a sustainable advantage either. In a lot of these cases, the initial leader leveraged their first mover advantage and created early success. Their blind spot was marketing. The products that came in after the pioneers put much more effort and resources into marketing and eventually dominated the category.

Here is a fresh example of where the pioneer lost out to the new entrant into the market category all because of marketing, or the lack there of.

Sony e-reader was revolutionary. It turned paper books into digital formats that could be read on a large screen device. It could hold hundreds of books that could be read on a 6" display screen. Many tech experts thought the features and craftsmanship was of superior quality. They introduced the product at the Consumer Electronic Show in 2006 with a big splash that got attention. Their fatal flaw was they never followed up with any type of marketing campaign. Then came along Kindle. It wasn’t as technical advanced or the features as superior as the E-reader. But Kindle put a lot of marketing muscle behind their product by strong advertising and PR. They got a great PR boost from Oprah who named it one of her most favorite things. Kindle has captured share of mind like the iPod did over the Walkman.

Now Sony’s E-reader is playing catch up even though it was the pioneer and had a technically superior product. They aren’t going down without a fight. Michiko Araki, Sony’s director of marketing, has stated they are going to focus on expanding to a more mass audience through TV and online advertising to drive customers to retail outlets. And that is one of Sony’s advantages. They can offer in-person experiences Amazon can’t offer. Through interactive kiosks, demo sites at retailers, and hands-on trials, Sony was able to reach over 2 million people in the last three months. This resulted in both awareness and purchase-intent increases. The battle has just begun, but it really shouldn’t have been this close to begin with. Sony had the early advantage, but failed to capitalize on it by not having a marketing follow up to the initial launch. This opened the door for competitors to win the hearts and minds of consumers by marketing to them and not relying on superior product to carry the day.

This is not to say you can have a crappy product and still win. The old saying is still true, "Bad products fail quicker with good advertising." What I am stating is a superior product alone will not guarantee you will win. By not supporting a great product with equally great marketing, in the end, you become a loser.

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