Product Marty Cagan

Technology, Products and Marketing

Some people believe that business is all about marketing and building brand – establishing a great brand in the mind of consumers. Many of these same people also believe that one of the biggest weaknesses of Silicon Valley-style companies is that we just don’t get marketing in general and brand development in particular.

Remember the old line about marketing at HP? “If HP were selling Sushi, it would market it as cold, dead fish.” That joke of course referred to the old HP – Carly certainly changed that. HP became much better at marketing, but along the way they seemed to have lost much of what built their great brand in the first place. I would argue that HP had a much stronger brand when they were known for great products but terrible marketing than after they had transformed to great marketing but with few innovative products.

I do think it is true, however, that many valley companies are overly obsessed about technology. I see this as a big problem, and I run into it all the time. It’s not about technology just like it’s not about the marketing. Too many companies seem to forget that it’s really all about the products – the customer experience, the value the product provides, and most importantly, whether you have loyal, enthusiastic customers.

Technology is great when it enables a great product. Marketing is great when you have a great product and you want to share it with the world. But I’ve found that if you have a bad product, you might be able to buy some time with clever and aggressive marketing, but eventually people figure out it’s still a bad product. On the other hand, if you have a great product, especially in our Internet age, then the vast majority of the branding and marketing will be done by your customers. This of course is the best kind of marketing, and a terrific way to build brand.

My favorite examples are eBay and Google. These companies invested nearly nothing in outbound marketing or brand development, yet both developed massive numbers of loyal, enthusiastic customers and ended up establishing phenomenal brands. But eBay and Google didn’t happen by accident either. Both products were guided by clear and compelling principles that are reflected throughout the product and user experience. I’m a big believer in establishing those product principles up front and ensuring that everything you do supports those principles.

All that said, I do think there is much to be learned from companies that are excellent at brand development and marketing. When you’ve built a great product and you have a growing number of happy customers, and you see your brand developing, it’s important to protect that brand, to make sure that you constantly nurture your emerging fan base and not give them reason to turn on you, and ensure that everything you do supports the positive brand attributes.